Much to the bemusement of his teachers, Yoshihiro Yagi was wedded to the black colouring crayon as a child, and as a design student he found himself devoting more time to camping trips than typography studies. Sticking to rigid academic rules was never his style – an attitude that seems to have paid off for the Dentsu Kansai art director. Yagi-san’s ability to absorb inspiration from his environment and channel it in unexpected ways has resulted in several pieces of award-winning work.
LBB> How would you describe your work?
YY> I’ve always pursued simplicity, so I think that whatever I create reflects that. Before I start working on a project, I always approach it from different perspectives, and then wait until the ‘rule of design’ for that specific project to crystallise. Once I have the ‘rule’, then the work completes itself.
LBB> You attended Kyoto University of Art and Design - what did you study and what was your university experience like?
YY> When I was a university student, I worked part-time at a video rental shop so I could rent movies for free. During that period I saw so many different kinds of films.
Rather than concentrating on my design studies, I was more of a ‘play-hard’ type of student. I would often go camping at Lake Biwa or I would go driving – though these days I feel I should have studied more typography.
I studied in the Department of Information Design. The courses I took practically covered ‘anything, everything’: graphic design, photography, film, sculpture. We were inundated with so many assignments – those days were tough. We needed to work in groups, but the team wouldn’t agree on things and we ended up fighting. We went through a lot.
LBB> Why did you decide to get into advertising?
YY> At university my friends were either great painters, fabulous photographers or total film nuts. They were all so much more talented than I was and I hated myself for being a bore. However I eventually discovered that mixing and editing different media was interesting, and that’s how I decided to become an advertising art director.
LBB> Which of your projects are you proudest of and why?
YY> JR East Japan’s ‘Get Back, Tohoku’
. Traditionally, Japanese railway companies tend to run ad campaigns that are very sentimental, but immediately after the earthquake I knew that Japan wasn’t really looking for an emotional ad. I badly wanted to shake off that overly-serious atmosphere that hung in the air. I came up with a design that I thought would make the most out of billboard spaces located inside JR stations. I am so happy that the campaign received such an overwhelmingly huge response. It even won awards at festivals.
YY> The client was Ichida Garden, a farm in Tokushima prefecture. Their brief was for me to design their logo and billboards. Ichida, in Japanese, uses two kanji characters, one of which means ‘market’ – a place in which people gather and communicate with each other. I began designing the logo by trying to incorporate the kanji ‘市’, but I couldn’t pull it off.
One day when I was at a meeting about the silkscreens for a different project, inspiration suddenly hit. The act of wrapping vegetables in newspaper, as our parents’ generation did, was a kind package design in itself! The idea was to create a parody of modern-day wrapping paper, so I designed polka dots, stripes and checks which could then be printed onto newspaper.
LBB> Your Ultra Asian project for the Adfest Ad Museum is really interesting and seems to draw a lot of diverse ideas and inspirations together, such as Reflexology and Massage charts. What was the brief and what were you trying to achieve with the design?
YY> The brief from the Ad Museum was; ‘feel free to do anything as long as the design is appropriate for an Asian ad festival’. I had created a design with a Chinese kite motif for the China International Advertising Festival a year earlier, so the basic concept that I wanted to explore further for Adfest, was already there.
When we talk about advertising in general, it is often discussed in the context of Western culture. I wanted to express the idea that advertising in Asia is hotter than ever before. It’s something that I, as a Japanese person, creating and designing ads myself, personally believe in. And you’re right; I did have reflexology and massage pressure point charts in my mind.
LBB> Where do you look for inspiration?
YY> I look back to past memories and retrieve inspiration from them. For example I might think about the pictures I drew at elementary school. I guess I’m more or less remembering rather than creating something new.
Dick Bruna, the Miffy creator, is someone who always inspires me. I’m also drawn to work by old-time illustrators and graphic designers. I’m interested in designs from the past – anything that is executed in a simple manner. To me, simplicity means condensation, not elimination.
LBB> Do you do non-advertising, personal art projects? If so, what sort of thing do you enjoy working on?
YY> I’m not involved in any personal projects at the moment. I’m too busy now, so when I have some free time I’d rather not think about anything. But then again, I do I find myself mulling ideas over. Once in a while I think about putting on a one-man show that won’t make sense to anyone - so maybe in the near future I can make that happen.
LBB> If you weren't working in advertising what would you be doing?
YY> An attorney. (Academically, I know I wouldn’t have made it, but I have a hunch that lawyers and designers are two of a kind.)
LBB> Your work has won many awards - are awards important to you?
YY> Absolutely. That’s because I don’t come up with pieces of work on my own. I create them with a team and we spend a lot of time - often painful times - together. So when we receive the news that we have won an award, we’ll rejoice and celebrate with a good beer. Don’t you think that will makes the team eager to create more great work together?
I’m convinced it is absolutely necessary to create a trigger that might lead us to receiving compliments because it would inevitably enhance the quality of our work.
LBB> Where in Japan are you from and what sort of childhood did you have? Did you come from an arty family or was your career choice seen as an unusual one?
YY> I come from Kyoto, the Kansai area of Japan. When I went to kindergarten, I remember everyone else in the class drawing rainbow-coloured birds. I coloured the bird black, which made the teacher mad. But I always liked to draw. When I was in elementary school, I did a little bit of swimming, drawing, Shorinji Kempo (focusing on the movement element of the martial art), and in junior high school I played basketball and became a ‘Beatlemaniac’. My art grade was always excellent.
The fact that my father is an advertising photographer could have influenced my route as a designer. When I was in high school I temporarily left art to fully concentrate on rhythmic gymnastics, and I participated in the National Athletic Championships. I believe my ability to stay motivated was fostered during those varsity athletic days, and rhythmic gymnastics itself is another form of expressing oneself. I decided to go to an art university, and my parents have never been surprised with the decisions I have made.