GH: Please describe your professional practice. How does being based in Tokyo work for you?
Ian Lynam: My practice is a multidisciplinary one. Projects tend to be all over the place, including editorial design for books and magazines, motion graphics spots, mini-documentaries, print design, apparel graphics, a lot of identity design, and the occasional random sound design and type design action. I also write a fair amount – I started writing regularly for Idea Magazine a few issues ago and couldn’t be more pleased. It’s my favorite magazine, and one that I have been immensely into since I started studying design, so to be able to write and do some design within Idea is really rewarding to me. Being in Tokyo just really helped shake me up and get me out of my comfort zone. I’ve had great opportunities to work with folks on projects I never would have had the chance to do had I stayed in the U.S.
GH: How did you end up in Japan? Aside from the obvious reasons, what drew you to it?
IL: I first came to Japan on tour with a noise band I was playing with and was just blown away by my experiences here. I kept coming back every few years to visit and made some great friends here. My girlfriend is half-Japanese and really wanted to move back here, having spent a large portion if her childhood living in Japan. I was working as a designer and art director in Los Angeles and found myself having accumulated enough individual clients that it was a viable option. So, we stuffed 99.8% of our belongings in storage and headed to Tokyo.
GH: Please describe the Tokyo design scene for us.
IL: I think that being a designer in Tokyo can be pretty frustrating. If you are young, you have to pay mega-dues to make your career happen working within a traditional design company. Design wages are low compared to the U.S. and Europe. This is due to the cultural place that graphic design has in Japan-it seems to be more of an expected service than something with some cultural caché to it, as it is elsewhere. How many Japanese design teams approach design solutions is different than the methodologies employed by most American and European firms, as well. It is much more of a collective decision-making process toward refining design solutions. There are exceptions, of course, but most firms I’ve come in contact with seem to operate in this manner. Having positioned myself as a foreign designer operating my own design office, it puts me in a unique position compared to most designers working in Tokyo. My client base is international, and I do a mix of work, some of which is highly signature and stylized, as well as work that is more collaborative in nature. There are a few really great firms in Tokyo. My personal favorite at the moment isWOW. They do really sick motion work. AQ kills it in the solid, useable web field. There are a number of really intense, hard-working folks here that do super-interesting work across a variety of media.
GH: What are the most exciting things you’re working on at the moment?
IL: I’m working on all of the print communications for a Japanese film that Wim Wenders executive produced this week, as well as two book projects with the American artist Bwana Spoons.
GH: You’ve got your hands in many different pots (design, writing, type design.) How do you juggle it all?
IL: I’m lucky in that I have a few contractors that I work with regularly to get a lot of the production end of things done. This frees me up to get some writing in.
GH: What areas would you like to focus on in the future?
IL: Identity design is my preferred activity. I’ll just keep seeking interesting and engaging clients and collaborators in that field first and foremost.
GH: What do you think the current state of design journalism is like? How can online publications evolve from link showcases?
IL: In some ways, it’s great that people are far more aware of design than they have ever been. I talked to three random non-designers who were interested in typography yesterday. Folks are engaging with design on a more popular level, and I imagine that that will continue. (Especially if Ellen Lupton continues writing design books for children.) As far as evolution goes, it’s just a matter of putting the time in. Linkagregator sites are just as relevant as lengthy expository sites, but in a different way. Linkfest sites show what you LIKE, whereas expository sites tend to show more of what you THINK. Or not. At the same time, there are a number of astute folks out there digging up interesting work, jamming out a few lines about it, and keeping it interesting.
GH: Typefaces you’re hugging as of late.
IL: (moment of reflection.) I’ve been way more into hand-lettering lately. There’s an unfinished typeface byClaudio Piccinini called Squatront.