January 31, 2005

Designer as a Translator

Taku Sato, one of my favorite designers, can be a good person to start with. He is known as a graphic designer of commercial packaging design such as Nikka’s Pure Malt, Lotte’s Xylitol gum, and Meiji’s Oishi Gyunyu (delicious milk). Among many outstanding works, especially his recent work as an art director of NHK’s educational TV program, “Let’s play with Japanese,” is a good example to represent his design philosophy.

The objective of this TV program is to familiarize children with the rich linguistic expressions of Japanese from an early stage of their life. It is designed for kids to learn proverbs as well as onomatopoeic words and idioms naturally with much of fun.

When he is assigned as an art director of this program, the only decided thing was to create TV program about Japanese language for young children. After he searched several old TV programs for children, he noticed that all previous children programs were created only from the adults’ point of view. Those programs are intentionally designed to be childish program by adults. For example, those programs intended to use the childish typeface for their caption. But they didn’t successfully satisfy real audiences, children.

From this observation, he came up with the concept of the program. “Since child’s sense of what’s good and what’s not is not fully developed yet, if we could provide extremely high quality content they will absorb it like sponges.”

One of the methods to make this concept achieved was that he created original font for the 48 hiragana characters based on the Mincho (Ming-style) font, which is originally from the art of calligraphy. Using original font in broadcasting system takes great deal of time and effort for the client, NHK. However, he explained the importance of this effort and finally persuaded the stuff. All his effort to persuade his clients made them recognize the power of design.

“Mission of design is all about the process to find out the essence of the problem, visualize it and discuss what to do next sharing the project with his client,” he says.

What makes him great designer for me is just his excellent ability to find out the meaning of an object and create the solution to enlighten us on the hidden meaning we usually neglect. Each piece of his work makes me feel designers are not just drawing sketches or making models, but they can change something important hidden behind our life to something easily visible for everybody.

If you are a teacher of early education or a student of beggining level of Japanese as well as anybody who has mind of youth, you gotta check it out!


この番組の趣旨は、子供が幼少期のうちから表現の豊かな言語である日本語に楽しくふれてもらおうというものです。この番組を通して子供たちは諺や擬音語、語彙などを楽しみながら自然と学べるように構成されています。 彼がこの番組のアート・ディレクターに起用された時点では、小さい子供向けの日本語をテーマにした番組を作るということだけしか決まっていませんでした。


こうした考察から、この番組のコンセプトは生まれました。「子供と言うのはまだ価値観が定まってないから、質の良し悪しなどは気にしない、そのぶんものすごく質の高い物を届ければ、スポンジのように吸収するはずだ。」 そのコンセプトを見える形にするひとつの手段として、番組の字幕用に明朝体をベースにした独自のフォントを作成しました。放送局で独自のフォントを持つ文字を使うことは、コストと手間がかかります。しかし、彼はその手間の重要性をスタッフに説得しました。彼の説得の意義は、製作スタッフにデザインの重要性を認識させることにありました。




Taku Sato’s Profile: http://www.visualogue.com/speakers/taku_j.html

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