Whereas information media in Japan is generally a case of substance over style, Yugo Nakamura (中村勇吾) uses digital technologies to create playful, dynamic virtual landscapes that connect with users at levels far beyond the interactions fostered though regular websites.

monocrafts utweetecotonoha dropclock

Japanese design is celebrated internationally for its apparent aesthetic purity, its tendency to minimalism and its attention to detail. Of course Japanese design is more complex than this and the term covers a multitude of approaches to what Japanese designers believe constitutes effective and beautiful design. The area of information design – as seen in media ranging from newspapers and magazines to websites and TV screens – is interesting in that it generally takes a very different approach to the less is more maxim. In these media clutter is the norm. Mainstream print media resemble their western counterparts and tend to cram headlines, copy and images into their pages; TV talk shows regularly have a group of presenters, often accompanied by a panel of guests, and feature one or more cutaway mini-screens positioned over the main image together with pop-up text commentary and graphics; websites typically resemble mazes with columns of clickable menu buttons, animated buttons and adverts, a jumble of headings, nests of pages and the need for a fair bit of vertical scrolling.

It seems these media have disposed of centuries of zen aesthetics. The reasons for this aren’t all that clear cut, but we can guess that the preference may have something to do with looking to efficiently make use of the available space – on the page or screen; in a culture where urban space is tight and its waste is rare. this approach could reflect a culture where the minimalist zen perspective is seen as belonging to the past, to the world of tea houses and temples, while the modern aesthetic is found in the stimulatory busy environments of the game center, shopping mall, pachinko parlor and PlayStation game, and the cluttered ambience of the modern apartment or office. It could arise from the visual complexity of the nation’s character based kanji and kana writing system and the Japanese reader’s or viewer’s consequent approach to accessing information, as compared with the structure and flow of Latin based languages; It might indicate the status of media designers in the culture as compared with the more artisanal fashion, industrial and architectural designers, who may be accorded more freedom of expression by the culture’s generally conservative employers, or the disconnect – both in terms of language and culture – between the Japanese web designers and the predominantly English language based Internet world with its fast changing developments. It is also often said that because most people in Japan access the web on their supercharged cell phones, which have their own unique requirements for information design and presentations, that standard web design is not given the primacy it is in other countries.

Whatever the reasons, as in any culture, there are exceptions to the norm and there are of course exceptional Japanese web sites and innovative designers who create them.

Yugo Nakamura, who also goes by the online moniker yugop, is often cited as one of the most innovative digital designers working anywhere today.

With a Masters degree from the University of Tokyo’s School of Engineering, he moved from construction and landscape architecture to the digital realm. His interactive works have won him a string of awards and have been exhibited in venues such as London’s Design Museum. Nakamura’s innovative interaction and interface design is driven by an interest in creating a relationship with the digital environment and his designs have moved from kinetic to interactive to connective, as he puts it. In the 1990s, inspired by the digital works of Japanese American graphic designer and computer scientist John Maeda, Nakamura began his digital experiments that he presented online as MONO*crafts. By the end of that decade he had released the playful MONO*crafts V2.0, using the then new Flash 4 technology to create dynamic browser based software with which the viewer could interact and which still today invokes wonder and joy. In 2004 Nakamura started Tha Ltd and began producing radical web designs for corporate clients, while continuing with his own continuing experiments; regardless, his work is characterised by fluid content and is often playful, dynamic and user generated and his vision remains one of the most innovative on the web.

Click the pictures above to sample some of his creations:

MONO*crafts 2.0 (1998)

The yugop site presents Nakaumra’s famous organic monochrome works and contains an archive of the various MONO*crafts experiments in information design and interactive media. The site presents some beautiful examples of digital art dating back to 1998 and promises lots of fun.

DROPCLOCK (2008)

Dropclock is a monochrome clock which shows the time through Bold Helvetica numbers free falling in slow motion into water. This is one of the products created for his own in-house label SCR – ‘a creative label for screen media’ , which produces, develops and sells innovative and artistic software. In 2009 a version of it featured in Tokyo as an installation at Issey Miyakes’s three Aoyama stores: Men, Women and Pleats Please.

ecotonoha (2003)

Developed for NEC, ecotonoha is a site that fosters collaborative social behaviour in an effort to help our environment. User’s posts are represented as leaves on a virtual tree. Viewers watch the tree’s posts help the tree to grow in its digital space, and with each post and NEC correspondingly funds the planting of real trees in the real world, on Australia’s Kangaroo Island. This is a superlative example of ecological activism.

UTWEET (2010)

A relatively simple branding and advertising exercise for Uniqlo that harnesses the allure of Twitter and mixes tweets with current Uniqlo UT products in video form taken from the UT All Stars commercial campaign that was also directed by Nakamura.

A detailed portfolio of Nakamura’s commercial projects can be found on the tha site.

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