How did you get started in the design industry? I longed to be able to communicate with people of different cultures and nationalities through visual graphics, such as posters and logos. Letting your messages take shape is so meaningful because it is not only an expression of yourself, but also a dialogue with others. I get a lot of power from paintings, picture books and sculptures, so I began to design because I also wanted to be on the side that creates.
Daikoku Design Institute, the design studio you founded within Nippon Design Center (NDC), recently opened an office in Los Angeles. What were the challenges of establishing a satellite office in another country? There were both psychological and physical hardships. In terms of psychological hardships, dissolving my studio in Japan was difficult for me. Also, moving to a different country with my wife and child was scary. Since I did not have any work or networks in the United States, it was a big responsibility to create my own path in a foreign land. In Japan, I was very blessed with socially aware clients and international acclaim for my work, so many people asked me “Why?” or told me I was throwing away a perfect environment. But curiosity drove my move, so I didn’t doubt my decision.
The physical hardship was that I had to put an end to many of the projects I had running in Japan. I really enjoyed these projects, and I wanted to continue them, but there were many that couldn’t stand the distance barrier—especially in the print media. Technology has brought our world much closer together, but distance is still a hardship in human communication. However, I believe this will be eased with time and experience if we continue seeking effective communication methods.
It took me quite a lot of time to get set up to live and work here. A partner company to NDC, interTrend Communications, helped us tremendously with visa sponsorship and all aspects of the move. I couldn’t have done it without Julia Huang, chief executive officer of interTrend. I am also extremely grateful for NDC and my supportive clients who warmly sent me off. I know I am here because of the generosity of many such people.
What excites you about working in Los Angeles? Everything. How people work, how teams are coordinated, how time is spent, how meetings are run… even everyday things are a big learning experience for me. Since I was used to working late nights, it was a culture shock that people finish work on time and leave for home. It’s also quite interesting to see how eager people seem for the weekends on Friday afternoons. I’m more aware of time here, and I am very focused with the shorter time that I spend working. Also, I’m trying out the standing desk thing, and so far, it’s going well!
Would you recommend specializing in a niche area of design to a designer who is just getting started? It is important to have a technique or expression that you take pride in, but I don’t think you should insist on a single field of specialization. It’s more important to think of your design from a broader perspective. In this age, designers are required to select the optimum media from a massive array of options and apply a single united concept to each of them. There are many designers with specialized techniques, but there is a shortage of directors who can grasp a core concept and direct the entire project. I think that in the coming years, designers who have both technical and artistic skill sets and can lead projects with a broad perspective will be in high demand.
What trends in art, technology or culture are you most interested in? It’s dangerous to think of work and life as completely separate things. Organizing the things in your daily life leads to new insights in design. For example, right now, going to the farmers market with my family is a precious time for me. I think designers should live a lifestyle they want to embody and be very conscious of things in daily life outside of work, like food and clothing.
In terms of lifestyle and culture, I’m interested in architecture, furniture and food. Art is what gives me energy. Recently, I’ve been struck by the colors and forms of Gary Hume’s work. I find something new each time I look at his pieces. I’m happy that since coming to Los Angeles, I feel closer to art and can enjoy it at a much larger scale.
In terms of technology, artificial intelligence (AI) seems to be a trend. Oftentimes, the answers that AI come up with are difficult or enigmatic, but they are also fascinating because they come from a completely different perspective than that of humans. Designers will play a vital role in communicating these answers in an easily understood fashion.
What conversations would you like to see designers having? I would like designers to discuss where the heart of US design lies in recent years.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? Looking back, I was too focused on creating my work that I didn’t try to consolidate my ideas into words and put them out in the world. I should have shared my ideas in words more, and moving forward, I will try to do just that.