ideaboard® Series: Product Development Story #11_Partners | f/p design

In December 2019, NKC Nakanishi Metal Works Co., Ltd. (referred to as NKC in the following) launched their new whiteboard, “ideaboard®.” Unraveled by the project members themselves, this series records the story of how the ideaboard was brought to life, and into ours.
Following the past eight articles covering our interview with Riku Nagasaki, developer of ideaboard and head of “KAIMEN” (the business design team reporting directly to the president at NKC), we now move on to the external partners with whom KAIMEN collaborated during the course of ideaboard’s product development.

Read past articles

This is our interview with Hiroshi Kaneko, managing director of fp design co., ltd.


金子 浩 |Hiroshi KANEKO
f/p design

1. Creating something apart from a whiteboard

ーFirst, please tell us what kind of work you normally do.

f/p design is an industrial design agency led by Fritz Frenkler, founded in 2000 in Germany, and our Kyoto studio is its Japanese subsidiary company. Office furniture has been our area of expertise for quite some time now, but we also work on medical equipment and industrial machinery. These days, our projects go beyond product development as far as working on manufacturing company’s CI—designing interfaces and graphics—as well as branding. We launched this Kyoto studio five years ago upon my return to Japan, and now the team has grown into five designers.

ーDo you remember the time when you were first introduced to the concept of ideaboard?

First and foremost, I remember we had a common understanding that the product we were going to create was something that was “not a whiteboard.”

One of the reasons behind that was because I personally had experience working at an office furniture company and had dealt with the complexity of whiteboards. Whiteboards nowadays have gone through years of product development and have already various functions built into them—printing, scanning, data conversions, and so on. I didn’t want the ideaboard to fall into this category of whiteboards and knew I had to let go of any preconceptions.


2. Stripping all excess designs and functions

ーWhat kind of perspective do you value in product development?

At our firm, we often discuss how we can reduce a product’s excess elements in its shape and functions.

In the case of ideaboard, I believe the first request was to somehow connect the boards by magnets, and how to represent that feature in the product. However, the ideaboard turned out to be something completely different. There was no rule to use magnets. What was needed was that the product could be consequently used in a similar way.

Of course, during the phase of developing the idea as a team, the use of magnets was indeed fascinating, and we wanted to try various things with them. However, what we were trying to achieve as a product was “a simple board to jot our ideas onto,” so during the process of actually creating the product, many of the additional functions, including the magnets, were stripped off.

—I heard there was also a discussion on the shape of the presentation stand?

This was unusual in the sense that Nagasaki-san and our team had different opinions. At f/p design, we have a policy that “a product’s shape should be simple enough to describe in words.” The end product’s shape came out to be “a cylinder with a slit”— a shape anyone could imagine. However, change this into “a cylinder with a vertical cut and slit in a vertical direction,” and various images come to mind.


I believe that when a product is launched, it’s easier to communicate when the shape can be translated into words, hence likely to spread from person to person.

—This project seems as though elements were repeatedly reduced as the product development moved on.

For ordinary products, the more functions it has, it tends to become more usable. Especially, when creating something that’s already out in the market, people tend to head in the direction of “adding.”
However, when thinking of usable items such as paper and chopsticks, you realize that the most usable products are the ones where you can adapt them to your own specific needs.

That said, the ideaboard has truly been minimized to the point where we couldn’t reduce anything else. Frankly, day by day, it became more of “just a board.” By solely looking at the outcome, some may say we just designed a board, but yes, in the end, this simple board became our output.

3. Selecting material and monitor testing at outside design agencies

ーWhat did you find most difficult during product development?

In addition to its appearance design, we were picky about the selection of materials—giving tremendous amounts of thought to the product’s weight, thinness, and durability.


TOKIWA Manufacturing Co., Ltd., our manufacturer, was particularly concerned about the thinness. Our goal was to limit the boards’ thinness to under 10mm. However, without any kind of frame, this was a huge challenge for the company. By keeping the expansion ratio of the urethane foam (used in the product’s core) low, we could guarantee high density thus strength, yet not its lightness. For us, keeping the board light enough so that anyone could easily carry at least five of them in one go was particularly important. However, durability and cost would always become an issue. We definitely spent the most time and energy on finding out the preferable balance amongst these aspects.

Our sales launch had already been scheduled, so in a good way, it was quite a tense period. In contrast to the time when we were quickly reducing functions and ideas, it was a time of trial and error, and we really owe it to TOKIWA Manufacturing for being so patient and resilient with us.

ーYou collaborated with outside design agencies to carry out monitor testing with various prototypes. How did you feel during that period?

We definitely felt some good pressure. First of all, Nagasaki-san himself is basically from a design-producing field and has experience going in and out of major design firms. The fact that he chose f/p design to work with him on his project added to the pressure as well as the fact that we were working with such a simple product like the ideaboard.

Bringing a prototype to an outside design agency for monitor testing means our whole process of product development will be revealed. Caught between our thoughts of wanting to present our finalized product to other agencies in the same industry, and to hear the real opinions of users, we did feel the pressure. I guess that might have been part of Nagasaki-san’s plan as well. I think the fact that the process was always on display, generated good pressure for us and pushed us to constantly give it our best.

ーWas there a particularly memorable incident as you moved forward on the project?

When we were looking around for our prototype on our visit to the studio in Tenma(Osaka) to check up on it, we found one of the staff had attached legs and was already regularly using it. I remember thinking, “this is how KAIMEN does it.” They will keep moving forward by putting things immediately into practice. Can it be used as a table? How many legs are needed? How much weight can it withstand without bending? I think they had placed a printer—something quite heavy on top. This scene definitely made a mark.


Also, the fact that each decision was made extremely quickly was impressive. This has become the key aspect of this project, and I believe Nagasaki-san himself was very aware of that. Decisions were made not only considering the appearance design but also what would be appealing to the users. Working alongside him, that fast-paced environment was very comfortable.

4. Future expectations for ideaboard’s evolution

ーHow do you think the ideaboard will further develop? Do you have any expectations?

During the first couple of sessions, Nagasaki-san would emphasize the importance of the users being able to write down their ideas before their passion for it would cool down. I remember this vividly because I myself didn’t have this concept in mind. I always tend to use a lot of blank white paper, and I guess this is what he wanted to say—no limitations to space or direction, drawable, writable, and stackable. The ability to visualize an idea before its excitement fades away. The ideaboard may be of similar existence, so I believe this concept may become a key element to its future development.

Nowadays during this unfortunate pandemic, the situation has drastically changed from when we were working on the ideaboard. Many things have transferred online. Convenient online tools have emerged one after another, but what if there was an “online ideaboard” that had stripped itself to the bare minimum... Just a thought, but it might be interesting.

After this situation settles, it would be fun to have a group talk session with all the other outside partners. It’d be interesting to find out what everyone’s honest thoughts were back then.

To be continued in “ideaboard Series: Product Development Story #12

(Interview by Mone Nishihama, NINI Co., Ltd., translation by Kyoko Yukioka, NINI Co., Ltd., and photos by Ryo Terashima)

▼Click below to see the original Japanese version / 原文はこちら