Designing to Encourage Initiative

Hideyuki Yamano (Takaiyama Inc.)
Interview & transcription: Hinako Izuhara
Translation: Gen Machida

19 MAR 2020

Mistletoe of Tokyo is continuing to be developed with the assistance of graphic designer Hideyuki Yamano (Takaiyama Inc.). How do things change when a designer is able to continue taking part in a project? What are the ideas behind the designs he has created for the space so far?

──Can you begin by talking about how you became involved with Mistletoe of Tokyo (MoT)?

My involvement began when I was introduced to MoT by the architect of the space, Daisuke Motogi. I’ve known him since when I asked him to be the exhibition designer for a solo exhibition of Takaiyama Inc. (3F/B.C.G, Design Koishikawa, 2017). For that exhibition, we needed to find an architect who could handle the venue architecturally and who also could do interiors, and that led us to Motogi.

The back and forth that I had with him as we developed the exhibition was really stimulating. Things never ended with someone making a proposal. I would always add things to Motogi’s proposals before returning them, and he would send them back with more changes. What that left us with in the end was a situation where nobody could claim authorship to anything and the ideas were able to stand on their own. That whole experience reminded me of the importance of opening up to other people’s proposals, no matter how out-of-the-blue they may seem. 

I’m careful not to dismiss things that others say in my regular work, too. When you reject what someone proposes, they would need to start over again from scratch, so I’ve instead taken the approach of respecting other people’s way of thinking and building off of their ideas. I had the impression that this approach worked especially well on that project I did with Motogi. I suspect that he chose to contact me about the Mistletoe project because he remembered having that experience, too.

──What have you found to be unique about working on MoT

First, there’s the fact that we were requested to do more than just design the signage. It’s rare for graphic designers to be brought in before it’s even been decided what a space will be used for. This is obviously because the need for signs and notices only arises when there are defined uses. No uses had been set yet when we first became involved with MoT, so we all brainstormed what kind of signs might become necessary together. In my case, I’ve been focusing on proposing uses for the space through exploring the potential of graphics.

The MoT project is essentially a “project without requirements”. MoT is a place where everyone can gather, but it itself is also just a means to an end. It is a highly ambiguous space, so all of us initially struggled to find footholds from which to develop designs. That’s why we began by digging into Mistletoe’s principles and way of thinking in order to uncover MoT’s latent needs and clarify what it was that we were each searching for.

──Is that different from how you would normally approach a graphic design project?

Yes, it’s completely different. Signs are functional and not ornamental, so they are developed through discussions with the client. If it’s an architectural project, we’ll talk about the types of people who will use the building and how they’ll use it. If it’s an exhibition, we’ll talk about the contents of the exhibition. If it’s a shop, we’ll talk about the customers they should appeal to. There’s always a clear purpose to what every graphic is for. But nothing is set at MoT, so I was a little perplexed at first. That’s where this project differs most from my usual work, but it’s also what makes it both interesting and challenging.

Another difference is that graphic design projects are normally one-off affairs. There’s a set deadline, and we’re only involved for a short period of time. And we get a sense of accomplishment from being able to propose suitable design solutions within the given time frame. However, there’s no goal in the MoT project because we’re working on it continually. I actually wondered at one point where we were going to get a sense of accomplishment out of this project. But just being able to take part in defining and developing MoT is very special in itself, so I decided that we should just approach it with a bit more of a relaxed mindset and not worry too much about short-term goals. I mean this in a positive way, of course. I decided so because I believe that by being involved with Mistletoe, there’s a real possibility that we’ll be able to witness some great inventions in 20 years’ time. This isn’t something that we can expect to happen in our usual projects.

We’re also hoping to reflect the long-term nature of our engagement into the designs that we produce. Personally, I think that what Motogi has created here is “high-quality ambiguity”. It’s experimental. It’s unfinished. I’m working to shape the space by tuning myself to that sensibility, too.

──I understand that the MoT website was anticipated to play an important role in conveying this sense of unfinishedness. What did you think about in designing the website?

Considering how MoT is a very multifaceted place, we thought that it would be fine if the MoT website doesn’t present itself as a single all-inclusive solution and instead just contains references so that the actual content is accessed through links to external sites. We figured that the website only needs to show how Mistletoe is bringing together diverse ideas, as their interrelationships should become self-evident when seen as a whole. And we thought people would be able to understand that MoT is what’s creating those relationships. Based on this concept, we developed the basic design of the main landing page and then brought in Masaki Yato to work out the details and figure out how the site is navigated.

──What kind of things have you been designing in terms of the actual physical space? I’m having trouble imagining what one can design for a “beta version” of a real space.

We’ve been applying subtle updates by designing things like presentation materials and “push/pull” door signs (fig. 1). We’re pretty much just making whatever’s needed wherever it’s needed, but doing so using only cheap, basic materials that can be printed on with a printer.

──When you go to shops and facilities, you often see signs that appear to have been written by the facility operators when they ran into issues that couldn’t be addressed with the signs provided by the designers. But here, it’s like the designers are staying on call to take care of such issues.

That’s basically the situation. But also, we’re making things roughly so that anyone can do the same on their own. I think part of the concept of the perpetual beta is about being positively open to people making such additions. However, sooner or later, the current beta will no longer be optimally configured, and it’ll have to be upgraded to a new phase. That will be the first time we truly need to apply design as a means of reorganization, which is a different kind of task. It’s like the difference between running small trials and tightening the bolts at the end. The time will come when the quick-and-easy copier paper signs will be fixed in place. I think we’ll be able to decide on certain optimal designs as the various uses of the space become established. For example, at the moment, the shelf can be used for displaying work, in which case it will become a gallery, or it can be used for displaying books, in which case it will become a library. It doesn’t even have a fixed name yet. Changing what it’s called will change how people move. It’s difficult to make any fixed information graphics when things are still in this state. But maybe we’ll begin to see certain patterns of change, let’s say, in a year. Then we would be able to design things according to those patterns. We might make dedicated signs for them. But for now, I’m looking at everything as being fluid.

──So, it’s still like a trial period. Did you approach the design of the tape that you made for the opening reception in the same way?

You’re talking about the rolls of tape with Mistletoe’s Nine Agendas printed on them (fig. 2). Those we made because we hoped to induce the creation of impromptu designs. We asked visitors at the opening to stick onto their chests the agendas that resonate with them the most. We thought that by doing that the pieces of tape might turn into new serendipity generators. For example, maybe you already knew what another person does for a living, but you didn’t know that their underlying interest is “sustainability”. By knowing that, you can have deeper conversations by skipping over the small talk.

──I see. Did you intend for it to be used in any other ways?

Well, yes, it’s tape, so people are welcome to use it however they wish. We originally imagined it as a conversation starter, but when tape is designed cutely, people will stick it onto anything. It’s very basic, but I think it can stand on its own as a merchandise item. Maybe you want to use the Nine Agenda Tape to seal a cardboard box. That could be the start to something. Or maybe you can just casually stick it onto a table. We’re interested in making things that are spontaneous but look like they were always meant to be there. It’d be kind of funny if it was randomly on the table. But I think it could become a receptacle for inspiration.

──It could act as a device that allows anybody to set up a condition for unexpected things to occur when they’re brainstorming ideas.

Yes, and that’s why it wouldn’t be interesting if we gave instructions like “please apply x centimeters of the tape here”. We’re currently proposing a lot of things that people can use freely like that. The reason why we’re doing this is none other than because what we find to be most interesting in our work are the moments when things start moving in unexpected directions.

──Moments of serendipity!

Precisely. But for that to happen, it’s important that we don’t become rigid and that we remain flexible. You always have to be ready to engage the things around you, because otherwise you won’t be able to expand beyond your limits. This is not the same as being accommodating, though. It’s more like having the awareness to look at things from different sides from the start. Or like holding two perspectives within you: one grounded in a confidence that your values are right and one grounded in an awareness that you might be wrong when considered from a different angle. I believe the greatest danger for MoT lies in us becoming stubbornly attached to a viewpoint.

──Not being stubborn. That’s interesting. Is that something you can’t really do in your usual work?

It’s not that we can’t, but graphic design work for things like posters involves a level of precision where the strength of the composition can be undermined by things being off by one millimeter. You need a certain amount of stubbornness to do that kind of work. It requires a completely different level of focus from what we’re doing at MoT. I guess you could say that at MoT, we’re intentionally abandoning the stubbornness that our work normally requires.

──Before we end, can you speak briefly about the information board that you’re developing as the next major update?

Yes, so as more people started using the space and getting involved, we began talking about how we need an information board so that you can learn about what’s going on at MoT and see what kind of events and projects are happening at a glance (fig. 4). What the information board will do is that it will help bridge connections between you and the events and projects that you couldn’t take part in in real time. Like with everything else, though, we imagine there’ll be many things that we’ll want to add to it as we’re using it. We’d like to develop it by testing things as we go along. In the beginning, it should be fine to make it with copier paper or maybe with a little more durable fabric, and later, when we have a better idea of what the permanent fixtures are, we can switch to something more solid like acrylic. Anyhow, we want the design to serve as a receptacle that encourages its users to take the initiative. The last thing we would want is for it to deter people from getting involved.

──As in you don’t want it to cause people to hold back?

Right. But people shouldn’t hesitate to use it if it just has lots of copier paper taped onto it. We want to continue designing things like that that everyone will feel welcome to use and update.


山野英之(TAKAIYAMA inc.)

19 MAR 2020

Mistletoe of Tokyoでは継続してグラフィックデザイナーの山野英之さん(TAKAIYAMA inc.)に携わってもらっている。デザイナーが続けて関わることで、変わるのはなんだろうか? そして、現在のデザインに込められた意味とは?

──Mistletoe of Tokyo(MoT)に関わることになった経緯を教えてください。

MoTの設計者である元木大輔さんに紹介してもらったのが、ここに携わることになったきっかけです。元木さんとは、TAKAIYAMA inc.の個展(「3F/B.C.G」、デザイン小石川、2017)で会場構成をお願いして以来のつきあいです。














使う人に渡すための資料作成や、ドアに「PULL/PUSH」サインをつくったり[fig. 1]、細かな部分でのアップデートを施しています。必要なところに必要なものをおいていくという感覚なので、素材は安くてもいいと考え、プリンタで印刷できるようなラフなものを使っています。






Mistletoeの9アジェンダをプリントしたテープのことですね[fig. 2]。あれは、予期しないデザインを生みたかったからです。オープニングでは、来場者の胸に自分の志に近いアジェンダを貼ってもらいました。そうすることで、新しいセレンディピティの発生装置になるんじゃないかと思って。その人のやっていることを前から知っていたとしても、深層にあるのが、たとえば「サスティナブル」だって初めて知る人もいるかもしれません。そうすると、表面的ではなくもっと踏み込んだ話ができるようになる。










使う人、関わる人が増えてきて、MoTで何が起きているのか、どんなイベントやプロジェクトが起きているのか?がひと目でわかるような案内が必要だという話になりました[fig. 3]。インフォメーションボードがあることによって、リアルタイムで参加できなかったイベントやプロジェクトとの出会いの橋渡しになる。それも、使っているうちにまた必要なものがたくさん出てくると思うんですよね。それはトライアルを重ねながらつくっていきたい。最初はコピー用紙やもう少し丈夫な布なんかでいいけれど、もっと時がたって何が常設なのかがわかってくれば、いずれアクリルのように硬いものになっていくのかもしれない。