Hideki Yoshimoto Looks Beyond the Horizon

The Lexus Design Award’s first-ever recipient returns to Milan Design Week a decade later to show the automaker’s latest concept car in a poetic new light.

Preview of “Beyond the Horizon.” Image courtesy of Lexus and Hideki Yoshimoto/Tangent

In 2013, Hideki Yoshimoto became the inaugural recipient of the Lexus Design Award with Inaho, lighting that riffs poetically on rice in the wind. Its form mimics the grain’s long ear, with the futurist twist of an ability to bend towards those who approach it. Since then, Tangent, the design firm he founded with Yoshinaka Ono just after the big win, has found clever ways to bend tech towards poetics in major collaborations with Hermés and Wonderglass. His connection to Lexus has only deepened, resulting in a 2020 commission to conceive a new trophy for the Design Award he was the first to win.

This spring, he’ll install Beyond the Horizon, an interactive lighting installation showcasing the Lexus Future Zero-Emission Catalyst concept car at Superstudio Più during Milan Design Week. Yoshimoto took a moment for a conversation with Surface, edited and condensed below, in which he discusses the design award’s impact, how he brings technology to humanity, and what he can reveal about the new installation.

Hideki Yoshimoto

How did the award happen and what did it mean to you?

I was a student at the Royal College of Art. Engineering, aeronautics, and astronautics was my original background, so I was an engineer moving to design. I was nervous; they’re different worlds. I wasn’t confident about being a designer or even being a student. And obviously, being Japanese and studying in a different country. It’s not about winning awards, but it was about getting confidence in the world of design, so it was a big thing. My winning piece, Inaho, is still very popular. People still buy it ten years later, so it’s proven to be a good idea.

Did that confidence feed into you launching your own firm?

It gave me the kickstart. Winning the award made me feel like I’ll belong, and that I needed a name. Tangent stands for the tangent line, touching a curve. One of my focuses is bringing technology to humanity and design. Sometimes technology is too sharp, but I wanted to touch gently and softly, respecting the human. This balance is what I aimed for.

Inaho. Image courtesy of Lexus and Hideki Yoshimoto/Tangent

How does that figure into the work Tangent has done?

It’s all connected. I realized Inaho as a real project; people saw it and invited me to show in Paris and Dubai, and Cyril Zammit invited me to do a screening on the Burj Khalifa’s facade. We thought of bridging the ground and outer space, so it’s a seven-minute animation that starts with red magma, like the Earth’s core, and ascends through layers of the ground and into the ocean and desert, the wind of a winter storm, and through highways up into a blue sky. Then it travels far away towards different degrees of the universe. We named it Ascension.

The Earth also figures into your installation for Hermès.

They showed me [the Arceau L’Heure De La Lune] watch and explained it has two moons, and I came up with the idea in two minutes. There’s a Japanese poem about a shipwrecked sailor in China looking at the moon and how it’s the same moon he saw from Japan. There are no two moons; there’s just one, like there’s only one Earth. The installation is about protecting our planet. It’s massive and made of recycled photovoltaic and solar cells. I still own the sculpture in my warehouse; we showed it in the London Design Festival in 2019.

Preview of “Beyond the Horizon.” Image courtesy of Lexus and Hideki Yoshimoto/Tangent

In 2020, Lexus asked you to design the trophy for its award. How did you conceive of it?

I wanted to highlight Japanese craft. I used urushi lacquer and worked with a craftsman. I discovered Byakudan, a traditional wood technique where they cover the body with silver powder and apply urushi in dark brown. Because of ultraviolet light, the urushi gradually gets more transparent and the silver coating becomes more visible. If you compare the identical trophy from 2020 to the one for 2024, the difference makes the old trophy even brighter. The Design Award puts young talent on a stage in Milan, and after ten years the trophy is sitting next to them celebrating the progress. The award is not an ending, but the beginning—and the trophy celebrates this.

You’re showing again with Lexus this year—what can you reveal about your installation?

They asked me to think about the future of mobility, especially software-defined vehicles. So I created interactive lighting sculptures. Each looks the same, but as you get closer, they’re quite different in terms of the texture of lighting. It’s our biggest project ever. Tangent was born ten years ago with Lexus, so it celebrates this past and being here after a decade. I wanted to get into a depth of thought. I didn’t want to make an entertainment exhibition. I want to make it art.

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