Ayako Takase and Cutter Hutton

U.S.A. (1976) (1977)

Ayako Takase and Cutter Hutton, who co-founded Observatory design studio in 2001, grew up with differing backgrounds but a shared passion for design They each found their way to industrial design and then to each other while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, where they remain active in teaching roles in addition to their design work.

Born in Bronxville, New York, Takase moved with her family to Japan when she was 2 years old and found herself immersed in both traditional and modern objects. “Design was everywhere,” she says. “And I had a mother who was very design-object conscious.” Takase developed a passion for art but also showed an aptitude for invention. “I just loved making things,” she says. “‘Oh, I need a shelf,’ and I would just go make it out of cardboard.”

Takase was drawn to industrial design, attracted to its jack-of-all-trades nature. “I was like, wow, that’s some magical occupation,” she says. “You have to think about people and psychology. You get to make things. You have to do research. You have to do analysis. You have to do math. It’s just everything.”

Hutton was similarly engaged from the very beginning. “I grew up working on old houses with my parents,” he says. “So understanding how to make things and using my hands was always really important to me.” But he’s best known in family lore for an opposite pursuit. “He took his mother’s sewing machine apart when he was 4 years old,” Takase says. “And no one could reassemble it,” Hutton adds.

Born in New Hampshire and raised in a host of states, Hutton pursued studies in architecture but switched to industrial design after a family friend introduced him to it. “I’m very much a problem-solving, gear-headed thinker,” he says, “but also very much interested in the way things look and how we experience them.”

These days, the designers work in Providence in a converted carriage house divided into a design area for the staff up front and a shop in back for modeling and prototyping. In their work, which ranges from a razor for Gillette to desks for Herman Miller, they strive for empathy with imagined users. “It’s study and research,” Takase says. “We become that person who will be using the design. There’s a lot of discussion and brainstorming. Then we sketch ideas and make mock-ups to see the design at the real scale. We’re very hands-on. We have to make it and experience it before we are satisfied.”

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