Hands on Design, a brand founded in 2015 by Kaori Shiina and Riccardo Nardi, creates, produces and commercialises its high craftsmanship design products within a network including, to this day, about 30 artisans and craft businesses and 110 international designers.

What is Hands on Design? When was it established and why?

Hands on Design responded to the need to connect ancient artisan crafts to the fast-moving world of contemporary design. HoD’s operational formula is innovative and gives equal priority to the name and history of each artisan and designer concerning both communication and project, cultural and commercial operations. HoD investigates, mediates, coordinates and manages the Designer-Artisan relationship to obtain high-quality finished products, aimed at evolved, refined international markets.

If we look back to its origins, Design was born within craft workshops first, only to turn into an industrial production later on.

In Hands on Design, designers recapture the synergy of the early days of Design in craft ateliers

What inspired you to work with artisans?

We are both professional Product Designers and have always appreciated the artisans’ contribution and savoir-faire to design products. J+I, 2013, and Hands on Design, 2014, our two first events for Milan Fuori Salone, allowed us to successfully test the possibility to reconnect Design to Craftsmanship within a contemporary sensibility.

In Hands on Design, designers recapture the synergy of the early days of Design in craft ateliers, while artisans have a chance to connect with international markets and contemporary communication, thus shunning disappearance and bringing young people back to the artistic crafts and manual skills which are now facing the threat of robot-controlled automation within production economy. In such an automated future, a refined, natural product, the creation of real people, will be more appealing.

You are mostly working with Italian and Japanese artisans. Is that a stylistic, conceptual or tradition-oriented choice?

A mutual affinity connects our two Countries in their approach to beauty and fine quality, also thanks to their historical and cultural similarities and a shared love for landscaping. Our personal approach and the multiple professional relationships we have previously established with craft enterprises and small workshops are in line with each other as regards the research of materials and working processes as well as our approach to Design. Both of us boast a long-standing experience in Design, but we have always appreciated and loved the invaluable, tangible contribution of skilled human hands to the good quality and success of a product. The Hands on Design style and signature come naturally as an epitome of our two original cultures and the numberless minds and skills of the human network we have created.

How do you research and select artisans?

HoD’s primary research focuses on unique materials and processing. We try to obtain a wide range of hand-made products based on natural materials or supported by simple, traditional machinery. In Japan, we visit both aged and young artisans who have received and accepted our goals and conditions. Very often, they are working in companies dating as far back as the 17th century, where the new generations are aware of the positive contribution of Design and are keen to explore new technical and cultural paths. This is not so natural in Italy, yet, here too, a new breed of international artisans, well-connected to today’s world, is coming up.

Craftsmanship and design. Tradition and innovation: how do you combine these two aspects?

If we look back to its origins, Design was born within craft workshops first, only to turn into an industrial production later on.

There is a historical ambivalence in such approach to design, democratising aesthetics, functionality and good quality of objects in industrial work while creating culture, refinement and exclusiveness thanks to high craftsmanship products. We have embraced both aspects. We have chosen to start from the long-established tradition of craftspeople, reviving it with visions, shapes, functions and product finishes in keeping with the modern world. Design allows for communication and instant presence in advanced world markets and high-end cultural targets, combining good taste and value. We wish to operate within the framework of a modern culture based on a good quality of life.

What kind of aesthetics are you pursuing for your products?

We have no strict, severe guidelines, but our respective cultural origins, education, and experiences rule out baroque elements, the influence of fashion, and flourishes for their own sake. Our products are, and always will be, functional items, based on truly professional Design. What makes them unique is the primary contribution of our Artisans and their historical savoir-faire, often even improving an already high-quality Design idea. Artisans also have a crucial role in the choice of the final products which they will create with pleasure and intellectual curiosity.

What is your source of inspiration?

Japan and Italy are two geographically beautiful countries, where artisans often live in historical villages or towns, where nature is alive and well taken care of, and quality of life and food are superb.

Culture, beauty and history thrive where artisans live and work. Beyond our cultural filters, whatever our training and the function of an object, we are inspired by Nature as the origin of beauty and harmony, along with the Humanity that pursues it. Nothing but beauty can be born of beauty.

How do you combine creative vision, design and execution?

This would not be possible without our training as Designers. Our open, synthetic approach aims at creating and commercialising realistic products within a challenging economy, unable to provide secure economic results.

We have invested everything in Hands on Design, and, within three years time, we have attained visibility, reliability, and resonance. In the reign of market economy, passion and competence are no longer enough. And yet, we will carry forward this cultural and productive research, whose important side-effect may lead to the professional and cultural engagement of new generations, the creators of tomorrow’s world.