This month's cover design was produced by Yugo Nakamura who belongs to 'bA (Business Architects)' that has quickly grown into a leading web development agency in Japan since its establishment. You may already know his experimental and beautiful interactive artworks on his personal web site 'Yugop.com'. What are they currently doing? What is the company 'bA' where he belongs to? And where are they heading for? We interviewed Yugo and also Shinzo, the representative of bA.
Please introduce yourselves.
Shinzo: I'm Shinzo Fukui, co-founder and CCO of Business Architects. You can also find my works at viewon.net. The other one, Shinzo.com - which won Gold Prize at the Web Design Award in 1999 - is currently closed, but I plan to re-open it someday as a relic of the web design of the 90's.
What triggered your interest in design?
Yugo: I first stumbled onto architecture during high school, and it was from there that my interest in the world of landscape and architecture took off. Naturally, I was attracted to other fields of design. And after having traveled down many winding roads (^o^), I'm now designing for the web.
Tell us about your work at "yugop.com".
Yugo: "yugop.com" is my personal net-based laboratory. I usually work on it
in between work. (-_- ;) The theme of the space is to play with and explore every possible form of visual and interactive expression currently available on the Web. I've also been active with larger projects such as Gasbook and The Remedi Project.
Tell us about your work at Business Architects Inc. (bA). What is your role there?
Yugo: At bA, I'm mostly involved with the visual and interface design aspect of web projects. My role at work is quite interactive and versatile. From creating large web sites to the rolling credits of a movie, I guess you can say that I wear many hats.
Tell us more about Business Architects Inc. as a company.
Shinzo: I think I better step in on this one. The company serves up solutions and strategies that is necessary to build businessess - so the name is Business Architects. Our forte lies in developing businesses interested in using the latest technology. We're often thought of as just a web development company, but our operation covers much diverse areas than that.
Our current staff numbers 70. Some have come from consulting firms, others from advertising agencies, the fashion industry, software makers, printing houses, system development companies - we even have a musician, stage art director, event promoter, illustrator, and writer. With so many talented members, it's like running a circus with many wild animals!
So, as Yugo has just mentioned, we've planned and developed magazines, created advertisements for fashion brands, directed promotional videos...we've had our hands full with not only web projects but with diverse forms of media. This is all possible because of the plethora of talent that exists at bA.
Our recent works on the web:
It seems that employees at bA all have their own particular style and abilities, but how does that influence the work process of bA as a web development company?
Yugo: When working alone, or in a small design studio, it can become difficult to break free from your own world - sometimes even shutting out possibilities. I find that spending time with people who think on completely different wavelengths - those with foreign skills and backgrounds - frees the mind. I've experienced this at bA.
Tell us about the pros and cons of working in a middle-sized web development company. Many designers choose to work for large to middle-sized studios but are there reasons for this?
Yugo: At a large firm, I think it's rare that your work coincides with your interests or personal sense. Of course you could just say, work is work, but if you really want to enjoy your job, it's crucial to make your goals apparent and strive for that ideal job. This also goes for designers with their own business.
Shinzo: A great thing about a company with size like bA is that it's very easy to measure the company consensus. Simply put, our employees have the control to move this company. If someone says, "I want to do XYZ", then you get a whole group of people who have an opinion about that idea. The reaction of the staff is the deciding factor for whether bA takes that project on or not. There are of course formal aspects of our business, like business plans and quarterly revenue targets, etc. But the balance of spontaneous and planned events together keep our staff feeling that they share responsibility in bA's next destination.
Do you think of yourself as a graphic or web designer? And do you think that the meaning of "designer" has evolved?
Yugo: I'm a web designer, when I work on the web. But, my abilities range quite differently from what is commonly expected from a web designer. I can't seem to find the right title to explain myself when asked. Actually, any title will do.
Shinzo: Since my career as a graphic designer was long, for a while I had a hard time introducing myself as a web designer. Basically I was just a graphic designer and I didn't think I had the right qualifications to be called a web designer...or something to that effect. Recently though, I think I've finally been able to turn from web page designer to web site designer.
Speak to us about your educational background.
Yugo: I attended University of Tokyo and majored in structural engineering, concentrating in landscape design, architecture, and structural design. For five years after graduation I worked as a design engineer, building bridges and other large-scale structures, and here I am now. So, my education has had very little to do with my current occupation. All I know about graphic design and web design comes from what I've seen, learned and experimented on the Net.
Shinzo: I was an art major during college. My professor and I would debate for hours; we'd fire back and forth conceptual ideas to create such enormous bronze sculptures. It was a great time. After graduation, I entered the fashion industry and there I learned about marketing and the brand business. My next stop was a design firm where my role was art director for fashion brands. I did a lot of graphic and editorial design there, which motivated me to create my own company. And I met the WWW and the rest is history.
Do you think that education in the arts has changed as a result of the Internet revolution?
Yugo: I'm not quite sure of how education has changed, but recently, online art has been exploding all over the Net. There are countless sources of artistic inspiration like never before, and even sites where you can learn about design. In an age such as this one, we may need to re-think what we ought to be learning at school.
Shinzo: I also haven't kept up with the recent school curriculum, but at school, especially in the education of art, it's most important that students learn how to understand to build things and to express themselves, and learn how to use tools. Without these basics, it's difficult to materialize your own ideas. School is the prelude to the real world so, if anything, I hope that classrooms are good environments to learn these essential skills.
What do you think of the movement in graphic design, which changes from the experimental ones in the early 90's to the current Minimalist or rather, New Modernist approach?
Shinzo: I think it's the realization of the true nature of a message - a point recently reached by many. Perhaps it was a process somewhat like subtraction instead of addition. The Internet has undeniably influenced the way we communicate complexities through design. This movement has definitely influenced my work.
Do you have any opinions about the current offline/online design industry?
Yugo: Regarding online works, as a designer, I think it has been a truly interesting time to be in the industry. In a world where various technologies are available for all, and they generally got more user-friendly, I feel the need to explore out how to best use these tools to heighten my own performance. This process has just begun and there are so many other things still to be considered.
You created a cover for Shift this month - what kind of images ran through your heads when brainstorming, and tell us a bit about the process.
Shinzo: I initially felt a strong energy beaming out of "SHIFT" itself - as if it had something to say that had not yet been put into words. With covers, it's common to create a typographical expression of the title. Yet typography wasn't the answer this time. It's hard to explain, but it just wasn't. I wanted to face this project from a completely different angle, a different approach. Yugo and I were directors for this project and Kazutoshi Shiraishi, a new member of bA, constructed the Flash work. (His work can be seen at "Flash Effect" By the way, that's him barking at us in the back... (- - ;) He's one of our young and wild ones, flying free as a lark. And our own sound director, Masaomi Kurihara, composed the music. He has been researching music for the Web at bA, and is one to watch for with upcoming broadband age.
Is there anyone who you've been heavily influenced by from the design world? If so, tell us who and the reason why. We'd also like to hear what kind of designers you are both keeping your eyes on.
Some people I've been influence by
John Maeda: I first learned the meaning of "interactive" from his works.
Dextro: Of all the people and things I've encountered on the Web, this is seriously funny. Seeing this was impetus for me to create something of my own on the web.
Here are designers who I've found interesting:
Josh Ulm (http://www.ioresearch.com)
Joshua Davis (http://www.praystation.com)
James Peterson (http://www.presstube.com)
Mike Young (http://www.designgraphik.com)
Someone I've been influenced by
Alexey Brodovitch. But since my youth, people from all walks of life have influenced me. So it's difficult to mention just one person. The important factor is whether or not I've been able to fully digest what I've learned.
A designer with interesting work at hand is Yohji Yamamoto
Last question, how about a message to the readers, or any information about what is coming up.
Yugo: In the near feature, bA is going to be working on more large-scale sites. Regarding the launch of our own bA site, one of my hopes is to create a space that exhibits the kind of collaboration that goes on at bA. It'll probably become something like a small showcase that displays the rather extreme aspects of our works.
As for myself, I'd like to continue to work on projects in various fields. Recently I've been involved with Movement Exhibition in Sendai.
Shinzo: Well, I think we need to work on our own site for a change! But seriously, as I mentioned before, bA is currently working on building strategies and solutions, planning, developing, creating and managing projects, supporting businesses from a variety of angles. There are many companies with a similar profile, but the significant difference is the way our company is structured and is constantly evolving with fresh staff.
BA has also had numerous experiences with large projects and these projects keep coming. We're looking forward to doing more works that allow our designers to really bring out their own style and color.
We welcome new ideas and talents and are offering opportunities to assistants as well as interns. If you think you'd like to make some noise at bA, join us!
Feel free to contact us to firstname.lastname@example.org, and let's talk face2face.
Business Architects Inc.
Address: Gobancho YS Bldg. 12-3, Gobancho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-0076, Japan