Naoto Fukasawa on Shaping the Future of Work with the Asari Chair

Photos courtesy Herman Miller


June 15, 2023

Naoto Fukasawa, a designer whose name may not be as familiar as it should be, is shaping the future of workspaces once again. Born in 1956 in Yamanashi Prefecture, Naoto kickstarted his journey in design at Seiko Epson, navigated through the high-tech world of Silicon Valley, and ultimately set up IDEO’s Tokyo office. His footprint extends across multiple design disciplines—from precise electronic equipment to furniture, interiors, and architecture.

Splitting his time between Milan and Tokyo, Naoto has a global presence in the design world. “I have an apartment in Milan, and 50% of my projects are in Europe and America,” he says. Over the last five years he has been collaborating with Herman Miller on the newly released Asari Chair. Positioned as a new archetype of a fabric chair, the Asari Chair aims to fit into a future where working styles are more flexible and less bound to the traditional office environment.

“Asari” is Japanese for “clam,” and it’s this organic form that inspired the anthropomorphic shape of the chair’s back. Available in high and mid-back heights, the chair’s design emulates the soft yet robust nature of a clamshell. “In the brief, their prediction was that the future is not focused too much on office work; it’s more about how working styles have radically changed. We need more casual and friendly chairs that are not purely functional but have a different personality,” Naoto says, describing the inspiration behind the chair’s design. “After the Covid-19 pandemic, the office working situation radically changed to be more home-based. So this chair must be the right fit for these new work styles.”

“Asari” is Japanese for “clam,” and it’s this organic form that inspired the anthropomorphic shape of the chair’s back.

Naoto emphasizes that the new chair had to fit different contexts beyond office work. He believes that post-Covid-19 the shift to flexible work will continue, supporting his approach to the chair’s design. “My goal was to inspire joy and create a new form, ultimately becoming the next upholstered icon. A core part of my design ethos is to simplify the way we live, imbuing each creation with an attraction that makes people feel dear to it, a timelessness and longevity that enhances a human process,” he says.

The design process involved significant attention to detail, including elements like stitching and the horizontal creases that run along the back of the chair. Naoto and his team first developed full scale prototypes and renderings in their Tokyo studio, then traveled to Herman Miller’s factories in Michigan for the final phases of design, which involved several negotiations with engineers over production methods, demonstrating his commitment to achieving both aesthetic appeal and functionality.

Reflecting on the future of work and technology, Naoto shares, “We need to always keep our eyes open to the whole host of different worlds. I believe in combining high technology with craftsmanship. We work together with technology like AI but always maintain the connection to physical body making things.” He admits he can imagine a world where products like Apple’s newly released Vision Pro become the norm for meetings and our working posture changes from hunched over a keyboard to tilting back while staring into a virtual reality.

The Asari Chair by Naoto Fukasawa is now available in stores, online at Herman Miller and Design Within Reach, and through MillerKnoll dealers for contract customers. It is a testament to Naoto’s design philosophy, which seeks to simplify life and create products that resonate deeply with people—one design at a time.