Japanese Design Archive Survey


Designers & Creators

Mitsuo Katsui

Graphic Designer


Interview: November 8, 2016, 14:00-15:00
Place of interview: Katsui Design Office
Interviewee: Mr. Mitsuo Katsui
Interviewers: Keiko Kubota, Tomoko Ishiguro
Author: Tomoko Ishiguro



Mitsuo Katsui

Graphic Designer

Born in Tokyo in 1931.
After graduating from Tokyo University of Education in 1955, he worked in the advertising production office of Ajinomoto before establishing the Katsui Design Office in 1961.
Professor Emeritus at Musashino Art University in 2002; passed away in 2019*.
*Postscript, December 2021

Mitsuo Katsui



One of the leading figures in Japanese graphic design for more than half a century, he is also a pioneer in the exploration of digital design as a form of expression. He has been involved in all aspects of graphic design, including posters, signs, and editorial design, and has also served as art director for international expositions such as the Japan World Exposition, Osaka 1970, the International Ocean Expositionin 1975, and the International Exposition, Tsukuba, Japan, 1985. When he was a student, he became obsessed with cameras. He studied colour contrast and tonal gradation, and became interested in the high contrast of light and shade in black-and-white photography. This point of view came to fruition in his debut work "People in New York" film poster of 1958. His self-produced poster, in which black-and-white photographs were silkscreened and coloured, received the Japan Advertising Artists' Club Award for its composition of text and photographs.
He has been active as an art director since the mid-1960s, starting with the quarterly magazine "Energy" (Esso Standard Oil). While expanding his horizons to include communication and media literacy in design, he pursued layouts that were functional and beautifully expressed from an editorial standpoint. For Kodansha's "World Encyclopedia Now", Japan's first encyclopaedia in which a designer was fully involved in the production of the book, he worked with architectural critic Noboru Kawazoe for six years to create a design system that thoroughly standardised everything related to editorial design, including design policy, type development, and colour planning diagrams. The result is a design system that is easy to understand and beautifully illustrates function.
In 1968, the DIC Color Guide (DIC Co., Ltd.), a colour sample book based on the Munsell colour chart, was created from 9,000 colour chips printed out. When the technology of plate making shifted from chemical processing to digital processing in the 80's, he was quick to turn his attention to the possibilities of digital and started CG. His eye for light that has texture even in a digital space was cultivated from his days of chasing cameras. I want to explore a world that resonates by mixing the bundle of light of the digital with the space of light of the sun.




The 11th International Biennial Exhibition of Prints in Tokyo: The Japan Foundation + The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (1979), "Hana" Morisawa (1993), The 200th Anniversary of Sharaku, The Mainichi Newspaper (1995), PLEATS PLEASE ISSEY MIYAKE : Elfin Light (1997), "Design Landscape" independent production (2004), AGI-JAPAN (2006), etc.



The International Garden and Greenery Exposition Expo'90 (1990), National Museum of Ethnology (1972), etc.



"World Encyclopedia Now" Kodansha (1971), "Physical Education" Taishukan Publishing (1971-1975), "Muscles are Engines" Taishukan Publishing (1988), "Tatsumi Hijikata Dance Compendium: Kasabutato-Kyarameru" Yushisha (1993), "The Maestro; Akira Kinoshita Great Musicians in Performance" Shogakukan, etc.

Mitsuo Katsui works



An important period in the design heritage of the 20th century would be the 60s. Because a lot of things in design occurred at that time.

Not only the work but also the tools and the historical background should be taken into account.

 Looking back over your long history of activities, what are your current thoughts on what should be preserved and transmitted as an archive?


Katsui When it comes to graphic design, such as posters and signage planning, I think it's important to consider not only the work itself, but also the tools and the historical background in the larger context. For example, in the past, architects used six different scales on a stick-shaped triangular scale for drawing, and we used a circular scale for proportional calculations. Calculating scales were essential for thinking about the relationship between top and bottom, left and right, and for formatting. Nowadays, it is no longer necessary to use a tape measure because it can be done with computer software, but there are ways of thinking and expressing things that only a tape measure can do. As a background, it is important to note that by the 1950s, after the war, many different organisations had emerged and society had changed dramatically. The first issue of Kogei News was published, and a number of organisations were formed, including Tokyo ADC, AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale), and JAAC(Japan Advertising Artists Club).
At the time, the question of what to do with CI in the future stood in the way. One company that left a particularly strong impression on me was Olivetti. This was because they created an ideal environment for the company, from the factory and office environment to the corporate philosophy, and designed everything from architecture and interior design to textiles and graphics in an integrated manner. This impact had a great influence on the designers of the time.
In 1946, the world's first computer, the ENIAC, was developed, and we soon entered an era in which huge computers were used for all calculations, including office work and payroll. But in the 80s, they switched to personal computers. That kind of big change in the times has had a big impact on communication.


 What is required in terms of communication is changing in the midst of a major trend of change, and design is being shaped by this influence.


Katsui It would be impossible to talk about the industry without considering this point of view. There is a famous poster on the theme of tree planting designed by Ryuichi Yamashiro in 1955. The words "forest" and "forest" fill the poster, which could only have been designed using typesetting.The 50s and early 60s were the era of offset and phototypesetting, and this was a design that could only be achieved using phototypesetting.
Manuscripts follow the trend of Japanese wood type. In the early Edo period (1603-1868), Japan shifted to woodblock printing, in which patterns and letters are carved and assembled one at a time, but until then, wood type had been used for rather a long time. Because of the flow of wood type and woodblock technology, I believe that phototypesetting continued and developed until the middle of the 1980s.
In Europe, the British company Linotype developed fonts, and Morisawa formed a joint venture with them in Osaka. Morisawa then teamed up with Apple Computer (Adobe's software) to develop new fonts. At that time, I was invited to Apple Computer's headquarters to help develop Japanese fonts. Five designers and five editors were selected to go to Silicon Valley and receive a lecture for about a week. When we came back, David Smith, who had been involved in the specification of the illustrator software, had delivered a Macintosh directly to us. Then I started using it.


 From typesetting to digital, the change was rapid.


Katsui The unique nature of Japanese typesetting, on which Morisawa was based, must have had an impact. This was around the time when the current president of Morisawa was developing Japanese software at Adobe. This influenced Korea, China, and South Asia, who all approached Morisawa to develop their own characters. In the midst of all this change, you can also see how communication is being built in the digital world. I think it's important to look at things in terms of relationships, because that's how we've responded. I think it's important to look at things in terms of relationships. It's not just that the work has survived, or that it has survived as a personal achievement, but how it has survived in the context of the times.
In 1981, the "Response 300" layout scanner system (made in Israel) was introduced to replace the conventional chemical plate making system. Initially, DNP, Toppan Printing and Tokyo Printing Union each had one of these systems. Therefore, it was a time when designers were required to utilise the system creatively and actively searched for a way to use it, because it was mainly used for plate correction functions apart from its original functions, and it was used for processing to erase or add, such as collage and taking out the wire of the background of a photograph. About five years later, printing was revolutionised throughout Japan, and we entered the digital age.
In 1982, JAGDA's Computer Graphics Group was established and I was appointed as the chief promoter of its events, and together with the American computer society, SIGGRAPH, we continued to challenge the micro-computer as a new weapon for designers from 1982 to 1990. In 1982, when the compact disc was released, I was in charge of the total producer of JAGDA's computer symposium "Graphic Design and the Computer Age", and in 1984, when Apple Computer Inc. released "Macintosh 128k", I was in charge of the art director of "Design in the Distance-Free Era - Connecting with INS Design Conference". In 1985, when CD-ROMs were introduced and Aldus released "PageMaker," Canon released "DynaMac," and Adobe released "Illustrator," I was in charge of "Computer Graphics as the Hand of Sensibility," and in 1985, when Apple Computer developed In 1986, when Apple Computer Inc. developed "KanjiTalk", we had "A Look at CG - Media Newcomers"; in 1987, when DTP, a publishing system using personal computers, began to take shape, we had "CG Dreams - CG and Creativity"; and in 1988, when I was invited to Apple Computer Inc. In 1990, I planned and exhibited "APE CALL FROM TOKYO", an exhibition of CG works in New York, and held a symposium "Toward Interactive Design". I was in charge of these computer symposiums as a total producer, mainly for JAGDA.
In addition, there was the "Tokyo Design Marathon" in 1991 when the 3.5-inch magneto-optical disk (MO) was introduced, I was a lecturer at the Forum '99 "Science of Emotion and Intention" at the Brain Science Institute of RIKEN in 1999, and from August 9 to 11, 2004, I held the workshop "Fusion of Mathematics and Art [FUSION]" under the JST Interdisciplinary Researcher Exchange Promotion Project. There were also collaborations with other disciplines to explore the origins of creativity.



Creating industry basics is also an important archive.


 First of all, you have to read the times and society behind the work, and consider why the work was created, is that right?


Katsui Yes, that's right. This is a different story, but in the modern age, there are no longer people who look at the past in that way. The way we interpret things is changing. New things keep coming out, but we must always remember that new things are always based on old ideas.
In 1968, Dainippon Ink (DIC)commissioned Mr.Ikko Tanaka, Mr. Nadamoto, and I to create "DIC Color Samples". We used Munsell's colour correlation as the axis, so the sample book looked like a series of overlapping circles. There had been sample books before, but they were just a collection of colours. In essence, we had managed to translate the Munsell system into ink colours. At that time, there were a lot of good photo-typesetting sample books available. I think that was one of the most important tools.
Then, Mr. Hiromu Hara devoted himself to the development of fancy paper and left behind a sample book. There are many kinds of paper now, but at the time it was a pioneering experiment. As a designer, it's important to create something basic for the industry, and in the 1950s and 1960s, there was an accumulation of such things, and because the Macintosh box was on top of those things, you could immediately produce the colours and text you wanted.


 So, there was a great deal of data creation, wasn't there?


Katsui Software does that for us now, though. It's good to use software that's convenient, but at the same time, I think it's necessary to think about whether there are any problems with its purpose or direction. Graphic design is design that is created through media, but that media itself changes with the times. I think the key question is how to archive this.


 If we don't understand that and respond to it, we risk becoming a superficial archive, you said.


Katsui That's right. Even for books, big books became smaller, magazines came out, mooks were created, and manga books were born. There was a time when photography and illustration grew, and there were trends. Eventually there was a division of labor, from the all-purpose era when editors did both layout and illustration. Noël Grafik must have been a major influence. We went from a time when designers only designed the cover to doing the inside. Design is the inevitable result of the relationship with each era. That is why it is questionable whether a single piece of work can be used as documentation.


 In order to make it a living archive, we have to be able to understand the society as a background, otherwise it won't be of any use to us. It would be ideal if the archive could be complemented to that extent.


Katsui Yamashiro's "Forest and Wood" poster should be preserved in that sense.


 I feel that many of your works have been able to express themselves in a more developed way because of the computer.


Katsui That's because I've been doing it for so long.


 But at that time, you must have had a lot of trouble using computers.


Katsui It's hard work even in front of a computer (laughs). Because we used to cut, connect, and change the printed characters one by one. What we're doing is the same as with computers. It's rather easy to do now. If it is easy, the question now is what to do next.


 Where are the works currently stored?


Katsui There are still quite a few posters stored in our office, but from now on we will have them stored at DNP. In addition, some works are stored at The Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, Utsunomiya Museum of Art, Kawasaki City Museum of Art, and Musashino Art University. Books and sculptures will be stored at Musashino Art University, where I taught this year.


 Do you keep any editorial materials such as prints?


Katsui I used to keep them at one time, but now I don't. I used to keep them at one time. ......, but I threw them away. I've only kept the old black and white patterns.


 So that is also planned to be in Musashi Art University, isn't it? Will you be able to browse as well as store at the university?


Katsui That's what they do. Also, they can read the books that have influenced me in the past. These days, even if we take them to a used bookstore, they don't sell very well, and they're taken away for free.


 But it's good if it's a university. Students can make it a research project, and they can organise it gradually. It's a good way to learn how to organise things. On the other hand, I've heard that some materials are put in the storeroom but are left there without being organised.


Katsui It's hard to find people to organise the archives.


 Do you have any other materials, such as drawings, notes, diaries, etc., that give us a glimpse into your creative process?


Katsui No. I haven't left anything like that behind. The only things I have that give me a clue to my creations are my library books and some manuscripts. I don't want to show my sketches, so I throw them away. When I think about what happens to them when I'm not around, I feel lonely and I don't want them to be used (laughs). It's okay to be analysed, though.



The 60s are important in design heritage


Katsui The most important period in the design heritage of the 20th century is the 60s. This is the most important period because many things of design were born at that time. If you don't collect a lot of things from the 60s, they will disappear and become useless. At that time, Japan was still poor, but what they did was really new. It was a time when you had to do things that had never been done before. The heartbeat of the early days of design is all packed into that era.


 When I hear that, we realise that we have to consciously collect works and materials from that time.


Katsui There are some who have survived and some who are no longer with us. First of all, I would like to have a proper record of where things are. Whether it's at the university or at the museum, if you don't properly record what's there, you won't be able to use it later.


 That is the goal of our activities as well. We're starting with interviews, but eventually we'll link up with external archives, aiming to become a gateway to information that will help people understand where things are.


Katsui As for typesetting, Morisawa is doing it. As for paper, washi is unique to Japan, and I think it would be good to select it for the archive.



To find a way through.


Katsui At the beginning of this article, I talked about the various bodies of design activity in the 1950s, but there were also important movements in the 1960s and later. At DIC, the company that produced the colour sample book, Japan's first graphic gallery, Plaza DIC, opened in 1969, and Mr. Hara, Mr. Ikko, Mr. Nadamoto, Mr. Arata Isozaki, and I were on its management committee. We organised an illustration exhibition there, which led to the publication of a book on illustrations and the founding of the Illustration Association. That was a good start. You should also know about the Tokyo Designers' Space (TDC), which started in 1976.


 It's a gallery that was independently run by a group of 92 creators from various fields.


Katsui There were one-day shows that ended in one day, and every day was like a party. It was a group of people who had gathered together to create a design, and they were all individuals. I think this is a quality that is hard to find in other countries.


 TDC is one of the contexts you need in the archive. Most of the people who were at the forefront of the field at that time were in it.


Katsui I'll come back to this later, but the Aspen Conference, the World Design Conference in 1956, and the Sogetsu Art Center in 1960 were also important. Sogetsu made it possible for us to have contact with people from other fields, including art critics, musicians, theater and dance, and to do something there. A lot of graphic designers were trying to get in there and create something new with a lot of power. That was the kind of soil that existed in graphic design. That was the era of the 1960s.


 The graphic design world was more free and open-minded than the rest of the design world.


Katsui Yes, we were free, but we had no money (laughs). That kind of starting point is very interesting. I believe that the origins of design lie in that era. That's why I believe that the key to the outlook of design from the latter half of the 20th century to the 21st century lies in that era. The initial spirit of design existed. The original intention is something that is forgotten when it is shaken. The people who happen to know it are now gone.
IDs and architecture are things that remain, but in the case of graphics, they don't usually. Even if it did, a single poster would only represent one form of expression. If the background behind that form doesn't come out, it's just a big piece of paper.
We went to design conferences, experienced the Olympics and the World's Fair, and were involved in public projects. I was 13 years old when the war ended. The generation above us went to the preliminary training and even went into the army. That period lasted about 10 years, and millions of young people died. There were no more talented people left. It's not like today, where the generations just go on and on. In that situation, our generation did Olympic posters and directed the Olympics, even if our names didn't appear. We had to do it. The fact that there was a huge gap between us and the rest of the world was the driving force that created the era. But that's not the case with people today. They do things flatly, you know. That's why it's necessary to see the flow from a larger perspective and position design accordingly. Unless we look back at our archives and do that, I don't think we'll be able to find a way to break through to the next level.


 Do you occasionally give lectures like today's one to staff members or at universities?


Katsui I don't tell my staff anything. I am so desperate to earn money everyday that I can't say such a thing (laugh). But, I have been teaching at Musashi Art University for 10 years, and I am glad that I did it. If I hadn't done it, I wouldn't have thought about the necessity of passing on design to future generations in my daily work.


 Is it written down in the lecture notes?


Katsui I have lecture notes, lots of them. But I've never used my work in a lecture. They are the ones who will create the next generation. They have their own world, and I don't want them to copy mine. I don't want them to do the same work, I want them to create. I just give them the source to create. My students are growing up and becoming active by doing their own research. Having a bird's eye view of the times is linked to the creation of the next generation.


 I would like to keep those lecture recordings as an archive and read them someday.


Katsui When it comes to design education, there are more and more elements, so it's difficult to archive. Education, just like design work, starts with thinking about how to persuade the other person. You need to know the person, and the deeper you know them, the more interested they become. If you don't, you won't get to know them. Today's society is such that nothing can be left to the next generation unless something is done to change the course. That is how troubling a problem we are facing.


 I feel that Mr. Katsui presented an awareness of the issues that only he could have, as he teaches students at a university and faces the task of preserving what he has handed down on a daily basis. There were comments that could not have been made only from the perspective of archiving. It was very informative. Thank you very much.




Location of Mitsuo Katsui's archive contact information (for inquiries) (e.g. corporate phone number)


LThe Museum of Modern Art, Toyama


Kawasaki City Museum


Utsunomiya Museum of Art


Musashino Art University Museum and Library


CCGA Center for Contemporary Graphic Arts