Yugo Nakamura: The Craftsman

Nakamura’s personal site, yugop.com, works as a digital sketchbook, showcasing an extraordinary array of techniques. Shown here is OvalX3, from 2001.
In a world filled with bloated, work-a-day and downright irritating websites Yugo Nakamura creates compelling beacons of playful ingenuity and simplicity. MICHAEL FITZPATRICK caught up with Japan’s finest landscape- gardener-turned-designer for CR

ovalx3.jpg
Nakamura’s personal site, yugop.com, works as a digital sketchbook, showcasing an extraordinary array of techniques. Shown here is OvalX3, from 2001.

In a world filled with bloated, work-a-day and downright irritating websites Yugo Nakamura creates compelling beacons of playful ingenuity and simplicity. MICHAEL FITZPATRICK caught up with Japan’s finest landscape- gardener-turned-designer for CR

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The man himself, Yugo Nakamura

Michael Fitzpatrick: Can you tell us about how you got into this work in the first place? What in general is your approach to your work?

Yugo Nakamura: Around 1995, when I was still in school, I saw John Maeda’s early interactive works and was very attracted to the concept of something ‘Reactive’. Afterwards, around 1997 to 1999, I saw a number of works by then-web-pioneers such as Dextro, Lia, Antirom and Daniel Brown, which really pushed me to create something on my own. I then began to make a few things, which ended up being the starting point of what I do now.

Later on, as the web rapidly shifted towards commercialism, I began to seriously think about how to combine what I like (which is interactive expression) with design. Thus there are two sides – one is the initial enjoyment that I get from interactive expression, and the other is how to then construct it into reasonable design: currently I work trying to find a way between the two.

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Border from 2004. Drag the cursor over the line and it moves like the surface of water. See yugop.com

MF: You first worked as a landscape architect: do you think it helped with what you do now?
YN: In the ancient Japanese methods of landscaping there is an old saying, “Rather than beautifying one’s own creation, make better the environment that surrounds it; bring into presence the beauty of the place in which it will lay.” This is what I’d like my design to be. I’d like it to be a kind of ‘filter’ that lets the interesting parts of the new media environments, such as the internet and the computer, and the people who are involved in these worlds, become more alive and intriguing through my work.

MF: You said you value yourself as a craftsman, can you explain how that relates to designing for the web?
YN: This is a concept I’ve had since around 1999, when I used to think about ‘modest sophistication’; as a counter to the then-avant-garde net-art and interactive art. A kind of traditional approach toward craftsmanship — for example, to give thorough consideration towards all details so as to withstand the test of time—is something I regard as important. There is definitely value in the ‘new’ and ‘cutting edge’, but that kind of design has a very short life-span, especially in the web-world. I want to appreciate design with a slightly longer time-span. For example, when I’m in the process of making, I ask myself “when I look at this five years later, will I still think of it as good?”

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kashiwasato.com: a portfolio site for the art director Kashiwa Sato. One of Sato’s main clients is Uniqlo for whom he commissioned tha to design the Explorer microsite (below) which showcases the retailer’s clothing through a mosaic interface (see feature here)

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MF: What does Flash mean to you as a tool?
YN: I started using Flash back in 1998 when Flash4 was released, which only allowed poor, primitive programming. But because of that limit, I learned to work around and out of the confines of the programme. I think Flash now has become too rich. It’s a tough situation. Photoshop 3.0 and 4.0 used to be programmes you could enjoy just by using, but have now become another tool to throw into the pile. I feel Flash will follow the same road.

MF: Can you tell us which work you are most proud of?
YN: It’s hard to compare the projects I’ve done as work, but yugop.com [Nakamura’s own site where he showcases new techniques and ideas] is personally the most important. I haven’t updated it in a while, but I’m planning to add more once I have a chance. More recently, ffffound.com, which was built by our company tha ltd., is pretty interesting. It’s an extremely simple web service—a ‘social image book­marking site’—which allows users to clip whatever images they have found on the web as bookmarks, share them, and mark them as favourites. The site (shown below) is really only a skeleton and is almost too simple, because we deliberately excluded the so-called web-design elements out of it, but it’s beginning to draw passionate support from designers and photographers. We’re starting to output some projects that I could never have achieved on my own: This project was realised by Yosuke Abe and Keita Kitamura of our company. This was one of the good things about starting the company.

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Also, we’ve been working on a website called SCR. This is a creative label for screen-based media, and is an attempt to commercialise interactive and screen-based works, not only our own, but also by people we respect. We’ve never really had this kind of experience, but so far it’s been very enjoyable to actually ‘feel’ how people purchase our products, and we’re excited each time someone buys one. We’re planning to release a few every now and then, so please check them out. [The first SCR product is the Kaze To Desktop screensaver (below) whereby the contents of the user’s screen is blown around according to the prevailing local weather conditions: the windier it is in your city, that faster your files move.]

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MF: How do you approach a new project from a client? Do you always start in the same place?
YN: I just show my demos and don’t really make a detailed presentation. I show a test version to the client and say. “How is this?” We continue if they think it’s good. If not, that’s the end of the story.

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Jampack 01. Pick up any of the cells with the cursor, drag it around the screen and watch others bounce off it. Find it in the Archive section at yugop.com

MF: Do you think art and design are melding on the web? Do you think internet based work will be the dominant art form in the future?
YN: Whether or not something is viewed as design or art is just a result, so I’m not really concerned with it. I think the current trend or tendency of the designers and artists is that as long as the end-user is able to touch and feel and that the work arouses some kind of emotion, its category doesn’t matter. In that sense, yes I think art and design are melding.

I think in reality, it’s not that the internet-based art will be in a dominant position, but rather, it will start to melt into other forms of expression as one of the most common channels in an everyday life. Categories like net-art and media-art have become clichés in the last few years, but this isn’t just that they have been degraded—it’s a result of them becoming more commonly-known and widely-used.

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LineX50, also from yugop.com

MF: Where do you think web design is heading?
YN: Some things lose their allure and become uninteresting once they are defined and categorised under a specific style. In the last one to two years designers have been trapped in a certain style or principle and haven’t been able to break free. I think web design is heading toward a thick brick wall. The only interactive product I can think of that has managed to break this gridlock recently is the Nintendo Wii. In the future I hope to be able to create new areas of interest and pleasure by thinking with more freedom and flexibility.

This interview was first published in the February issue of Creative Review.

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