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«Abstract To research graphic design in a globalized context it is primordial to consider cultural, social, historical and even anthropological ...»

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JAPANESE VISUAL COMMUNICATION SURVEY: A BRIEF ANALYSIS

OF CONTEMPORARY GRAPHIC DESIGNERS FROM JAPAN

Flávio de Almeida Hobo

Centro de Investigação em Arquitectura, Urbanismo e Design da UTL – FA

IADE

flaviohobo@gmail.com

Abstract

To research graphic design in a globalized context it is primordial to consider cultural, social,

historical and even anthropological studies to fully understand the aesthetics’ choices made by the designer’s. Being the “Japanese graphic design” a topic still to be better understand in the West, it is mandatory to gather information from primary sources. These data will be analyzed with support of secondary sources of information about Japanese visual communication, social and cultural studies. This paper presents comments about the result of a survey applied to 105 Japanese graphic designers. The survey was designed with 44 questions. The original survey, to better follow this report can be found in www.studiohobo.com/CONVERGENCIAS/Flavio_Hobo_Survey.pdf Key-words: Graphic Design, Japan, Japanese Visual Culture, Portugal, Graphic Design Survey,Visual Communication.

Resumo Para a investigação do design gráfico em um contexto globalizado é primordial considerar estudos culturais, históricos e também antropológicos para compreender de maneira integral as escolhas estéticas feitas pelo designer. Sendo o design gráfico japonês um tópico ainda por ser melhor compreendido no Ocidente, é necessário reunir informações a partir de fontes primárias. Esses dados serão então analisados com apoio de fontes secundárias de informação sobre a comunicação visual japonesa e estudos culturais e sociais. O presente artigo apresenta comentários sobre o resultado de um inquérito aplicado a 105 designers japoneses. O inquérito era composto por 44 questões. Para o melhor acompanhamento deste artigo, sugere-se o download do inquérito que está disponível em www.studiohobo.com/CONVERGENCIAS/Flavio_Hobo_Survey.pdf Palavras-chave: Design Gráfico, Cultura Visual Japonesa, Japão, Portugal, Inquérito sobre Design Gráfico, Comunicação Visual.

Introduction The Japanese visual communication, especially graphic design, does not have yet the proper notoriety in many Western countries. The perception of Japanese graphic design as a tool for internationalization is reduced and obscured by the international popularity of manga and anime that, for western eyes, are synonymous of Japanese culture. This situation may lead to less than desirable academic studies about contemporary Japanese graphic design to western audience. To minimize the scarcity of information for its investigation, it is necessary to obtain data through primary sources of information. With this aim, a survey was created, which results will be presented in this paper that seeks to investigate several aspects related to modern and contemporary Japanese visual communication.

According to Saiki (2002, p. 9), The Japanese graphic design after World War II was inspired by the Western graphic design with ambitions to be recognized by their Western counterparts and if possible surpass them in quality. At the same time, there was a spirit of unity and patriotism in the reconstruction of the country that made visual communication also appealing to the Japanese and their values. Even before, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Japanese designers themselves sought to organize international exhibitions to promote the international exchange and absorb ideas, as an exhibition of U.S. and European advertisements collected by Sadae Takagi in Osaka in 1902, "The Posters of World War One" with works from England, Germany and United States, the international competition for Calpis posters, exhibition curated by Yukio Koriyama, in 1927, with about 400 posters, and many other initiatives aimed at improving Japanese visual communication.

(NAGOYA GINKŌ, 1989, p. 150).

After the post-war economic recovery, Japan sought to reassert itself as a nation not only recovered, but modern and in line with Western values. Graphic design, through posters, were part of this propaganda. A year after the creation of JAGDA, was organized an exhibition of Japanese posters, in Europe, in 1979, with the purpose of showing the Japanese maturity in visual communication and as a result, Japanese designers began to receive international awards. (NAGOYA GINKŌ, 1989, p.

268) In its turn, manga and anime have different histories with regard to its internationalization and soft power policy by Japanese government. The opinions of Rumi Sakamoto, a professor at the University of Auckland, and Seiichi Kondo, former Japanese ambassador in Denmark, make clear the relationship between politics, the image of "cool Japan" and soft power (in CHRISTENSEN, 2011, p.78). Sakamoto recalls that the government of Junichiro Koizumi promoted consciously Japanese pop culture as a new hope in a scenario of economic recession for the recovery of its international influence. On the other hand, Kondo, in his speech, reinforces the role of art and culture as vital in the process of globalization, as it is an effective and discrete way to create "friends" as opposed to the method of coercion. However, the popularity of these Japanese cultural events does not reflect reality and the style of visual communication that is applied to industry and services in the Japanese market. To assist in the investigation of this matter and visual communication issues in contemporary Japan, professionals and academics in the field of visual communication were consulted through a questionnaire design specifically for this investigation.





Obtaining primary data allows the creation of a supportive database to the analysis of secondary sources such as books, articles and documents of other authors. A similar questionnaire is being applied to Portuguese designers in order to spot differences in the activity and professional behavior of designers from both countries. Although this investigation is not centered about comparative studies between Portugal and Japan visual culture, some questions were addressed to Portuguese respondents to provide a reference about how designers and scholars deal with the same issues.

Besides, Portugal is, of course, influenced by European graphic design culture.

The term "glocalization" (RITZER, 2003; MATYSITZ & FORRESTER, 2009) which originated precisely in Japan provides one of the key theoretical frameworks for the justification of this inquiry.

According to Khonker (2004, p.4) the origin of the term "glocalization" has roots in the Japanese term "dochakuka", a portmanteau of ideas "indigenous" and "adapt or transform", which in turn transmitted the idea of adapting farming techniques to local needs of others. In the area of marketing and business, this term referred to the concepts of "global" and "localization". Thus, products and services that have commercial space on the international market, thanks to globalization, can and should be adapted to meet the cultural values of local consumers. There is a similarity in that term with the idea of indigenization already used in Western anthropology and sociology. However, the term glocalization has a higher value for this research because it has been created in Japan, has been exported and used in the West to the academic, commercial and marketing areas, which have close relations with the graphic design. Therefore, with the concept of glocalization, the designer is asked to think internationally but act locally, adapting their work to the culture in which he/she is inserted.

This approach is valid not only in the production of content, but in the interpretation of international trends in visual communication to the codes of values of clients and local consumers. Obtaining information from Japanese professionals and academics linked to the area of visual communication is an essential part to study the development and the relation of Japanese graphic design in the international arena. The designer is a cultural modifier and active in determining the visual style of visual arts business. In the present, experience and cultural knowledge of their environment and from other countries must be in balance with the tastes and preferences of local customers and clients, to promote innovation and communication improvement of products and services.

The questionnaire is divided into four parts, namely: "Interviewee Details", "Design as Profession", " Visuals and Graphics" and "Globalization, Japan and Graphic Design." Each section had questions developed according to the objectives of each section. These goals will be explained throughout this document. Altogether, there were 44 questions with a time estimate of 20 minutes to be fully answered. The application of the survey to Japanese professionals and academics was through an online platform – during the period between December 2011 and February 2012. The survey was sent mainly to electronic addresses available in the database of JAGDA (The Japan Graphic Designers Association Inc.) which currently has 2800 members spread across Japan. Requests were also sent to some colleges, designers and design studios found in researches in books and websites.

Altogether, were sent about 1130 emails. Entirely, 219 people visited the online survey, 114 partially responded to the survey and 105 answered in full. It was considered only the opinion of the 105 respondents who fully answered the survey.

Due the questionnaire number of questions, the writing of the outcomes were too extensive.

Therefore this 6.000 word report will deal only with the theoretic justification of each of four sections and brief comments of the results obtained. The full questionnaire’s fac-simile can be downloaded at www.studiohobo.com/CONVERGENCIAS/Flavio_Hobo_Survey.pdf Interviewee Details Six questions were performed about the interviewee in order to identify the origin and quality of the responses regarding the level of experience of the interviewee which can be measured by academic degree and area of study. Although there are technical and academic courses, graphic design is an area that absorbs professionals with diverse expertise and theoretical knowledge related to visual culture, advertising and marketing. It was also essential to ascertain that respondents had a close relationship with Japanese design reality (being part of a Japanese association or/and being Japanese and living and working in Japan), since this document that will serve as the primary source of analysis on the current situation of Japanese graphic design is composed of answers from professionals or academics with expertise in this area.

There were counted up 105 valid responses, unless otherwise stated, with 84,8% of respondents being male and 15,2% female. The ages were divided into groups (18-23), (24-29), (30-35), (36-40), (41-46), (47-52), (53-58), (59-64), and over 65. The three age groups more numerous were (36-40) with 21,9%, followed equally by group (47-52) also with 21,9%, and in the third group aged (30-35) representing 19% of valid responses. The three groups less numerous were over 65 years with 1,9%, young people among (18-23) also with 1,9% and finally 5,7% of youths among (24-29) years. All the respondents were of Japanese nationality. The academic degree most common is bachelor's degree corresponding to 45,7% of respondents, followed by 31,4% of professionals who only have technical education and 14,3% with only a high school education. Only 1% of respondents have a doctoral degree, 3,8% are masters and 3,8% considered not fit into any of the options listed. To finish the first part of this survey, the respondents were asked to identify the area of their course/specialization. The vast majority, 71,4% is inserted in the "Graphic Design/Visual Communication." The second largest group comprises 24,8% of people from diverse areas such as 3D animation, administration, engineering, engravers, literature, psychology, economics, interior design, among others The other options were Industrial Design (4,8%), Plastic Arts (2,9%), Cinema (1,9%), Web design and Multimedia (1,9%), Environmental Design (1%) and Photography (1%). Although the option Fashion Design was available, no one considered this area. Finally, the percentage of respondents who completed their studies between the years of 1981 and 1990 was 30,5%, and those who completed before 1980 (the earliest date available in this survey) were 20%, completing the majority of respondents. The other groups were: between 1996 and 2000 (16,2%), 2001 and 2005 (15,2%), 1991 and 1995 (14,3%), 2006 and 2011 (2,9%) and after 2011 (1 %).

Comments for “Interviwee Details” The most prominent public in the survey are men, with a majority of 84,8%. Most respondents are older than 30 years and already have technical or higher education. With 71,4% of respondents belonging to courses in the area of graphic design /visual communication and 100% of Japanese nationality.

Just for comparative purposes, the 49 Portuguese respondents who answered the survey are mostly women (59,2%). The age group between 24 and 35 years accounted for 61,2% of the respondents, which 44,9% already have a master's degree and 40,8% have finished higher education.

Respondents are also mostly from courses belonging to the area of graphic design/visual communication (63,3%), yet with a most recent conclusion of the studies (65,3% between 2001 and 2011). This may be related to the achievement of Master degree by respondents and by the changes in the academic curriculum due to the treaty of Bologna.

Therefore, it is safe to say that the answers given to this investigation can be considered valid to compose a document with primary sources of information and assist in research on Japanese visual communication and creating a comparative basis with Portugal.

Design as Profession This section consists of eighteen questions that explore topics facing issues of graphic design professionals in Japan, client relations, working tools, creative process, inspiration sources and considerations about the reality outside Japan. Some of the obtained answers will be compared with those given by Portuguese respondents, in order to acquire points of similarity and contrast between the two cultures, especially with regard to the habits of professionals and academics in the field of visual communication. This section is more focused on sociological and anthropological issues which are considered fundamental to the extracultural study of graphic design.



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