Tokyo, the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, unveiled its logos for the games recently. Designed by Tokyo-based Kenjiro Sano, founder of Mr. Design Inc., the logos are not merely pleasing graphics; according to the Olympics press release, they were intended to convey a deeper meaning. The Olympic mark has a large black and gold “T”, which we are told represent “Tokyo, Tomorrow and Team.” The red circle, which looks like the red sun on the Japanese national flag, is described instead as a symbol of “inclusiveness and the power of a beating heart.” The same graphic elements are used for the Paralympic games, but the gold and silver shapes are placed within parallel bars to form the universal symbol of equality. The “beating red heart” is placed within one of the bars. The meaning attributed to the graphic elements is poetic, but not immediately apparent to anyone seeing the logos for the first time. The fact that the symbolism has to be explained to be understood makes it seem contrived by a public relations committee, trying to read more into a nice-looking logo than is actually there. That’s totally unnecessary. The logos are graphically compelling on their own.
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The exhibition poster features the ancient Chinese character for kome.
A fascinating exhibit is currently on display at 21_21 Design Sight in Midtown Tokyo. Created by renowned Japanese designer Taku Satoh and anthropologist Shinichi Takemura, “Kome: The Art of Rice” presents 35 design pieces by leading Japanese artists and experts in rice cultivation. What makes this show so intriguing is that a food staple as humble as a grain of rice (or “kome” as the Japanese call it) could be shown with such aesthetic sensitivity and with such a thoughtful exploration of the role that rice played in the historical, cultural and spiritual traditions of Japan.
The massive earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, made funerals an all too frequent occurrence, draping the country in the black and white colors of grief. The Nishinihon Tenrei Funeral Parlor in Japan sought to soften the somber mood and turned to I&S/BBDO in Tokyo for a respectful advertisement that would remind people of the beauty of life. The agency created a full-size human skeleton out of pressed flowers and reprinted it as a poster with the message “Life Is Endless”. The poster was unveiled at a funeral trade show.
This skit from “Burnistoun,” the comedy sketch show broadcast by BBC Scotland, reminds me of all the devices that, at first, seem like marvelous inventions, but still need work. An example is a recent exchange with that annoying automated iPhone twit, Siri. She keeps calling me “Del-fiend-E,” even though I’ve corrected her multiple times. Last week I asked Siri for the cross street of Gump’s, San Francisco’s venerable luxury home décor and jewelry store. Everybody in the Bay Area knows the 150-year-old Gump’s — except Siri. She said, “There are three dumps in San Francisco, which one do you want?” I enunciated more slowly, spelling out G-u-m-p-’s. She ignored me and started telling me the addresses of the local dumps. I finally asked a passerby for directions.
Imagine that you are a regular Italian commuter on Line 2 of the Milan Metro subway. The train pulls up to Moscova station and you get off as usual. But wait! This isn’t right! You must have dozed off. This doesn’t look like Moscova station; it doesn’t even look like Italy. Like Captain Kirk in “Star Trek,” you’ve leaped time and space and have been beamed to Shibuya station in Tokyo.
Some of you know that seven years ago I wrote a book called “The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942-1946,” published by Ten Speed Press/Random House. As usual, it was designed by Kit Hinrichs (Kit’s origami flag assemblage below) and photographed by Terry Heffernan. After more than 30 years as a corporate writer, I suddenly found myself propelled in another direction and immersed in a subject that I largely avoided my entire life. Although I had no thought that it would make a good art exhibition, I began receiving requests from museums across the U.S. and the array of objects made from scrap and found materials by people imprisoned in the camps were exhibited in some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery in Washington D.C. and the International Folk Art Museum of Santa Fe. Today it opens at the University Art Museum (Geidai) in Tokyo to kick off a one-year tour of Japanese cities. If you are in Japan, I hope you’ll take the time to see it. I’ll be back in my San Francisco office next week with more new posts. — Delphine
For those of us who have been glued to the television all week watching the London 2012 Olympics, here’s a little quiz to do during commercial breaks. According to modern Olympic tradition, the host country for the Games is responsible for creating an emblem to be used on promotional materials, by sponsors of the Olympics, and on the uniforms of every Olympic competitor. Over the decades, these logos have integrated the cultural symbols and patterns, national colors and artistic styles of the host country into the design. See if you can name the year and location for each of these emblems. A bonus point if you can recite the Olympics motto. Click “Read More” for answers.
“Why Asian advertising is strong and mystic” was the theme of AdFest 2011, an exhibition of the best ad work in Asia. Commissioned by the Yoshida Hideo Memorial Foundation/ Advertising Museum Tokyo to promote this pan-Asian event, Dentsu Inc. in Osaka developed a poster series with lavish illustrations that reminds one of a reflexology foot chart or, in the case of the open palm, like a spiritual mudra (a hand gesture that symbolizes divine manifestation).
Japanese graphic designer Masaaki Hiromura has made pictograms an integral part of the kanji characters he created for Tokyo’s Kitasenjyu Marui department store to come up with food words that can be understood in any language. The silhouette of the food appropriately replaces a stroke in the word so it can be read as text. Although Hiromura was probably focused on devising a witty and graphically interesting way to communicate to multinational customers who frequent the store, this display seems like the reverse of how written languages began in many ancient cultures. Japanese and Chinese characters started as pictographs, ideographic symbols describing objects and actions. Over time, these characters became less pictographic and ideographic and more visually abstract. What’s amusing about these pictogram characters is that we’ve come full circle.
From Gizmodo comes this report of how the façade of an entire building in a Tokyo shopping district has been covered in a pattern of QR codes that can be read by smart phones. The N Building AR project by Teradadesign and Qosmo lets passersby view the QR code on their cell phone to enable the display of all kinds of information, including store offerings and interactive ads. It will even allow users to download coupons and make reservations. This is an intriguing concept, but it may meet consumer resistance. Without in-your-face advertising, it may be hard to draw the attention of people who don’t want to be bother holding their cell phones up at QR patterns on a building to see what they have to say. Still, like many other inventions that were initially discounted as futuristic fantasy, QR codes as a communication device should be ignored at your own peril. In recent years we have seen too many “safe” communication design/marketing professions disappear for lack of demand. If QR advertisements on buildings and billboards catch on, who will that affect, how will it change our jobs, and how do we get ahead of the trend rather than be trampled by it?
Tokujin Yoshioka, who created shop designs and installations for fashion designer Issey Miyake for 20 years before starting his own studio in 2000, communicated the essence of the Hermes brand with utmost simplicity in this window display for Maison Hermes in Tokyo. Only two props filled the display area – a black-and-white image of a beautiful woman projected onto a monitor and a hanging Hermes scarf. Each time the woman appeared to blow gently on the colorful scarf, it swayed in response. Ethereal, poetic and uncontrived, the scene is devoid of anything that would detract from appreciating the ultra-silky elegance of the scarf.