Inspired in Japan
Towards the end of 2017, I was fortunate enough to check off a bucket list item and traveled to Japan. I’ve always been intrigued by the country’s art and design, food, and history. Rather than reading about it in books or seeing how it’s romanticized in movies, I wanted a first-hand experience. So, when the opportunity presented itself, I booked my flight and brushed up on the only Japanese I knew from watching anime. And I report. I fell in love.
It was easy to fall in love with the food because it is truly amazing and available everywhere. The history is rich and enlightening. But one of my favorite things was the design. When I began to examine it a bit further you could really see how much it reflected the Japanese culture.
While there are many amazing things about Japanese design there were a couple of things that stood out. The first time I rode the subway, I noticed a safety sticker on the train’s door. It was a warning to watch your limbs for sliding doors. But rather than just showing a simple hand or leg illustration we may expect, this sticker had an illustration of a crying monkey with a broken hand. It immediately made me smile, not only because it was funny and cute, but because it was unexpected. And over the course of my trip, I saw the same or similar warning stickers with different animals or anime characters that are clearly heavily influenced by the anime culture that is so prevalent in Japan. Now, the casual eye may look at this and think, ‘oh, that’s neat’, but what I saw was a nation that embraces anime as a part of its identity.
The second aspect that stood out to me was when I visited the shopping and pop culture districts. The buildings are lined with signage. At first glance, the designs seem to be over the place from a designer’s point of view. There are two-color signs, signs that light up, signs in English, signs with giant Japanese symbols, video signs and signs with anime. You would initially assume that these many different styles would create a disjointed look but beauty is a matter of perspective. One thing you will notice about the people of Japan is that they work together for the betterment of everyone. The individuals see themselves as part of a whole. These signs are no different. The individual signs are unique in their own right, but when viewed together, against all odds and logic, they create a beautiful façade of color and typography that just works.
In branding, you can’t be afraid to embrace your identity. It’s important to define who you are and who your audience is, and use that to your full effect to maximize your messaging. I encourage you to not forget to see the big picture. Make sure the individual pieces you create work on their own, but also as a whole to reinforce your brand identity.