Meet Saori, a UX Director That Sees Design Hints from Japanese Gardens, Historical Content and Music

People have their own ideas and perspectives, and each have their own inspirations and roots from the past. Although those episodes may appear to be random at glance, dots connect to lines and somehow link to what they do now. Different people have different roots, and do different designs, and we are here to realize that in “Diggin’ Roots”.

Here we have Saori Kawasaki, a freelance UX director who gains various perspectives from the Japanese history, tradition and culture and puts them to good use in UX design.

Saori Kawasaki
Freelance UX Director Portfolio / Twitter

Saori became independent after working for several design companies. Currently, as a freelance director and designer, she supports a wide range of activities, from requirements definition, user research to team development. She also runs “Service Design Quest”, which is a community for training service design skills bringing Role Playing Games as a metaphor.

1. What is your philosophy behind design?

Making fact-based premises and taking action that moves people are two ideals I constantly value. 

Saori's workshop scene
A scene from a workshop run by Saori

When making one product as a team and to make the process smooth as possible, I think it is crucial that we create something that is based on objective truth rather than subjective observation. I always conduct surveys and form hypotheses based on information that is seen and heard. If this objectivity isn’t included in the work process, things have a tendency to turn backwards. So from the start, we cut the information in segments to get the preliminary information. In addition to this, in supporting team members, I don’t conduct workshops and meetings from the beginning. Instead, I just take the time to observe what is going on first, before I start to solve problems. 

Also, trust is indispensable in terms of team problem-solving. To get people to trust me, I feel that I need to take actions first and then people around me can follow. I always think about how I can get people to follow in consequence of my own actions. This way I can start spreading the circle of problem-solving.

It’s easier said than done, and it really depends on my capacity and the relationship between individuals, but I’m trying my best.

2. What are your ways of boosting productivity?

I actively seek out new challenges in order to remember the feeling of learning through experiencing new territory. Recently, I’m learning to play musical instruments.

Saori with her keyboard

I’d always been attracted to musical performance, but it’s something that I’ve never tried before. Once I tried it, I found it difficult, embarrassing to play in front of other people, and really uncomfortable. But as I played, I was moved by the pleasant feelings of other people joining in to form one performance, and the fun of connecting with others through music. It was an invaluable experience that helped me remember the feeling of overcoming awkwardness when trying something new. 

The fact that there are new things I can learn in my life is an important factor for my growth. I am fortunate to have a lot of work projects now, but who know in another 10 years? New experiences give us the opportunity to question ourselves by asking “I’m not really a finished product, am I?” I believe that it’s not good enough to focus on refining what one can do but one must also embark into areas that one cannot do.

But rather than making these challenges out of necessities, I just do things I find fun.

3. Who has been your greatest influence?

With regards to work, I was influenced by Richard Wurman, who established the concept of “information design.” His book titled “Information Anxiety” has been my bible.

Information Anxiety by Richard Saul Wurman
Translated by Seigo Matsuoka
Japanese Version
Translated by Seigo Matsuoka (image :
Information Anxiety by Richard Saul Wurman
English Paperback Version
(image :

The book itself is so well designed in terms of information design. You can start reading from any section, and every time I read it, I discover something new. 

I first read the book when I was around 25 or 26. Reading the book made me realize, “If I don’t communicate according to a person’s feelings, I’ll lose out in life.” This isn’t something that’s limited to work. Whether you get into an argument with family or friends, I feel like this is a concept that applies to those situations as well. 

In this book, through his use of relatable stories, Wurman states that “if experience and information aren’t connected, then they are basically meaningless.” He teaches us that the context up to that point is important because the information design is based on a background of actual experience and research. 

Another thing I learned is that “data and information are different.” In modern society, gathering data is easy and we have access to an enormous amount of data, but in most instances, people are not treating this information as “meaningful information.” I was struck by the importance of designing the necessary information into an easily-to-understand visual from the data in order to create a rich experience. 

4. Is there anything particular that might be the roots of your designs and ways of thinking?

Japanese Garden

When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to go to Kyoto because I had relatives there, and something happened there that really left an impression on me. While I was looking at a Japanese garden at a temple, the garden master left an “domeishi” where he was working. A domeishi is a small rock bound by rope that is left as a sign to not enter while the garden is being tended. I was impressed when I saw this because just by leaving a small rope-tied stone, people get the message ‘do not enter’ in this wide open space.

Photo of Domeishi
Domeishi – Meaning “Stopping Stone”

The garden is so well-designed that people stop and notice when there’s something off. Thinking about the fact that the garden was explicitly designed to guide people’s actions, I was so impressed and felt proud of Japan at the same time. If such a rock were placed in Western gardens, people wouldn’t notice them and would just end up avoiding them.

I think it’s cool to have a culture that values harmony and leaves a tasteful experience using minimal expression. I’m reminded of how unique Japanese design is. It’s something you won’t realize unless you really focus on the use, which is the very fundamentals of UX design. 

5. What were you into as a teenager?

Rurouni Kenshin Comic Cover
Rurouni Kenshin by Nobuhiro Watsuki (image :

I often read history novels and watched historical content. A manga (comic) called “Rurouni Kenshin,” which was popular at the time, got me into the genre. I first read it as a battle manga, but not before long I started to get interested in the time period of the manga’s setting was in, which was the Bakumatsu era. I often wondered about the actual historical characters who appeared in the manga, and enjoyed reading other historical novels like as if they were the sub stories to the manga thinking, “What kind of person is this?” 

Some parts of the manga touched on politics, and in order to gain a better understanding of the topic, I also read other literature, which was more interesting than I thought. From that point on, I read a lot of historical books. Reading these books got me interested in researching how the way of living for people in Japan changed through time. 

Regarding present-day Japan, for example, I particularly like how the difference between Kyoto and Tokyo’s street planning or the origins of their financial services helps us understand why the attitudes and common sense within our current lifestyle exist. Understanding history helps us understand how things became the way they are, and the world became more interesting for me after realizing that I am living on the foundation of history. I was fascinated by Japanese history in my teens. 

6. Are there any services that inspired you in terms of design?

Oisix's Meal Kit
A delicious menu Saori had recently: A salad rich in kale, cheese, and nuts

Oisix’s meal kits (Oisix is a Japanese online supermarket focusing on quality food). Their kits come with ingredients and seasonings all-in-one, and can be bought online or at the supermarket. I’ve been using them for several years and they’ve been a huge help. 

The food industry often poses the theme “people don’t eat vegetables”, but Oisix goes one step further and reframes this theme into a question, “people DO eat vegetables, but maybe they just aren’t buying them?” I heard they launched their product as a solution to the reason why people don’t buy vegetables. 

Meal kits come with vegetables that would normally be difficult to prepare ourselves, but with the guide of the kit we can have make delicious, nutritionally balanced dishes. After using their kits, I began to eat seasonal vegetables and vegetables I hadn’t eaten before, so I was very much convinced of their product’s value.

It’s really a great thing to be able to change perspective on something and create something that is useful and widely used by many people. They made me realize the importance of always being flexible when facing a question.


Related Links

DESIGN STUDIO EITEL : Saori’s Design Studio

Written By

Arisa Nojima

Arisa is an editor at Spectrum Tokyo. After graduating from Massachusetts College of Art and Design, she worked for a game production company and a HR startup for designers before going independent in 2021. As a freelancer in the design community, she currently supports recruitment and writing at various companies. She loves radio and cats.

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