Tadanori Nagasawa: A Celestial Leader Making Possibilities into Reality

10 Best Influential Educational Leaders in 2022

Tadanori Nagasawa was born in 1953, presently serving Musashino Art University as a President Since 2015. Later in his career, he was awarded as Senior Fellow of Royal College of Art in 2016.

He graduated in 1978 from Musashino Art University and completed (MA.RCA) from Royal College of Art in 1981. He has acted as a cultural engineer, policymaker, and design consultant from 1981 to 2019 in his own design firm. Also served as an Image Director of Toyama Prefecture for 18 years starting from 1984. On the other hand, Tadanori also served as a Jury Member of the Good Design Award for 15 years starting from 1987 and also co-founded Design Analysis International Limited in London in1987, and Japan Design Consultant Association in 1996.

While speaking on radio and televisions, he is also writing multiple journals and books and also organizing many design exhibitions and other conventional projects. 

Struggles and Explorations as a Young Man

It was very difficult for me to choose an educational institution that would suit my needs. After careful consideration I have decided to choose Science as my core subject.

After graduating from senior high school in Toyama Prefecture, I spent two years feeling depressed and struggling, staring at “the horizon” from the train window as I traveled back and forth between Toyama and Tokyo to search my appropriate institution for my ideal study place. The view of the horizon became a symbol of my philosophy and motto.

Perhaps, it is my outburst defiance, I am feeling that these two years were so important for me to consider myself and to foster myself for an endurance of creative thinking and attitude in my life.

Diverse learning and academic development

Musashino Art University is an ideal place to study, the department of

Science of Design especially offers a wider range of design-related subjects such as semiotics, cybernetics, topology, phonetics, chromatics.

MAU was founded in 1929 as a small private art school in Tokyo and was renamed Musashino Art University when it became a university in 1962.

As of 2021, MAU is home to a total of 7,162 students – 4,326 undergraduate students, 372 graduate students including doctoral program, and 2,464 students in the correspondence course.

It has been accepting students from overseas from the beginning of its establishment. There are more than 600 international students which continue to increase every year.

International relations initiatives

I became the Director of International Relations at MAU in 2003 and started to explore partner institutions in the world. MAU has 37 partner universities overseas now.

When I was a Deputy President and the Director of Planning Division, I organized and directed the “World Summit of Art University Presidents – The Role of Art Universities in Society and their Mission in this Era” and the “International Design Symposium —Towards a New Era in Advanced Design Education in the 21st Century” as our MAU’s 80 years anniversary events in 2009.

In the field of international design education, I started the “Cultural Library Project,” which had been conducted in collaboration with Köln International School of Design in Germany, UAL/Central Saint Martins in the UK, Shih Chien University in Taiwan, and MAU for eight years since 2007.

MAU, in collaboration with UAL/Central Saint Martins, Köln International School of Design, Lasalle College of Arts, and Shih Chien University, established the “Global Design Faculty (GDF).” Since 2015, together with the five-member institutions, we have been organizing the “Global Design Initiative (GDI) Workshop” hosted by one of five institutions each year and member institutions send students working together there.

As President of Musashino Art University

I was elected the President of MAU in 2015 and I was recognized and awarded a Senior Fellow of the Royal College of Art in 2016 for my 30 years of contributions to the internationalization of design education.

Since I became the President of MAU in 2015, I have kept sending my message of “Can you stand on the Horizon?” on every occasion at both the Graduation Ceremony and Entrance Ceremony.

Philosophy of Musashino Art University

Internationalization initiatives have been a tradition of the university since its establishment.

We have been deeply aware of the need to nurture students with a combination of generalist and specialist skills as creators, and have adhered to the educational philosophy of providing art education that enables to “foster students to function with true freedom as human beings” and produce creators of well-rounded erudition.

Needless to say, we offer not only traditional liberal arts courses in art and design but also courses in new fields and subjects that respond to new developments in social systems such as globalization and the development of an information society.

As an innovative institution

My experience of new concepts and insight on design activities might be helpful for establishing new programs of design education, especially for founding the new College and new Department in MAU.

Three years ago, in 2019, Musashino Art University established the new “College of Creative Thinking for Social Innovation” which is composed of two departments, the Department of Creative Innovation and the Department of Imaging Arts and Sciences, and these curriculums are based on the quarter system.

The new “Department of Creative Innovation” contains criteria of Technology, Business, and Human-Value on the basis of Creativity, which is different from the ordinary discipline of traditional art and design education.

Both the new department of Creative Innovation and the postgraduate course named “Creative Leadership” are based on our 90 years of educational experience in art and design.

I believe this challenge must be an example of art and design-driven innovation embodying “New Flexible Specialization” based on the needs in our society and especially for fostering the leading next generation.

The flexibility of design and “learners-centered education”

I have appreciated the establishment of design disciplines such as product design, visual communication design, environmental design, and so on. But these disciplines have been established in the era of industrialization in the last century.

And it has already been a half-century passed since we have been discussing the interdisciplinary aspects in various fields.

We have highly established specialization such as academic disciplines or science and scientific knowledge need to explore more flexible and wider interests because they need to innovate their own disciplines for trying to overcome and beyond their own sectionalism in this era named VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity).

We, as design educators, must tolerate and respect the diversity of students’ problem consciousness in our modern civilization, and encourage them to take up the challenge of solving the “super wicked problems” that arise from their day-to-day experiences.

For the sake of the next generation, I believe aspects of our education need to be reshaped into a new flexible specialization and shifted to a “learners-centered education”. And we want to take the initiative in the forthcoming advanced information era.

Overcoming the Pandemic with Advanced Futuristic Approach

The COVID-19 pandemic attacked the globe at the beginning of 2020, firstly we reorganized our academic schedule and prepared the programs for providing a hybrid style of running classes before the beginning of a new academic year started in April.

To overcome this difficult situation, each department put an effort to invent new methods of teaching, especially making artworks or prototypes as a nature of art and design education.

Accordingly, these new ways of combining online and delivery systems together achieved innovative opportunities in art and design education, and this attempt had been recognized by the Ministry (MEXT) and published serially in the magazine for sharing these methods to institutions throughout Japan.

As we understand that it is crucial for art and design, students need to meet teachers and classmates to work and communicate together in person at studios, so that we allowed students on the campus under the regulated measures to prevent infections, which was the first art universities in Japan. There has been no COVID-19 cluster in MAU in two years now.

MAU should be creative itself and keep challenging ideal methods and environments for fostering creative talents always. Innovation is not an easy operation; however, we keep attempting to improve ourselves, just like “Believe in ourselves, have courage, and take the first step forward. We look forward to seeing where our vision takes us.”

I think this concept might be in other words to say “Shifting learners-centered education” and we will take an initiative to revive design education by intending “New Flexible Specialization” in the forthcoming advanced information era.

Mission as President

I am more of a “creator of circumstances” rather than a person who leads others with strong leadership. The situation I create triggers colleagues to think freely, and I myself respond with the same perspective in the same situation. These are the kind of circumstances that makes things work well for me and others together.

It reminds me that I was inspired by the popular film “Babe -A little pig goes a long way-” in which a sheep-pig “Babe” acted to show a new style of leadership. I was re-elected President of MAU in 2019. I would be delighted if my achievements and leadership ability were recognized by others as president.

Career Appendix

In addition to my social activities, I have chaired and lectured at many design seminars not only in Japan but also overseas such as Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, England, Iceland, Singapore, Malaysia, China, and Taiwan.

I have also been featured in numerous magazines, newspapers, and design-related books, and have talked about design on TV and radio programs in Japan and Europe.

From “Tangibility” towards “Intangibility”

In the midst of the terrible recession in the U.K., Tadanori Nagasawa was the first Japanese to return to Japan after earning a Master’s degree (RCA), and opened a design office to start his career as a design consultant and then in 1986, he founded a design firm “Tadanori Nagasawa & Associates Limited / Design Consultants” with a new perspective to revolutionize the concept of design in Japan, and have been active as a promoter of design based on a new way of thinking and as a catalyst for design industry and culture, not only in the field of creating tangible products, but also in the field of knowledge management and intangible services. All these phenomena indicate the core value of modern civilization shifting from “Tangibility” towards “Intangibility”, and “The Intangible Era” has truly arrived after he wrote his first book “The Intangible Era – A Vision for the Design-Oriented Society” in 1988.

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