Interview with Aya Codama

Winner of Packaging Design Awards

Award Winning Designer Aya Codama shares insights


Interview with Aya Codama at Tuesday 22nd of November 2016:

DL: Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?
AC : I majored in graphic design at Tokyo Zokei University, where I attended a seminar held by the graphic designer Kan Akita. Following graduation, I worked at the design firm AWATSUJI Design for 7 years, and founded BULLET Inc. in 2013.

DL: What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?
AC : I first learned the concept of graphic design from a teacher at the art school I attended to prepare for university. I had been a student who simply liked to draw pictures, but there I realized that design is not something superficial, but to think about the true nature of things. I probably wouldn’t have become a designer if I hadn’t met him.

DL: Did you choose to become a designer, or you were forced to become one?
AC : I chose to. I thought hard about different options before deciding my first job: I was also offered positions in sales and systems engineering. But getting to know different job areas helped me realize that design was what I really wanted to do, and I made up my mind to learn more about design at a firm whose works I really liked.

DL: What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?
AC : I work across a wide range of categories, including package design, logo design, CI planning, web design, and book design. I have extensive knowledge on types of paper and printing techniques, but I don’t limit the genres I work in.

DL: What should young designers do to become a design legend like you?
AC : It’s hard to think of myself as a design legend, but my idea of a design legend is someone who can offer a “unique” best solution. I guess it’s important to know what you like and don’t like, and to pursue your own style.

DL: What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?
AC : A good designer can offer the right solution to a given situation. In addition to that, a great designer can make proposals that reach beyond people’s imaginations.

DL: What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?
AC : I think the answer is the same as to question 06.

DL: What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?
AC : I think good design is not just a beautiful “form” but the visualization of a “message”. When a company assigns a designer to a project (for advertisement, packaging, etc.), it is entrusting the designer with the important mission of “conveying” the company’s message.

DL: What would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?
AC : It’s actually very hard as a designer to assume that I “had the time,” but I’d like to design some kind of daily item to give to my parents, who might not fully understand what a designer’s job is about.

DL: What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?
AC : Someday I’d like to collaborate with professionals (photographers, copywriters, etc.) I have admired over many years.

DL: What is your secret recipe of success in design, what is your secret ingredient?
AC : It’s not a secret nor an interesting answer, but I think the key is “not to compromise.”

DL: Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?
AC : There are many, including Kaoru Kasai, Yoshihisa Shirai, Makoto Saito, Tamotsu Yagi, Eiko Ishioka, Masayoshi Kodaira, and Masayoshi Nakajo. I’m encouraged by their way of having their own philosophy and design style.

DL: What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?
AC : The 1964 Tokyo Olympics posters by Yusaku Kamekura. I was a teenager without much understanding of design when I first saw them, but I remember feeling proud to be Japanese. The 1983 HIROSHIMA APPEALS poster by Yusaku Kamekura. Butterflies with different patterns are burning down in this image, which reminded me of each precious life that was lost. It took my breath away. The 2016 HIROSHIMA APPEALS poster by Kaoru Kasai. Its theme is the same as the one above, but the approach is totally different. Simple black and white lines (without dramatized effect) looked like a natural sketch of the people who lived in that era and people who live today. I was at a loss for words.

DL: What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?
AC : The bottle design for TY NANT mineral water. I came across it in a magazine when I was studying design at an art school to prepare for university. I’ve been a fan of it ever since. The bottle shape directly resembles the flow of water, conveying the water’s clarity and product’s high quality, and even the company’s esprit. The desire to communicate beyond language like this product is the basis of my ideal design.

DL: How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?
AC : I think you should have a sense of professionalism and always be curious when seeing, absorbing and digesting things in your mind (the same can probably be said for chefs and doctors). In particular, as design exists in a social context, I think it is important to grasp trends and what people are thinking, and express your response to them in an original way.

DL: If you hadn’t become a designer, what would you have done?
AC : I’d probably still be doing something creative (maybe creating music or manga).

DL: How do you define design, what is design for you?
AC : I think it is both “a creative activity closely linked to society” and “a way to solve problems”.

DL: Who helped you to reach these heights, who was your biggest supporter?
AC : Among my teachers at art school and university, my bosses, and designers of the same generation, especially those who criticized my work (in a supportive way).

DL: What helped you to become a great designer?
AC : The answer is the same as to question 18, plus having friends fighting through the same situation as myself.

DL: What were the obstacles you faced before becoming a design master?
AC : I still have many obstacles in front of me. (The drawings from my first year of art school looked terrible when I saw them in my second year, and those from the second year look terrible in the third year......)

DL: How do you think designers should present their work?
AC : When working for a client, the work should be presented in a way that conveys the background of the project and the message of the client, not as the work of an individual.

DL: What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?
AC : My ongoing project, which I planned by myself, will be a new experiment connecting musicians and design. I’m aiming to do things that help different people enjoy design.

DL: What’s your ultimate goal as a designer?
AC : I just think I should work on each offer with integrity. I’ve never thought of an ultimate goal.

DL: What people expect from an esteemed designer such as yourself?
AC : I think they are hoping for proposals and ideas that go beyond their imaginations. But this is only viable when the designer has an accurate understanding of what people want.

DL: How does design help create a better society?
AC : In the case of Japan, I think we can live more comfortably by improving the design of things that are essential in daily life, such as the townscape, trains, road signage, the tax bureau’s website, and so on.

DL: What are you currently working on that you are especially excited about?
AC : The project I mentioned in question 22 (though I can’t disclose the details yet...)

DL: Which design projects gave you the most satisfaction, why?
AC : The package design of Japanese sake “KOI”. The client brewery hadn’t been so famous, but its name recognition surged following the launch of the product with this package. At the same time, the people working in the brewery took a renewed pride in their company. The product is selling well too. This project gave me a clear feeling of achievement, that the power of design brought happiness to all people involved.

DL: What would you like to see changed in design industry in the coming years?
AC : There is an ongoing trend in which paper is being replaced by digital media, but I believe that tangible materials such as paper have an irreplaceable value. I hope the two can coexist in a good way.

DL: Where do you think the design field is headed next?
AC : I expect that the priority will shift from creating the look to considering the concept. In that sense, I think all employees in a company would have to be designers of their situation.

DL: How long does it take you to finalize a design project?
AC : Depending on the scale of the project, it ranges from 2 weeks to several years.

DL: When you have a new design project, where do you start?
AC : I start by talking face-to-face with the client. A summarized document does not tell you the nuance of their feelings – how they think of the project, and which part is the most important. I believe that the true nature of the project is hidden in seemingly irrelevant conversations.

DL: What is your life motto as a designer?
AC : Never forget to ask yourself “Why?”

DL: Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?
AC : For a designer, trends set the designs (not that I simply copy the trends, but I consider how to express things in my next project based on my take on the current trends and feel.)

DL: What is the role of technology when you design?
AC : Time reduction. (There are also cases where you shouldn’t reduce it too far.)

DL: What kind of design software and equipment do you use in your work?
AC : Mac、Illustrator、Photoshop、InDesign. Of course, I also use a wide array of analog tools, including paint, pencils, rulers, etc.

DL: What is the role of the color, materials and ambient in design?
AC : A “language” (which transcends borders) to output ideas.

DL: What do you wish people to ask about your design?
AC : It’s more interesting to hear how people think about it than to be asked.

DL: When you see a new great design or product what comes into your mind?
AC : I tend to start thinking about the printing method or the thought behind a certain layout, etc......but these days I wish I can enjoy them with more pure feelings like a child.

DL: Who is your ideal design partner? Do you believe in co-design?
AC : I’d like to work with curious people, thoughtful people, and people who are strongly motivated to serve others. More members are likely to broaden possibilities, but perhaps I’m rather fit to work within the scope I can manage on my own.

DL: Which people you interacted had the most influence on your design?
AC : As I mentioned in question18, people who shared their candid thoughts about my design.

DL: Which books you read had the most effect on your design?
AC : Japanese design magazines like CREATION and IDEA. The book design of the manga AKIRA also triggered my interest in design.

DL: How did you develop your skills as a master designer?
AC : Continuing what I mentioned in questions 15 and 32.

DL: Irrelative of time and space, who you would want to meet, talk and discuss with?
AC : Sharaku (18th-century ukiyo-e artist), Gennai Hiraga (18th-century academic, artist and inventor)

DL: How do you feel about all the awards and recognition you had, is it hard to be famous?
AC : Even when I’m grown-up, being praised is something I’d be glad about.

DL: What is your favorite color, place, food, season, thing and brand?
AC : Color: black and blue Place: BYG, a rock bar in Shibuya Food: sushi, fish Season: autumn Thing: CHARLES FARRIS reed diffuser (IV) Brand: COMME des GARCONS

DL: Please tell us a little memoir, a funny thing you had experienced as a designer?
AC : A work-related symptom: At karaoke, I keep adjusting the spaces between the letters of the lyrics shown on the screen in my mind.

DL: What makes your day great as a designer, how do you motivate yourself?
AC : Once in a while, I go to a very sophisticated high-class restaurant (or sushi bar) and enjoy really good food. I think experiencing good things helps boost your capacity.

DL: When you were a little child, was it obvious that you would become a great designer?
AC : Not at all. I believe being a good designer is not the result of talent you are born with, but something you can attain by learning.

DL: What do you think about future; what do you see will happen in thousand years from now?
AC : Be it the past or future, I imagine that people are striving to make the most of their lives in each era.

DL: Please tell us anything you wish your fans to know about you, your design and anything else?
AC : I strongly feel that design is philosophy, and society is ultimately a group of individuals. Different designers are striving each day in pursuit of their best solutions. Even though we’ll never have a clear-cut answer, these days I’m reminded of the simple fact that a better world can be created by each one of us doing our best. There are many cool adults around me in their 50s and 60s who never cease pursuing their style in the world of design. I want to be like them and keep doing my best without falling into complacency.