To me, minimalism is synonymous with the future. It is something that humans gain after deep contemplation.
Yuta Takahashi is an art director and designer based in Japan who’s work we have celebrated many times due to his simple and often minimalist approach to design, which spans branding, packaging, and UI. We recently sat down with Takahashi to discuss his work and his environment which helps him to produce the exceptionally clean designs he is renowned for.
Tell us a little about your background and how you first got interested in the field of design. Have you always had an affinity with creative ventures?
I was born and raised in Ehime, Japan. I lived in Tokyo and Okayama after graduating from high school, but have since moved back to my birthplace of Ehime. I was an athlete until the age of 20, and then began teaching myself philosophy. My work as a designer is grounded in philosophy.
You could say that my first encounter with design was when I saw an Apple iMac at the local electronics store. I was immediately captivated by how beautiful it was. Before then, I had never taken much notice of design, but that magnificent product enthralled me with its meticulously crafted design. After that, I began to take an interest in design.
These days, I’m involved in a wide range of design work, including branding, graphic design, package design, product design, and web design, for both Japanese and overseas clients.
Creative ventures are often brimming with rewarding opportunities to create new value. The pleasures and mobility of working with such a venture are different from working with a large company.
Thinking back, can you remember the very first thing you ever designed?
The first thing I designed was a book published by a fellow philosopher. At the time, I was not familiar with how to use book publishing software. I remember purchasing a reference book about the software from the bookstore and imitating it as I designed.
What’s behind your creative process? Do you have any specific rituals that you go through when designing?
We recently did the product design for FIVEISM x THREE, the world’s first comprehensive cosmetics brand for men. We started by ordering commercially available makeup products for women and repeating the application process every day in front of the mirror.
Makeup products have evolved over the course of many years for use by women. I felt we had to do more than make some superficial changes to the product and declare it to be for men. I wanted to make a design that truly fitted the psychology of men. In the end, we proposed a stick-shaped design called a “bar” for most of the items that could be incorporated into men’s daily routine of shaving and brushing their teeth.
My creative process ferments ideas based on thorough experience, understanding and awareness. The breakthroughs that result from that process inspire my designs.
Tell us a little about the way in which you work. When you’re focused on a project, do you have specific music you listen to? What’s the environment like in your studio?
My studio is far from a minimalist environment. Often there are children being scolded by their parents for overturning boxes when playing with blocks. I believe a certain kind of chaos is necessary to stimulate my creativity. My finished designs are pure, simple, and minimal, but the process of creating them requires some noise. I prefer peaceful music though.
Why does minimalism resonate with you so much? We can certainly see this throughout your designs, but does it also influence your personal life?
To me, minimalism is synonymous with the future. It is something that humans gain after deep contemplation. It is not a simple material object, but something that permeates the spirit. It is something that expresses humans’ understanding of the laws of nature and the universe. It is something that encapsulates what will carry humans into the future. It is like the mentality of a mathematician who seeks a clearer formula. If I may borrow the words of a certain famous designer (Paul Rand): ”Design is a way of life, a point of view.”
When does your work make you the happiest? When you start something new, when you finish, when you deliver it to the client, or when you see it celebrated by the design community?
Just like a mathematician, I like to make discoveries in my work. When I create a work for a client, I take joy in the discovery of the best solution for the era, period, constraints, and circumstances, after considering what kind of position my work will occupy in the context of the world.
We have celebrated your work multiple times over the years, and a particular favourite is your design for the book Trinität by Michael Debus. Can you explain how you got involved in this project and how you produced such a distinctive design?
Trinität was published in two volumes. In order to gain a third perspective overcoming dualism, the author asserted that “humans had to experience a dualistic world view.” In accordance with that idea, I wanted to visually express a dualistic world view. In my design, I used figures suggesting the themes of the book, with an impression of conflict provided by the stark contrast of black and white.
What is the attraction of designing identities for you?
Designers arose from the division of labour. Before, if a person wanted an ax, they would go into the mountains, find a branch, and cut it into a shape that pleased them. However, people’s jobs have become increasingly specialised. For example, the designer needs to understand the “ax” the client desires and design it accordingly. I consider this kind of understanding as the fundamental work of a designer. The designer designs the ax as an artist on the basis of that understanding. Since self-branding does not involve working with a client, you could say it puts me in a position closer to an artist than a designer.
Also, my environment is what stimulates my career. Our values and world view are closely linked to our surrounding environment. The thousands or tens of thousands of new products and services that are created every day influence our values. Just like we want to be adorned with the necessary expressions for the era, changes in our surrounding environment form new values, which in turn lead to a desire for a new environment. In that sense, I am always influenced by my environment. As long as progress continues, designers will continue to create new things.
What advice would you give to young designers searching for genuine inspiration?
What is genuine inspiration? I do not know. We are looking for it, at least, and immersion in that search is my reason for living.
Besides design, what are you passionate about?
I enjoy chatting with friends over a delicious evening meal and drinking good sake. It is a necessary breather that makes life richer.
What are some of your favourite spots in Shikokuchuo? Why does this city appeal to you so much? Do you see yourself living somewhere else in the future?
The town where I live is rich with nature. There is nothing unnecessary here. Because of that, the things that are truly necessary stand out, and I can focus on my design work.
When I lived in Tokyo, I noticed that the city did not always heighten my sensitivity. On the contrary, living in a place like that might even dull a person’s sensitivity. Even if I move in the future, I intend to keep that in mind.