I really want to get some of these, but they’re really pretty hard to find in shops, even here in Tokyo. I first saw them on TV here in Japan when there was a program about the designers and creators of these innovative little wooden boxes. The concept is really simple but really original. The sides of these boxes and their lids have correspondingly positioned magnets embedded in the wood. This allows you to stick them together in various configurations and create shapes and patterns, even images, whilst also functioning as small tidy-aways for your desk or home office.
In the TV show I saw how they’re first designed on computer in the designer Keisuke Tachikawa’s studio in Tokyo. The designs are then sent off to the workshop of an old carpenter somewhere in the country, I forget where, where they are hand crafted from beautiful Japanese wood, boxed and shipped to buyers and resellers. There’s no shortage of handcrafted wonders like these in Japan and that’s one of the things I really love. The joy of making things well by hand lives on in Japan.
I heard about this guy called Takanori Aiba through a reader of Tokyo Story and was totally blown away by his work. He creates sculptures and artworks-cum-architectural models partly inspired by the traditional Japanese art of Bonsai. He’s had a really varied career having graduated in traditional Japanese textile design and dyed clothing, then moving onto illustrating for fashion magazine POPEYE before starting his own company called Graphics & Designing. He has since expanded his creative endeavours from art director and concept designer for architectural spaces to exhibiting artist.
What strikes you about his work straight away is the incredible level of detail. Each one is a fantasy world based on reality which resemble real-world buildings and structures but in a quirky microcosm. Some of his works remind me of the worlds conjured up in Ghibli movies.
I know I’ve been threatening it for a long time, but the new version of Tokyo Story is coming VERY soon. It’s in the final stages of development right now, with some new features to make it easier to explore the content on the site. Posts have been really slow over the course of last year, that will change too.
The new features will include slightly improved typography and colour schemes, a search box, better pagination, easy access to all podcasts and videos, and new categories for posts with navigation in a new sidebar. On top of all that, a much needed facelift all round which I hope doesn’t compromise the atmosphere of the blog, which I’ve always been happy with. I always wanted to keep things simple and not detract from the main content, but I feel now that the site is too ‘bare bones’ and this gives it a slightly lifeless quality which I want to remedy. It feels static, and I think the new inclusions will add a bit more vibrancy. If anyone has any suggestions, requests or recommendations please feel free to put them in the comments.
Looking further down the line, I will be pushing the freelance web design side still more and seeing where that will go. I’ll also be creating one or more WordPress themes which I might even offer for sale if they turn out OK. As a platform for these things, the website languishing in the root folder of this server will change completely, as it damn well should. This will be built on WordPress and will feature articles detailing side projects, client work, and written pieces about web design and development as I see it, as well as of course offering my services.
I’ll be making more videos too. Now 2011 is behind us, setsuden is over with, the lights are back on, the video screens over Shibuya crossing have flickered back into life and the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant has acheived cold shut down, there’s a renewed air of optimism in Tokyo again. With due reverence to those that lost their lives in the disaster and all those affected by the aftermath of the biggest earthquake in recorded history, we can tentatively look forward to and hope for, even expect, great things from 2012. There’s a lot more energy around already – and it’s only 3rd January.
Radio Tokyo Podcasts will continue as planned without any particular interval. I’ll fit them in when I can and when the mood takes me. The key to all of this stuff for me is striking a balance between having it a passion and making it a chore.
I’m in the process of elaborating on an idea for what I like to call a geographical bookmarking tool for us city dwellers that will, providing the model stands up under scrutiny during the early stages, make an appearance in open beta form with the eventual plan of having a partnering iOS app. I have other ideas for web services and apps I’d like to see, purely because I’d like to use them myself, and that’s the best reason to build one. And build them I shall!
Could the new app from Muji entitled Muji Notebook be a success? And more to the point, could it be useful for web designers? I actually think it might. At least it’d be good for notating wireframes and draft layouts on an iPad. You could even use it when doing so in the presence of the client. Moreover though, this app is a good idea for anyone who wants an electronic version of what Muji sells in their stationery section – plus a lot more besides: see the promotional video on YouTube for more info.
Available on the App Store.
The capsule hotel concept has been familiar to the Japanese for several decades, but still hasn’t taken off in the west. This may have been because of the often tacky and unrefined nature of the capsule hotels themselves, or an inbuilt response to unfamiliar concepts such as these as being weird and uninviting. Japan has never had any such problem embracing novel or strange solutions to everyday life, but when I was living in the UK, I certainly couldn’t have imagined them taking off. Even so, they would make great alternatives to expensive inner city hotels, could prove extremely useful in airports (as we saw during the recent disruption caused by the Icelandic volcanic eruption), and could even provide shelter for late night revelers in urban areas, maybe even reducing drink driving.
If it ever were to cross the continents and make it to the west, let’s hope it arrives in the form of Kyoto’s new 9h Capsule Hotel designed by Fumie Shibata of Design Studio S. The name 9h comes from the concept of having 1 hour to shower, 7 hours to sleep, and 1 hour to rest (a total of 9 hours), although you can actually stay anything up to 17 hours in one day. The thing that really sets this capsule hotel apart from all the others that have gone before are the futuristic minimalist interiors, excellent facilities and the technologically advanced features, such as the biorhythm-aware Panasonic pod management systems that wake guests individually with simulated dawns of controlled lighting instead of noisy alarm clocks. Really though, it’s the industrial design that I love about this project. It is perfectly aligned with the discerning tastes famous in Kyoto with sleek black, dark wood and brilliant white being found throughout. The design of the electronic elements, the shapes of the capsule windows and the tasteful graphic design further reinforce the Japanese feel and serves to firmly set this apart from the awful Yotel at London Heathrow and makes the Nite Nite hotels look distinctly average.
I’m thinking of taking a trip to Kyoto soon, so I’ll make sure I spend one night here. I’ve never been so excited about the idea of sleeping in any other type of accommodation. That means something, surely.
3Waves Japan Market Research is a full-service qualitative research agency based in Tokyo that serves the overseas market exclusively with a team of bilingual and bicultural consultants, and they chose me to build their website. The project was a joy to work on because they’re great people, but I also got to build a Flash weather widget for Tokyo, as well as scrolling interfaces, dynamic XML-driven slideshows, and a component in Flash that interfaces with the WordPress blogging platform. All-in-all it was a bit of a tour de force and we’re all over the moon with how it turned out. Have a look for yourselves, or even better, contact them about your market research requirements in Japan. Unfortunately they’re so good at what they do they’re in very high demand already so get them while you can (the launch was January 1st 2010).
Some Uniqlo news now. I was in the newly expanded Ginza branch yesterday and had the good fortune to see the new +J line of clothing at the back of the new mens’ section. I tried on some of the outerwear, and I liked it very much. Although I didn’t buy anything (yet), I was taken by the fine tailoring and the details. This lead me inevitably back to the Japanese Uniqlo website where I saw the new Flash toy launched this Autumn – Uniqlo Tunes. It plays video in time with MP3’s, and you can even upload your own. As usual you have the option of integrating it into your blog. This new music toy joins a small collection of other Uniqlo Flash virals and microsites.
The Hobonichi Techo is a phenomenon in Japan. It’s a personal organiser built in the Japanese tradition of excellence in workmanship. The company’s forward-thinking marketing has it branded as as much a fashion accessory as a piece of boring stationery. With a community of owners, and idea books full the various ways they use them, it’s become a real modern design icon here. Many people seem to use them and about this time of year are usually in stationery stores such as Loft agonising over which one to choose from the multitude of different collaborations, material finishes and colourways. I’ve been browsing them also, and they look really nice. I’m getting one for 2010, but which one? Check the video above for possible options.
Sorry if this video is a little heavy, its native resolution on YouTube is pretty large.
The people of good taste at Tokyobike sell simple, well designed and well made bikes via their website tokyobike.com. These bikes are somewhere between the fixed gear bikes that have such a strong ridership in Tokyo right now, and the kind of practical urban cycles that Muji used to stock in it’s Yurakucho store before the range changed to the meagre offering of mamacharis that it is now. Needless to say, it’s been added to my wants list.
Naoto Fukasawa is one of the most well renowned industrial designers in Japan. Most people will know his work through MUJI (Mujirushi Ryohin Keikaku), the Japanese lifestyle goods retailer, having been responsible for their famous wall-mounted CD player along with a raft of other products. Anyone wanting to get an overview of his output to date should get down to 21_21 Design Sight at Tokyo Midtown between October 16 and January 31 for an exhibition called The Outline, featuring approximately 100 of Naoto Fukasawa’s product designs in photographs taken by Tamotsu Fujii.
Looking from the window of the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line subway train on my daily commute to work I noticed this gloriously dated mural in Suehirochou station (which will spit you out in Akihabara, electric town should you take the main exit onto the street). I had to step off the train and get a picture of this retro masterpiece (above).
There seems to have been a lot of ‘the end of an era’ scenarios recently, and this one is definitely no exception. Easily one of the most well-established graphic design companies in the UK, and possibly one of the most well known around the world, TDR was highly influential from as far back as the early 90’s, and particularly close to my heart due to their association with the independent UK record label, Warp Records – home of Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Mira Calix, Plaid, and of course Warp Films. They closed their doors on Tuesday, but there are rumours of a return from some of the founding members. Apparently, the studio had started down the classic agency model route, with account handlers and such, in order to facilitate the acquisition of big contracts like Coca-Cola. This is miles away from the original manifesto of TDR, which was to be a rebel faction within the design industry, and to shun the usual conventions followed by the big design companies in order to offer some kind of alternative angle. The insolvency was due to business bad luck with debtors and tax complications leading to the collapse. I’m interested to see what happens next.
There’s a new creative agency in the UK called Displayground, an exceptionally talented group of designers, producers and creatives. I produced the Flash component of their new site, which involved incorporating some of the company’s ambitious ideas. You’ve got a mix of traditional stop-time animation, clay models, motion graphics, and vector shapes coming together to create a really original site. Design and photography credits go to the boys in the studio under creative director Mat Glover. The free-roaming orbs took a while to program and no mistake.
Uniqlo’s ever popular T-shirt project UT has been going for a while now, but as a recent addition to their plethora of usual outlets, they’ve added this dedicated UT store in Harajuku. It was opened last April, but this is the first time I’ve been there. With temperatures the way they are at the moment I wasn’t planning on buying any T-shirts, I just wanted to check out the store itself. The shop consists of a few racks of T’s and other items, surrounded by a wall of vending machines, above which you have the ticker-tape displays with lines of text making laps of the room as you shop. The vending machines contain the bulk of the T-shirt stock. You choose the one you want, and then out pops the T in the trademark tube-like plastic packaging. I get the feeling they will need an iron once you get the back to your house though. Generally I like the store, so I’ll be back in the spring to pick up some from the manga series.
Personally, I like The Wonderful! Design Works – I own a couple of their T-shirts from previous collections. This lot and more besides are available in Beams-T and selected Beams stores now!