In the Western world, some remember similar creative collaborations from a popular childhood game: One kid would write a word on paper, fold the page and then hand it to the next in line to continue the invariably surreal story. The current collaboration between Luca Nichetto and Oki Sato has a similarly childlike, unselfconscious appeal – and the tangible results of their creative interplay are currently on display at Milan Design Week in the guise of seven products. Their project Nichetto=Nendo constitutes the constructive game of two free spirits without rules, but imbued with plenty of fun.

Shelves in a comic
Shelves in a comic

Last December, the duo came up with their idea of a design-based “east-west divan,” a joint work of Japan and Italy, Oki and Luca. As part of this back-and-forth ping-pong process, the two design collaborators forwarded unfinished ideas and sketches to their creative partner for completion.

Oki admits his lack of interest in colours and shapes – he cares more about a product’s concept and history. What emotions does the product trigger in its user? This is a very Japanese approach – just like his motto “nendo” (putty and also his company’s moniker). According to Oki, products should be flexible and flowing.

Luca, on the other hand, is notorious for blazing his own creative trails. Driven not only by the research aspect of production processes, but also a strong environmental awareness, his early experiences in material research and product development continue to shape his current design aesthetic – and thus match and complement Oki’s position.

Sketches of NICHETTO=NENDO
Sketches of NICHETTO=NENDO

The result of their collaboration, the products displayed as part of the Nichetto=Nendo exhibition, were not driven by distribution or mass production related pressures, but based on the free exchange and thought experiments of two harmonious and complementary designers. Who finished whose design remains irrelevant – and in the eye of the beholder.
With this in mind, the assembled shelves, partitions, chairs, stools and carpets betray no particular style, but tell their own little stories – starting with names like:

– Shelves in a Comic resembling semi-transparent speech bubbles
– Wedge of Matter, an extendible candlestick
– Paper Ice Cream lamps that pay homage to traditional Japanese paper lanterns
– Portable Pot, an ultralight cork stool with a central grip
– Fish Skin on the Roof, a carpet fashioned from intersecting fish scales
– Trellis Bandaged, a bandaged partition of knotted woven textiles
– Bridges for Islands, a rounded armchair with three double legs

NICHETTO=NENDO Exhibition
NICHETTO=NENDO Exhibition

With collaborations that blend and unite different styles and characters gaining in importance, their juxtaposition of styles, cultures and mentalities broadens the design horizon akin to social media’s revolution of our communications and its global village appeal. This clash and mix keeps the result exciting – and spreads the word to a wider circle of intrigued fans and buyers.

For one, the cooperation Nichetto=Nendo shows that two designers can indeed work together without reverting to the roles of competitors. After all, and coupled with a light and playful touch, their mutual respect and esteem gives rise to something that transcends concepts and sketches, colours and shapes: real friendship.