Eriko Kawakami is one of Japan’s top graphic designers and art directors. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to do a quick interview about her commissioned artwork for the cover of the Design in Tech Report 2019 … here it is!
John Maeda: You are the recipient of the JAGDA New Designers Award and an ADC Award in 2015. What led you to these achievements?
Eriko Kawakami: Broadly speaking, I was always interested in making things with my hands, which led me to pursue a degree in design. After graduating I began working in the design studio Draft Co., Ltd as a graphic designer under creative director Satoru Miyata. It was there that I developed an interest in thinking about design as an experience and narrative that affects people everyday; I wanted to become a designer that didn’t just make individual things but thought about every single step of the process. I eventually became an art director and spent 10 years working on projects ranging from packaging design, interior design, product design and branding — I also became involved in designing for product maker D-Bros, a company affiliated with Draft.
JM What drew you to the technology world from the classical design universe?
EK As a designer I’m interested in the challenge of trying to bring what I learned from the classical design world into the world of technology, or from the tactile world to the digital world. I believe in the importance of not just trying to make new things, but trying to change the way we make things. I think working in the technology world opens me up to work with new skills and ideas.
The final cover image is my reinterpretation of Rubin’s Vase. It’s about the ambiguity of seeing, but also about turning the familiar into something unfamiliar, or new.—Eriko Kawakami
JM What was your inspiration for the cover of the Design in Tech Report?
EK After getting a sense of this year’s Design in Tech Report, I was trying to think about a ‘common’ image that might evoke a sense of seeing, or looking at things from different perspectives. This led me to the famous image of Rubin’s Vase, which I decided to use as a motif.
JM Which pieces provided you inspiration and how?
EK I initially looked at examples of images that have an illusory device where the image shifts depending on the perspective or focus.
Figure 1: Rubin’s Vase, developed by Edgar Rubin in the early 1900s. [source] / Figure 2: M.C. Escher’s Day and Night from 1938. [source] / Figure 3: An example of Japanese illustrations for children with word and picture games with palindromes. [source]
JM What ideas did you originally have?
EK Although I had the broad concept early on, I wavered as to how to visualize it best. For example, I played around with images that shift in form depending on what angle they are viewed from. In the end, I decided that it was important to use a more commonly shared motif.
JM Tell me about the final image.
EK The final image is my reinterpretation of Rubin’s Vase. In my version, the image has contrasts not only in the illusion of the picture, but also in the texture and line; that of the hand-drawn and the linear flat line. It’s about the ambiguity of seeing, but also about turning the familiar into something unfamiliar, or new.
JM When you think of the designed environment in Tokyo versus design in Berlin what stands out?
EK I’ve only recently started living and working in Berlin so I’m not sure I can say just yet, but I’m already appreciating the sense of freedom in Berlin, along with the diversity of cultures.
JM What are your hopes for emerging Japanese designers?
EK I hope that they can develop their work in a free, adventurous environment.
Eriko Kawakami is an Art Director and Graphic Designer based between Berlin and Tokyo. Born in 1982, she graduated from the Department of Design at Tokyo University of the Arts in 2006 and joined the Tokyo based design studio Draft Co., Ltd in 2008. In 2016, Kawakami won the JAGDA New Designers Award in 2016, and was the recipient of an ADC Award in 2015 and a JAGDA Award in 2013. She set up her own studio in 2018, and is currently Artistic Director at Automattic.