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Interview: Takenobu Igarashi

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Describe your current interests and approach. I work in both two and three dimensions, and for me it’s very natural to make the bridge. I’ve been greatly influenced by Swiss artists who explored grid systems and mathematical order for form creation and space. I’ve also been influenced by Japanese architecture, which relies a great deal on grid and unit systems.

My approach is to present my ideas first in pure form. I make, for example, three-dimensional alphabets. I make many of them for myself and exhibit them in galleries. Those who view my work in that context come to understand the pure ideas. These ideas are often picked up in my work for clients. This is how I’ve worked for the last twenty years.

What are the priorities in your work? In Japan, everything is integrated: art, design, product and environment. After World War II, unfortunately, our culture took on so many western influences so quickly that some of our important traditions suffered, particularly our relationship with the environment. In Tokyo, there’s a great deal of chaos and ugliness which I despise. Design that improves our environment is one of my great personal satisfactions.

That’s why I’ve recently undertaken more product design work. I used to work for architects and do a lot of environmental design, but now I’m more into products. We have so many ugly products. Japanese products are very good at function but not design. Compare Italian design. So many good products with real originality. But Japanese cars, for example, are all the same and not very well-designed.

How do Japanese clients differ from American or European clients? One needs to establish a much deeper understanding, on a human level, between yourself as a designer and the client in Japan. Clients are interested in making a long-term commitment to a designer. They judge you not only by appearance but also by personality. They want to be able to trust a designer for a long time, and it takes a long time to establish that kind of relationship. Showing your portfolio doesn’t help. You’re usually better off having a drink or just spending time together.

Once the relationship has been established, they are more open to your ideas. We can design anything. We can propose not only design ideas but also new business ideas. American and European clients already have a strong idea of what they want. Japanese clients are more vague.

The decision-making process is also very different. The American or European client want to see your idea and will then make a decision: yes or no. The client wants to make sure all people involved are happy with the decision, so the leader doesn’t make decisions alone. They want a lot of input. If someone disagrees, they want to know why. They seek to create compromise.

You have studios in both Tokyo and Los Angeles. How would you characterize the two cities? Japan is a very old culture, so in Tokyo there is a mixture of old and new and lots of interesting contrasts. Los Angeles has lots and lots of space. In Japan space is very limited and distances are short. As a result, there is much more awareness of detail. Los Angeles has no sense of detail.

Published in Statements, the quarterly of the American Center for Design, 1990

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