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Julius Wiedemann was born and raised in Brazil. After studying graphic design and marketing, he left the country to live in Japan for almost 4 years, where he worked in Tokyo as art editor for digital and design magazines. He subsequently joined TASCHEN as the editor in charge of digital titles and is currently based at the company’s headquarters in Cologne. In 2001, he edited the book Digital Beauties and since then has been building up TASCHEN’s digital collection.
Part I - THE BOOK

1. How did it all started? What inspired you to conceive JGN ?

We were planning to make a new book on Japanese packaging because our old one was very outdated as it was published more than 10 years ago. But I proposed Benedikt Taschen to make a broader compilation of graphics, including its application in packaging. He accepted and we started to research recent works from Japan. I already knew many people, but in many cases I only knew the work and I didn’t have an idea who had done it.

2. How was your collaboration with Gisela Kozak?

She did a splendid job researching and finding the people and the works we wanted to publish. As she is in Japan, it was easier for her to contact everyone. And we selected the best ones also together. She was finishing her doctor degree in packaging design in Japan as well, so she had a lot of contemporary references as well.

3. What was your criteria of selection of the works presented inside the book ?

The main criteria was to choose mainly works from the last 5-6 years with some exception to some very important ones, and the second was to select works and artists that usually express or design in a very Japanese way. Japanese design has it’s own characteristics, and that’s why it is so different and a reference worldwide. We wanted to have a content with this background.

4. Do you think that the book is seen different by the occidentals and by the Orientals ? If yes, in which way ?

I think there is one big difference. For Japanese people for example, and for other countries that use "Kanji" (the Chinese-originated symbols) the perspective is quite different. We look at their written language in a more aesthetic way, and they tend to look at it just as a text. Of course you can see in the book works in which the artist plays with those symbols. This is also perceived different by Japanese as the Kanji corresponds to an entire word in their language. (images page 381, 312 (2 on the top), 298)
The other difference is that they play a lot with characters in their design. They are in the land of Pokemon and Tamagochi! (214, 215, 212, 205, 310/311, 303)

The book I think is seen quite differently. In the west we see it more like a unknown territory, like a discovery in almost every page. In Japan, it is more like a standard showcase book, even though they do not have a lot of those there. In Asia in general, the book is seen pretty much like here, because Japanese and Asian cultures are quite different these days in terms of design, even with the same very old roots.

5. What kind of rewards, intangible and tangible, have you received from your work for JGN?

The book is doing really well, and we are now going to the third print run. I think that best was to receive a lot of nice e-mail from the designers thanking for the publication. 99% of designers in Japan are very much known just inside the country. So it was really nice to see them happy with the result. People now have the access to this source of inspiration.

6. What kind of feedback have you gotten so far?

I have got really nice reviews everywhere, both in Europe and in the US. The books in the UK were gone in 3 weeks and we had to reprint very quickly. The DVD has called the attention of many people as well. As we do not have much text in the book, the DVD is the perfect complement. We have got many mails about that as well.

7. What are your plans for the future ? Any exciting new projects ?

I am working now on two projects that should be ready soon. One is about Japanese comics and the other one is about short animation worldwide. I am confident they will be a success as well. The images are pretty astonishing.

Part II - JAPAN

8. Furthermore, I would like to ask you a few more questions not specifically related to the book but more on your personal experience with different cultures, especially Japanese culture.

First of all, why did you left Brazil to live four years in Japan ? What was your contact with Nippon design at that time ?

It is a long story, but I went to Japan because my wife has got a scholarship to make her master in design there. So I had to get a job! I was lucky to be able to work with design since the beginning. After 18 months in a newspaper as art editor, I moved to a Japanese publisher specialized in design and digital culture.

9. Coming from an foreign culture, you worked as art editor for digital and design magazines. An outsider designing Japanese Magazines, how come?

This is funny, but when I designed there, I had to do mainly art direction, so texts were just texts for me. I can read a write a bit to understand what is what, and that helped. my designs were sometimes quite strange for them... but it worked.

10. Inside the JGN introduction, both you and Gisela Kozak are speaking about a country of contrasts with two main visual currents: simplicity versus chaos.

These 2 styles really coexist. It comes usually with the artist or the field. the game and cheaper products in the market tend to be more busy. When it comes to product, posters and so on, it tends to be clean... but there are exception in which all is mixed.

Are these two currents accepted by all Japanese, or is there a mass-target separation between different customers?

The two ways are commonly accepted and consumed. They just belong to different products or things in the dayly life.

11. After your contact with Japanese culture and judging from your graphic designer experience, how would you define the most original aspect of Japanese design?

I think that Japanese design is in this moment the most innovative and maybe the only one that has its very own style.

12. Do you think occidentals have a special “attraction” for Japanese graphics? What about the Japanese, how do they react to the occidental visual culture?

I am sure today that everyone is eager for "inspiration" as in the west everything is looking more or less the same. So I think that the book comes in a good time. Fresh references are important for people in any creative areas.
Japanese people are very impressed with western ways of doing something. And they also use it when it is important. For example, it is known in Japan that major brands like Sony and Nissan use foreign actors to advertise their products with an intention to show to the public that it is a popular thing. When something there is promoted in a very traditional way, that usually means that it is a more exclusive product, and probably more expensive.

13. How much hours / day are included in a regular work day in Japan ? And is there sort of an traditional / subconscious sense of duty that makes Japanese work harder than Europeans for example ?

They work quite a lot, but they have also a culture of staying in the office long hours, not always being productive. It is just their way to do that. It is for me hard to compare behaviors when they are attached to so different cultures. In Japan, your work is the most important thing you have. In Europe, your private life and your family are the most important I think.

14. After four years in Japan, you currently live and work in Europe. What’s left from your Nippon lifestyle? Did you borrowed any local habits?

We still cook a lot of Japanese at home. And we still use a lot of Japanese words daily, that are commonly used in Japan like words for Convenience Store (Konbini), mobile phone (keitai) and transport connection (norikai). But what I learned really a lot in Japan was to understand a completely different culture. This is a lesson for an entire life.

15. Would you like to share some words of wisdom for our readers before we conclude this interview?

One of the things I believe in design, is that it should be a delivery device, a medium and a transport of information, that goes beyond the product many times. Solutions to communicate are everywhere, and being able to find an adequate one to what you need is key. It doesn’t matter where they come from. Sometimes it even doesn’t matter if they come from other cultures. It is inevitable to thing internationally today. Our cultures have been already influenced by so many others until now, that it is a non-stop cycle. We shouldn’t think about loosing identity, but about creating a new one. Society should be dynamic.

Thank you Julius
Interview by Rares Dragan - April 21, 2004

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