Masashi Murakami combs design with tech to deliver “surprising ways of seeing the world”
The Japan-based graphic designer talks us through his latest roster of projects, created under guise of his studio Emuni, founded alongside Takashi Murakami.
- Ayla Angelos
- 22 November 2021
We love a good catch up with the creatives we feature here at It’s Nice That, learning about any big changes or updates to their practice. And recently, we’ve noticed a bit of a theme; the pandemic has, and rightfully so, impacted a lot of the industry’s workload. For example, when we last spoke with Masashi Murakami in January 2020, the Tokyo-based designer wowed us with his exhibition of posters that defied the seemingly disparate relationship between tech and analogous processes. Now, he’s back again and this time around there have been a few changes – not least in terms of how the past year or so has affected his work.
“After my solo exhibition, we had the global Covid-19 pandemic,” he tells us. “Like many other designers, much of my work was either postponed or cancelled.” But rather than seeing this as a disadvantage, Masashi saw this as a time to reassess his goals. “I had the time to take a holistic view of my projects and pursue them more deeply; it also feels like the new requests I receive are now more substantive.”
What’s more is that Masashi has founded his own studio, named Emuni. Having always wanted to set out on his own in the graphic design industry, it was while working as a founding member for a Japanese art director, who’d set up their own studio, that he gained enough experience and know-how to set up your own company. Four years down the line and his dreams came true. And, under this new umbrella, Masashi – alongside founding partner Takashi Murakami – work across a medley of different undertakings including branding, advertising, packaging, sign and space design, plus web and art direction. Since launching, the studio has received recognition for its work to date, including the Tokyo TDC Award, JAGDA New Artist Award, Japan Package Design Award Gold Award, NYADC, and D&AD Award among others.
While tackling a brief, whether it’s a personal project or client-facing, Masashi will always try and seek out the unusual. He never refers to books or the internet, and instead scouts out an interesting texture, or “unintentional things” such as a “terribly shattered PC screen or a weathered piece of printed matter. “When I receive a work request, I search for those clippings for new forms of expression that match the requested concept,” he adds. “If something is too organised, people will not notice it. People are surprised and attracted to forms they do not see in everyday life. I like that technique because, by modifying and distorting forms, one can produce new and unintended textures.” With this in mind. Masashi’s work intentionally provokes questions from his audience. He wants you to look at it, observe it, and ultimately, be a little challenged or confused by it.
He recently designed an exhibition identity at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa for its show, Museum of the People, by the People, for the People. Masashi took the lead on the graphic, spatial and editorial design, creating a consistent language that runs throughout each part – that being the physical and digital spheres – the work itself is creative and eye-catching, inspired by the exhibitions hopes to think about the “past and future” of the museum. “Inspired by the symbolic circular shape of the museum building, which was designed by the architect SANAA, I chose to use a cylinder as the symbol for the exhibition, creating a visual that was centred on the margins. All the exhibition’s surfaces are cylindrical, like the museum itself.”
In another project, Masashi was tasked to design the greeting cards for Takeo, a distributor of Japanese paper (what’s referred to as Washi). Featuring block panels, a mix of patterns and typefaces, plus plenty of colour, the cards – which were designed for overseas – have been made for customers all over the globe. This means that Masashi avoided any specific language and instead “combined various expressive forms such as kanji characters, English words and woodblock prints.” The Takeo logo, too, is inspired by an old German woodblock print and the remaining part of the design was centred around the process of cutting and pasting this print, along with the modernised printed materials from different language. “Takeo is a company with a long history,” he continues. “I used layers of different types of paper to express this accumulation of years and months.”
Next up, Masashi hopes to continue working in the field of graphic design, especially that which challenges our perceptions of what can be achieved through printed matter. Not only does he strive to use technology to “deliver surprising ways of seeing the world”, he also wants to “overturn stereotypes” of scenes that we often take for granted. So, we can only expect great things to come from this designer.
Emuni: 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (Copyright © Emuni, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.