For the Tokyo-based studio Laboratories, Japanese typography is at the heart of its design ethos. Each project sees a unique approach to the intricate writing systems and “this complexity is key to our design thinking and how we communicate,” explains the studio’s founding designer and director Kato Kensaku.
Over recent years, Laboratories has made a name for itself in its innovative approach to print design. Full of gestural marks and fluid compositions, its designs weave together typography, illustration and photography effortlessly. Influenced by the iconic works of Tadanori Yokoo and Kohei Sugiura, who similarly mastered the practice of blending together Japanese typography with punchy visuals, the studio comparably makes one big impact with seemingly minimal effort.
“Anyone can be a graphic designer,” explains Kato on why he thinks his profession is interesting. With speediness, technical training and a sense of intrigue, Kato was partly drawn to the discipline in the first place due to its accessibility. In a recent project Altering Home, the studio created the exhibition design for the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa.
“The project was a joint venture between Japan, South Korea and China,” says Kato. “I made several symbols by mixing together the three characters for ‘house’ in the Japanese, Chinese and Korean alphabets.” Drawing out the universal symbol of a house, Kato art directed the identity to encapsulate the three different cultures as well as the overarching theme of home through the recognisable illustration of a house.
Earlier this year in another book design, the studio compile a number of rough sketches from the initial stages of the design process to make up a book cover design for Design Making 167. “We assembled several disused fragments of ideas from different designers of the design team,” expressing the nuanced process that goes into refining a product. Employing the visual language of red penned proof reading, the design exemplifies the process that goes into creating a book; client feedback and all.
And, for the tenth anniversary of the Jomon Art Project – the Jomon period being the earliest historical era of Japanese history beginning around 14500 BCE – Laboratories designed a series of posters celebrating the culture of their indigenous ancestors. The concept for the posters revolved around the question: “If Jomon people appeared in our present age, what kind of fashion would they wear?” Selecting local children around the age of ten-years-old, Kato and the team dressed the children in mass waste projects as a criticism on the consumption of our current society. Adorned in throwaway items such as cans, plastic boxes, rubber sandals and so on, the posters marry the old with the new, through their clothing as well as their signature striking use of typography.
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