Japanese Design Archive Survey
Designers ＆ Creators
Date: 17 October 2016, 16:30 - 18:00
Location: Akita Design Kan
Interviewees: Satoko Suzuki（Mrs. Kan Akita）
Interviewers: Yasuko Seki, Akiko Wakui
Author: Akiko Wakui
1958 Born in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.
1981 Graduated from Tokyo Zokei University, Department of Visual Design in 2006.
1982 Joined Ikko Tanaka Design Studio.
1991 Establishment of Akita Design Kan.
1998 - 2012 Taught at Tokyo Zokei University (Professor since 2004).
2012 Passed away
The graphic designer Kan Akita passed away in October 2012 at the age of 53. After graduating from Tokyo Zokei University, Akita worked as a staff member in Ikko Tanaka Design Studio before setting up on his own. After independence, he produced a wide range of graphic design work including book design, posters, packaging, logos and signage. He was awarded New Designer Award of the Japan Graphic Designers Association (JAGDA), Hara Hiromu Award of the Tokyo Art Directors Club, the Japan Package Design Award (Silver), the New York ADC (Silver and Bronze), and many other awards. He was expected to play an even more active role in the future when he passed away.
Akita's style is often described as "dynamic" and "orthodox", using a balance of strong colours and space to accentuate them, and expressing them simply and clearly. This impression is due to the strength of his message, which he conveys directly and powerful, and which cannot be achieved through superficial colours and shapes. Akita's keen insight and flexible imagination allow him to approach his work from a variety of angles, and from the many ideas that emerge, he is always in search of the "absolute solution". This is Akita's stance and the source of his compelling work.
Akita's ability to work with Issey Miyake's designs, which are also simple in concept and innovative in design, has led to the creation of exhibition posters for a number of Issey brands, including ISSEY MIYAKE, PLEATS PLEASE and A-POC. In the poster design for the “A-POC MIYAKE ISSEY+FUJIWARA DAI Exhibition” (2003), Akita created the front and back of the double-sided printed poster, representing the front and back of the clothes and text. This idea expressed the concept of 'a piece of cloth', which Miyake has consistently advocated, in 'a piece of paper'.
Akita's ability to capture three dimensions and space also earned him the trust of architects, and he designed many architecture-related books and posters. Akita was, among others, deeply involved with Gallery MA, a gallery specialising in architecture and design, as a member of Ikko Tanaka's staff when it opened in 1985. From 2000 to 2010, Mr. Tanaka passed the baton to him and he continued to create posters for the exhibition announcements. In addition to working tirelessly on a number of projects, he has also taught at his alma mater, Tokyo Zokei University, since 1998, and has been keen to train younger designers. In his book "The Book of Design Books" (Pie Books, 2007), he has selected and described a total of 833 books, including books that he recommends to beginners in design and books that have influenced him, and compiled them into a book that provides hints for young people to cultivate their creativity.
GINZA GRAPHIC GALLERY, "Shinichiro Arakawa" (1997), “What is it? A-POC -Miyake Issey + Fujiwara Dai-" Exhibition (2003), PLEATS PLEASE ISSEY MIYAKE New Basics (2004)
"The Architecture of Luis Barragan" TOTO Publishing (1992), "Architecture Map Tokyo" TOTO Publishing (1994), "Kazuo Shinohara" TOTO Publishing (1996), "Le Corbusier's Complete House" TOTO Publishing (2001),"ARCHITECT KIYOSHI SEIKE 1918-2005" Shinkenchiku-sha (2006)
Logotypes and Symbols
Logo for Aoki Holdings (2005), Shiki Theatre (Spring, Autumn 1998, Summer2009), JOCA (2000)
Morisawa font (2007, 2008)
PARK HYATT SEOUL (2005)*, Hyatt Regency Kyoto (2006)*
* Sign design in collaboration with Katsumi Fujita
"The Book of Design" Pied Books (2007)
Mr. Akita could not throw things away.
It was surprising that he was not obsessed with sketching.
Current status of company name succession and archiving
— We would like Ms. Suzuki who has supported Mr. Akita as an editor in her work and as his wife in his private life, to talk about the current state of the design archives left behind by him and how they will be maintained in the future. It has been four years since Mr. Akita passed away, how is the office now?
Suzuki The staff from those days have gone independent or moved to other firms, but "Akita Design Kan" still exists as a corporation today. My tax accountant advised me to continue the company by adding my job description to the articles of association.
— Main business of Akita Design Kan is your own work, but you also receive requests related to Mr. Akita?
Suzuki That's right. For almost half a year after Akita passed away, the staff stayed behind to help me finish off the big jobs we had, but thankfully I still get requests for work on an ongoing basis. In those cases, I contact the person who was the chief designer and ask for design.
— What made you want to keep the company name?
Suzuki It is difficult to answer this question clearly, but I think it is because he died at a young age. If he had been older, I would not have been so concerned about leaving his office behind. Also, I think I was happy when my tax accountant told me that Akita would be happy if I kept the name "Akita Design Kan".
— He worked on a wide range of categories of graphic design, but what kind of things did he leave behind, including sketches before they became works of art?
Suzuki He did a lot of editorial design, so books, magazines, posters and packaging design. He never kept the sketches as they were his way of communicating his design intentions to his staff. I found it surprising that he wasn't attached to sketches because he was someone who couldn't throw things away.
— He must have a huge amount, how do you store them?
Suzuki As for books, this includes books he collected as a hobby, in addition to Akita's work. They are stored in a space in the office and in a boot room in the basement of the flat. The boot room contains actual T-shirts and packaging items, leaflets, exhibition entries and materials. Books were organised by me when the office was moved to the home. Most of them are managed by me, but I also gave them away to his stuffs and friends, and sold some to design-related second-hand bookshops.
Choosing what to keep and what to leave
— How did you draw the line between what to keep and what not to keep?
Suzuki If I had enough space and funds, I would leave them all behind. However, the actual priorities had to give priority to the completed ones. Posters are particularly difficult to store privately. This is because the size of the map case to complement the posters is too large to fit in the home. The posters are all archived by The Center for Contemporary Graphic Art (CCGA) of Dai Nippon Printing (DNP) and Tokushu Tokai Paper’s archives. Also, a designer who left Akita’s office kept the posters. Thanks to him, I was able to make the decision not to keep the posters by myself. Tokushu Tokai Paper and Tokyo Zokei University also keeps the majority of Akita’s book collection.
— This is very reassuring, because it is very difficult to keep them in private. In addition to the original documents, he also had a huge amount of data and photos on his computer.
Suzuki Now, I and a staff member who was the chief designer have been storing and sharing those data on a hard disk. I'm sure all the information about our work is on there. I have a lot of positive photos, not digital, but I haven't seen what's on them. Maybe they were taken when he went on his business trip.
— It must have been very difficult for you to organise all this.
Suzuki The original office was located in Aoyama. When Akita became ill, the office was moved closer to our home. After Akita's death, I moved them to my home at this year and I was able to organise a little more. And because so much time had passed since Akita's death, I could try to organise it. Until last spring, I could not even think of incorporating it into my home.
— In the future, do you have any plans to make these Akita’s archives available to students and the general public in some way?
Suzuki ”The Graphic Design of Hiroshi Akita” is a book that was handed out as a return gift at Akita's farewell party. This was made within a month after his secret burial. I went through all the articles and interviews that Akita had contributed to in the past, and extracted and applied the words that would fit the project, so I feel that I've done it all.
— I've read the book, and it's a summary of Akita’s works to date, so it's a kind of his archive. Do you have any plans to make the actual works available to the public in the future? For example, do you intend to preserve them in the form of a private museum?
Suzuki Last year, someone close to me suggested that I buy a holiday home in somewhere and build a café where visitors can see Akita's designs. However, it is difficult to realise this idea when I wonder how many people would be willing to come to somewhere. Design is a living thing, so I think the present is more important than the past.
Many books that Akita worked on were stored in the office. But they are meaningless if they are not read. I kept the books that I could use for my own work and the books that Akita particularly liked, and asked second-hand bookshops to take the rest. I thought it would be better if the books reached the people who wanted to read them.
What is a museum that preserves living design?
— It's true that design, unlike art, is a practical object that comes to life when it is used. In the interviews I've done so far, people have said that there is no point in collecting things and then letting them die, that they should be used for the future.
Suzuki Also, in the art world, people want to show their private collections, so they make museums, even if they are small in scale. Graphic design, on the other hand, doesn't seem to fit well into the collector's mindset. When selling his books to a second-hand bookshop, a friend who runs a design bookshop told me that although there are collectors of art books for collections of works, there is a thin layer of collectors for graphics. I agreed that this was indeed true, and that is what makes it difficult.
— It certainly is. However, design has a close relationship with society and industry and is a mirror of the times. Therefore, it is important to preserve design for future generations. I think it is very important to preserve it.
Suzuki I think so. I think it's the way of editing, or curating. I recently visited the V&A (Victoria and Albert) Museum's Japanese Pavilion. It was difficult to read the context of the exhibition, as there was a Kitty-chan next to a Gothic Lolita girl and rice cookers on display. This made me wonder what kind of exhibition conveys Japanese design. So, what is the right answer is a challenge museums face in art and design alike. There is a huge amount of products out there, so it must be particularly difficult to choose what to show.
— There is a movement to build a design museum in Japan, what do you think about that?
Suzuki I think it would be nice to have a design museum in Japan, but I don't think it will be possible if we rely on the government. I think it would be more realistic to have someone like Terence Conran, who has a lot of financial power, to be the main force behind it, like the Design Museum in London.
— Product designer Masayuki Kurokawa said that "we can't convey living design just by exhibiting objects". In that sense, I think it is important to link exhibitions with society, for example, the 'Anatomy of Design' exhibition by Taku Satoh. Do you think it is possible to do that with poster exhibitions?
Suzuki I am not sure. I think there is a difference between commercial posters and those made as artworks. For example, the poster exhibition by Ikko Tanaka is not interesting if only corporate posters are on display, but rather if there are works with designs of traditional Japanese beauty in them. In terms of whether it's interesting to look at, I think there are things that are interesting and dangerous about things that are close to the times.
— In the case of graphic design, digitalization is progressing and the number of paper media is decreasing rapidly. If that's the case, I think the way graphic design archives will change a lot in the future, once they cross a certain critical point.
Suzuki I feel that graphics are easily digitised. Books are different, but posters have the advantage that they can be projected on a projector, which saves space. If the priority is to preserve the image rather than the texture of the paper, then I think that is the way to go.
— It's important not to throw them away, but to keep them in some form of order and to pass them on to the next generation.
Suzuki I think so.
— If there are any further developments, we would be delighted to hear from you. Thank you very much for your time today.
If you have any questions about Kan Akita's design archive, please contact the NPO Platform for Architectural Thinking via our website: http://npo-plat.org