February 19, 2010  |  Design, Tech
A Few Words with Legendary Web Designer Yugo Nakamura

The Design and the Elastic Mind website

We initially suggested five design firms as candidates to design and build the Design and the Elastic Mind website. Paola Antonelli, the exhibition curator, had gone through around twenty links from three firms when we showed her Yugo Nakamura’s personal site, The simple white page that greeted us was immediately invaded by dark, two-dimensional cascading balls. We watched for a few minutes, mesmerized by the simple physics of bouncing. Paola decided to go with Yugo’s firm, tha ltd., on the spot.

Yugo’s work has been inspirational to me since 1998, when I first came across MONO*crafts 2.0 (more on that below). In fact, I can honestly say that seeing that website was one of the reasons I decided to transition from print to web design. His site was among the first to effectively and convincingly instill “life”—flexibility, mutability, playfulness, depth, speed—into what was then a very static experience.

So it was quite an honor for me to ask him a few questions about his experience working on the Design and the Elastic Mind website, and about Web design in general.

The exhibition site is a beautiful fusion of rigidity and elasticity; in my mind, it feels like it could be a piece in the exhibition. Will you go over your thinking behind the site?

We first thought about the two functions the website needed to cover. One was that the website itself became a form of creative expression that follows the theme of the Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition. The other was to make sure that it also functioned as an informational website. The outcome became something that’s not exactly a fused, whole piece, but rather a design that proposes two different layers that exist in parallel.

How did the works in the exhibition contribute to the conceptualization or design of the site?

The exhibition consisted of many artworks, especially data-visualization pieces, that have influenced us throughout our work. Basically, we just really worked hard to make sure that our website can be as good, or close to, these artworks.

Most of your work is done in the commercial world. Were there different considerations working with us, a museum, rather than a company?

There’s nothing particularly different between a museum website and a commercial website, other than the specific assignments that we’re asked to work on. In any case, we try to balance the elements and come up with our own solutions.

Since we’re talking about exhibitions, you had a solo show at the Ginza Graphic Gallery. Is your work exhibited in many museums or galleries?

I have been invited to a few exhibitions in the past (for example, the Design Museum in London). GGG was our first time to host a solo exhibition of our own work.

Were there any challenges translating websites to a gallery context? Are visitors allowed to interact with the pieces?

We wanted to make sure that it was an exhibition of our actual work archive, and also that it was a fun exhibit for the visitors. The idea was to present the processes behind our work without having to rely on large-scale media installations, and also entertain the visitors at the same time. Luckily, there were enough of our works to show, which allowed us to display each of them on small monitors and synchronize them using a clock algorithm. It was more like the sketches/lithograph section of a museum, if you will.

The MONOcrafts 2.0 website

The MONO*crafts 2.0 website

Your most famous work in the web design community is arguably MONO*crafts 2.0. I can certainly remember my amazement when seeing for it for the first time in 1998. The site was a personal project which led to notoriety, work, and, based on your portfolio, a very busy schedule. Do you still have time for personal projects?

There is a season for focusing on client work, and a season for experiments and personal work. I have been thinking about outputting in a broader, wider way, rather than just limiting the exit to a personal website. SCR is one such output.


The SCR website

Will you tell us a little about SCR?

SCR is a creative label for screen-based media. It’s an experiment in commercializing media products—to actually sell, rather than freely exhibit, the type of artworks that are usually posted on personal portfolio websites. The project is currently focused on software sales, but we are working on manufacturing a framing device that is specifically designed to display these artworks.

MONO*crafts 2.0 was over twelve years ago, before YouTube, Facebook (or even Friendster!), a robust ActionScript, “Web 2.0,” the iPhone, the ubiquity of Google, etc. How has the evolution of technology affected your work?

In some ways I respect these movements and trends, and try to work with it; in other ways, they force my ideas to go back to the core, or the beginning. It’s fun to follow these changes, but what I feel as most important, is that they make you filter your ideas and curiosities to those that are truly interesting or important. I also want to question the conformities of this medium, where creative output is automatically paired with “PC + monitor” environments. This is also another personal motivation behind this project.

Will you point out a few of your favorite projects for our readers? [Note to readers: Do check these out! You won’t be disappointed.]

These are both portfolio websites done in Flash, somewhat old-school. I wanted to see how deeply I can explore within this framework.

Morisawa Fontpark 2.0
This is a website featuring fonts by a Japanese font-maker, Morisawa. Words are broken down into smaller elements, and the users are able to construct their own images and share their work.

This is an image-bookmarking website that we run.

This is one of the feature products that we sell through SCR. We’d like to continue making works with a similar kind of presence.
This is our portfolio website. We feature almost all of our work here.