Summer 2003

The look of young Japan

JPG

Edited by Tomoko Sakamoto and Ramon Prat
Actar, USD44.95

The title of this doorstop-sized tome says a lot about Japanese design all by itself. JPG offers a visual overview of young Japanese graphic and interactive design, both of which are integrally tied to those curious suffixes found on image file names. All of the work herein owes something to the desktop revolution, and, as the designer Hideki Inaba notes in his introduction, ‘many of the designers who started after ‘95 had no special study of art, like the previous designers did.’ This is most likely the reason for the incredibly broad definition of design implied by the work in JPG. These practitioners didn’t learn how to be professional designers, but rather loosely create a variety of things that, because they tend toward the strategies of design and illustration in look (flat, computerised, designed) and delivery (magazines, the Web, products), fall into the category of design instead of art.

JPG focuses on 25 Japanese designers and is divided into three sections: ‘Scanning the World’ looks at how these designers filter outside, worldly influences into their work; ‘Multiplying Out’ examines their various delivery systems for design, and ‘Free to Browse’ covers how we experience design through websites and environmental graphics. While the first section provides some wonderful examples of electronic approaches to understanding the world (Locker Room Design’s pixellated city and Tsuyoshi Kusano’s digital portraiture for example), the second is the most interesting, as it shows the myriad vessels for design.

A paper game of recombinant shapes by Namaiki is gorgeous, the Groovisions collective is represented by predictably interesting examples of their Chappie product line, the inventive Gasbook DVD / book / toy anthology series is shown, and a whole mess of exhibitions of varying quality are trotted out for show. If nothing else, the section points to the incredible diversity of the shapes of design, and these designers’ willingness to pursue different means of showing their work. What unites them all is their use of interactive technology as both tool and subject.

Besides short introductory comments appended to each section, there’s little in the way of context, so if you’re looking for explanation or insight into the Japanese design scene right now, inference is the best you can hope for with JPG. (Fortunately, URLs are supplied, and the credits are fairly clear.) That minor grievance aside, JPG is a handsome volume, and its 420 pages, one image per page, offer much to look at, wonder about, and track down.

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