Ayako Takase and Cutter Hutton, who co-founded Observatory design studio in 2001, grew up with differing backgrounds but a shared passion for design.
They each found their way to industrial design and then to each other while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, where they remain active in teaching roles in addition to their design work. Takase’s designs expressed the simple richness of her native Japan, while Hutton’s designs expressed his clever and pragmatic nature.
Their voices started harmonizing in 2001, the year they founded their studio. Their philosophy is that good design can create an emotional connection between object and individual. “There’s a lot of analytical work that goes into design,” says Hutton. “But there’s also an emotional aspect that can only be delivered though intuition and experience. The process is a blend of rational and intuitive.
For example, there were very real needs behind the design of Herman Miller’s Airia desk. Workers in the home needed something compatible with home furnishings but responsive to modern technology. Takase (who once worked with Resolve designer Ayse Birsel) and Hutton gave it an elegant form, but also built in “purposeful and intelligent features,” says Takase, like the dual-level desktop and technology management. The result is a classic piece that supports contemporary needs.
Ayako Takase’s life is a mixture of east and west. Her early upbringing in Japan led to an appreciation of the minimal but rich forms of that culture and a respect for materials and nature. Her later time in the US brought an education in modern design practices and an empathy for the user. Takase worked under renowned designer Ayse Birsel before becoming director and cofounder of Observatory, a design studio based in Rhode Island where she and her partner Cutter Hutton explore furniture, products and experiences for such international clients as Herman Miller, Proctor & Gamble and Samsonite. Her work has won numerous awards including GIA, Japan’s Good Design Award (G-Mark) and the Chicago Athenaeum’s Good Design Award and has been featured in a variety of publications, such as The New York Times, Metropolis and Wallpaper.
Cutter Hutton is co-founder and director of Observatory, a product and furniture design consultancy based in Providence. He is involved in all aspects of the studio’s operations, from project management and client development to concept generation and designing the nuts and bolts of every project. He has led engagements with leading corporations including Procter & Gamble, Herman Miller, Samsonite, LG Electronics, Massachusetts General Hospital and The Lincoln Center. Hutton’s work has won numerous awards including the GIA, Japan’s Good Design Award (G-Mark) and the Chicago Athenaeum’s Good Design Award.
These days, the designers work in Providence in a converted carriage house divided into a design area for the staff up front and a shop in back for modeling and prototyping. In their work, which ranges from a razor for Gillette to desks for Herman Miller, they strive for empathy with imagined users.