JP-Design History Workshop in Tokyo

From hazy Shanghai Pudong to clear Tokyo Narita

From hazy Shanghai Pudong to clear Tokyo Narita

I have a long time interest in Japan. I remember writing my history paper in college about the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867) and reading ‘Pictures from the Water Trade: An Englishman in Japan’. Also the aesthetics of Japan appeal to me. Tokyo is only 2.5 hours from Shanghai by airplane so I decided to go there, a holiday with some research for circa 10 days!

For my research I wanted to know more about the pictograms of the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The revered Japanese design critic Masaru Katsumie influenced the graphic design of these games, and was involved with the design of the pictograms. A Japanse colleague of mine told me that Katsumies assistent–Michiyoshi–was still alive. He was perhaps the only person who had direct knowledge of the graphic design of Tokyo ’64.

This led to a very friendly invitation to visit Japan, interview Michiyoshi and speak at a meeting of the Design History Workshop–the society for Japanese design history–that was dedicated to the pictograms. To my great luck most of the Japanese design historians I met were reasonable English speakers, convenient since my Japanese is non existent! What struck me in particular during the meeting was how respectfully people treated each other, especially in regard to respect for elderly.

Also I was also able to interview the Yukio Ota, the famous dean of Japanese sign design. In the 1970s he designed the known well known ISO-emergency exit pictogram. Also he invented in 1964 LoCoS ( Lovers Communication System), a pictorial language to facilitate universal communication. A general overview of the development of signs–especially those in Japan– can be found in his book ‘Pictogram Design

Mr. Ota was very much interested in preserving and carrying on the legacy of LoCos. It was fascinating to hear that his interest in symbols was already stirred in his youth. His father traded in textiles. For this he needed to be aware of thousands of mons, Japanese family symbols that were depicted on the textiles. Symbols that Yukio saw on a daily basis

Wibo Bakker and Yukio Ota

Wibo Bakker and Yukio Ota

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Holiday 2: Iparmuveszeti Museum in Budapest

View from the Gellért Hill over Buda (left) and Pest (right)=Budapest

View from the Gellért Hill over Buda (left) and Pest (right)=Budapest


After my stay in Lisbon it was time to go to Budapest. Here the Museum of Applied Arts (Iparmuveszeti Museum) proved to be worth a visit. I prefer small museums like these over for example the Louvre (Paris) or the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam) since they do not give me the feeling I have to rush to see everything. Also they are much less MacDonalised. Usually big state museums try to spoon feed visitors with overdone educative efforts which takes all the fun out of the special objects you see there. Praise the day when they abolish cultural education departments in museums! Well, except for children then.

The museum building shows an interesting mix between Art Nouveau and islamic architecture. It was designed by the ‘Hungarian Gaudi’, the architect Odon Lechner, during Hungary’s Golden Age around the turn of the 19th century. Nowadays it looks slightly shabby which gives it a special patina. The inner courts for example seem to be in desperate need for some repair! Although many will find the museum rather empty, it did have some small exhibitions, besides the main chamber of Turkish tapestry, weapons and so on.

Otherwise there did not seem to be much to see in Budapest except for all those 19th century Parisian facades that feature as stand-ins for other cities in movie productions. Also nice was the Gellért Hill that provided a beautiful panoramic view over Budapest. Most surprising was perhaps the great quality of information design for the transport system, even if the system itself, the metro cars for example, seemed to stem from the Warschau-pact era.

Normally I use the Netherlands as a starting point when booking holiday’s in Europe. But why not make things a little more complicated: de-centralize VS centralize. I decided to fly from Lisbon (see previous post) to Budapest, and then back to Amsterdam over Stockholm (see last picture (after: more>), those Swedish farmers have to take into account rocks on their land!). That is what cheap air tickets do for you!

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Taiwanese edition of ‘A Clear Dream’ published

The Taiwanes edition of ‘A Clear Dream’ on top of the Dutch edition.

The Taiwanes edition of ‘A Clear Dream’ on top of the Dutch edition.


Two weeks ago the Taiwanese edition of my book ‘A Clear Dream’ (Droom van Helderheid) was published as part of the ‘Source series’. It is surprising to see such an interest in Taiwan in the history of Dutch visual identity, modernism and design agencies.

The ‘Source series” is an imprint of Taiwanese designer Wang Zhi-Hong facilitated by Faces Publications. Luckely the print quality of the book seems better then the Chinese edition published last year. It is fascinating to see how Zhi-Hong uses social media to generate interest: the book has already been seen by over 11.000 people on Behance (featured graphic design), and by many more on Tumbler, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The book features a nice cover and a carefully composed layout that to a large degree is based upon the Dutch edition, that was designed by Piet Gerards Ontwerpers. It is not clear whether Zhi-Hong takes note of this.

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New York: Being there

Central Park

Central Park


New York is a nice city, unless you experience it during one of the more severe frost periods of this century. Average day temperature was -6, at night it was -15 degrees Celsius. Earlier I had imagined leisurely walking from my hotel through Central Park to the archive I worked at each day. It now became an slippery and icy adventure! Continue reading

New York & Fort Myers Beach > DOT-Symbol Research

Sketch for the DOT symbols by Cook & Shanosky (Smithsonian Design Museum). Ca. 1974.

Sketches for the DOT symbols by Cook & Shanosky (Smithsonian Design Museum). Ca. 1974.


New York was the starting place for 4 interviews and some crucial archive research into the DOT symbols. Perhaps the best interview I had was with Tom Geismar, one of the founding partners of Chermayeff & Geismar, a known US design agency of the 1960. They designed among others the Mobile, Chase, Xerox and National Geographic identity. Interestingly they have a connection with the Netherlands: In the 1960s Total Design, Chermayeff & Geismar and Pentagram co published a book with their logo’s. Continue reading

6 Design History Associations

  • Design Associazione Italiana Storici del Design, Italy
  • Design History Foundation, Catalonia
  • Design History Society, United Kingdom
  • Gesellschaft für Designgeschichte, Germany
  • International Committee for Design History and Design Studies, world
  • Stichting Designgeschiedenis Nederland, Nederland
  • Know more? Please say so. I will add them.