Reporte Publicidad – Interview (english ver.)

This month, Argentinian Magazine “REPORTE PUBLICIDAD” published a 3-page mega spread about my work along side an interview I did with Journalist Marta Gonzalez Muguruza discussing crowd funding, pop-up shops and spaghetti stress. The original article/interview can viewed here in Spanish, and the interview in English below :

What would you say is the sense and nonsense of your profession?
The importance of “Eco-Design”. There are many ways and methods in which design can help to lessen the impact products and services have on the environment, but some people talk about specific details with such passion without considering the larger picture, and without ever considering that the best option in terms of “Eco-friendlyness” is actually not to make the product at all. A huge number of factors that cover the products entire lifespan must be taken into consideration when examining what impact a product has on the environment.
You were born and raised in the UK and a couple of years ago you moved to Japan. Had you been there before? What made you take that decision? How’s the experience so far?
I’d spent a few holidays in Japan already, yes. I think it’s a fairly easy place to fall in love with. I’d wanted to try living & working in Japan ever since I first visited in 2008, but all the feedback I got was the only way you can stay/work here successfully without a good grasp of the Japanese language is by becoming an English teacher. I wanted to continue designing and so worked at a design consultancy in Bristol, UK for the 4 years following university. In 2012 I quit that job to move to Japan so I could be with the beautiful Japanese girl I had fallen in love with, who I have been with ever since. I didn’t have any real plan about what I would do for work, only that my personal projects (previously ‘homework’ after my day job) would become my full-time focus, by setting up my own design studio in Tokyo. I’ve been lucky to have been supported by many people and companies both in Japan and internationally who have bought, talked about, sold and commissioned my work. I’m managing to get by financially here, have fun and gradually tick off some of my life goals. I think it’s relatively simple to survive in Japan, but it can also be quite tricky to perform even the simplest of tasks. Writing an address label in Japanese can be a total mission and navigating a Japanese website is quite often impossible.
What I love about your work is that is witty but extremely well produced, and that’s not easy to find. Has it become easier to produce or is there still a lot of back and forth in the process?
That’s a lovely thing to say, thank you. I put a lot of effort into maintaining quality and making sure a product is exactly how it should be. I believe if you’re going to do something, you should do it properly. My products are relatively simple but can still take a long time to develop. Rainbow Pencils for example took two years of development and planning before they were ready to launch. Real Boy push pins were much faster. It took me just 6 weeks from initial sketch to the first 200 packs to be developed, injection in the UK, hand-painted and assembled by me in Tokyo and then sold at Tokyo Designers Week 2011. Generally I’d say the fewer the people, and the better the people, the quicker the project.
How did you first come up with the rainbow pencil idea?
I was actually trying to think of a design for a pencil sharpener. But as it turned out, I was more fascinated by the beauty of pencil shavings rather than the sharpener itself. I was aware of paper-pencil technology and I had been wanting to create something that incorporated a rainbow for some time. Those three separate interests came together to become Rainbow Pencils.
The project was launched on Kickstarter and now the pencils can be bought at the MoMA store! What’s your overview on using these kind of crowd-funding platforms?
I am without a doubt a huge fan of Kickstarter. It enables small ‘creators’ like myself to bring their dreams to life. It seems a bit corny to say “I can’t do this without you”, but in most cases (and certainly in mine), it’s true. On top of the obvious benefits of making a project possible, Kickstarter is also a wonderful community to be a part of. For both my projects so far (Rainbow Pencils and Sticky Page Markers), my backers have been extremely supportive, friendly, and respectful. It’s that direct feedback from ‘end users’ that makes me feel like I’m doing something meaningful, and keeps me passionate about continuing the work that I’m doing. Being sold in the MoMA store was of course some delightful icing on the cake.
It must have been fun to be walking on the street and all of a sudden coming across a tiny pop-up shop. What feedback did you get on that?
Hahaha, yeh, understandably most people were quite shocked and didn’t quite know what to think, but it got a lot of smiles which is the aim of all my work. A few people were interested to know more about what I was doing on the day but I didn’t really spend a lot of time actually selling Real Boy Pins (a single pack of which was on display in the shop). Instead, I was concentrating on filming the remote-control shop darting about the streets and documenting it as a concept.  I filmed it for about 6 hours before it was accidentally ran over by a couriers flat-bed trolley which kind of signalled the end.
The concept of that project was to communicate the freedom the internet gives us to create and share (and sell) small things on a large scale.
I hope when people watch the short film, they can feel that freedom and are inspired to ‘do’ :
And how did the Pop-up a tree shop work?
After finding the perfect tree in Cat Street, Harajuku (the same street where I later exhibited remote-control pop-up shop) I clambered up there one morning, hung a ‘shop’ sign and dangled my products from the branches by string. I used a little wooden tray on a pulley to winch money up and products down and a toy fishing rod fitted with a bulldog clip to do business card exchange.
Your studio specializes not only in product design but also packaging design and interfaces. Could you develop on the concept of Revive?
I developed that project whilst working with Kinneir Dufort in Bristol. Revive was their smartphone concept, that aimed to provide people with the latest technology by upgrading and re-manufacturing their existing hardware. My part of project was to design the graphic user interface (GUI) of the phone. Although in principle I was only required to demonstrate how an onboard diagnostics system might work, I wanted to make the digital interface just as important to the concept and brand as the rest of the phone. My belief is that even if a product and accompanying system is designed to be functionally sustainable, people will still be attracted to the concept of something that is ‘brand new’. I believe the key to designing long lasting products, above function and performance, is to make people become emotionally attached to them. I used the REVIVE GUI to show how this might be done using a character hosted menu system.
Does any disastrous experience stand as memorable on your way to success?
Nothing really stands out as a huge unfixable balls-up, but I remember a uni-project that felt positively disastrous at the time. Me and my friends had spent a couple of days designing and delicately hot-glueing together a structure made of spaghetti that was supposed to hold a brick a meter in the air, whilst leaving a 60cm diameter space below it where the structure did not touch the floor.
We finished it late on the night before the deadline and we were finally able to test if it worked with a brick. Not only did it look pretty badass, but it held the brick too, and we were all overjoyed. The next morning we rushed our model to the test site to show off our creation to our tutors. On the short journey from our halls to the test site however, it rained. We didn’t really think about it at the time, but the rain made the spaghetti brittle, and when we tested it, the brick smashed through the structure, both destroying it and failing the test. We got a D and were absolutely distraught.
 But at least it made a memorable story that I’ll never forget!