Interview with designer Shoichiro Takei (ST), regarding views on design, and for the award-winning design Aira Bears Pable Cafe Series The Package of Sweets.

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Interview with Shoichiro Takei at Thursday 19th of April 2012: DI: What is the main principle, idea and inspiration behind your design?
ST : My client’s sweets factory was in the middle of a gorgeous natural forest, in a district called Aira, so I thought up an imaginary animal called the “Aira bear” and that’s how the whole idea got started. (“Aira bear”, pronounced “Airaguma”, is a pun on “Araiguma”, or “raccoon”.)

DI: What has been your main focus in designing this work? Especially what did you want to achieve?
ST : The most important thing for me was creating animals that would work well with the contents of the packages. After all, I was going with the idea that the “Aira Bear” owns a caf, and all the animals that work there make whatever sweets they’re best at. Take the baked donuts, for example; they’re not fried, so they’re healthy. It would take a wise old owl to come up with sweets that are actually good for you. The big eyes symbolize donuts as well. I made sure that the designs would give off a soft, gentle, heartwarming impression, but I also gave them a sort of cool nuance that doesn’t pander too much to the audience.

DI: What are your future plans for this award winning design?
ST : I want this brand to grow into something that the whole world can enjoy, something whose taste and design can make people happy regardless of their age, gender, or country.

DI: How long did it take you to design this particular concept?
ST : One week.

DI: Why did you design this particular concept? Was this design commissioned or did you decide to pursuit an inspiration?
ST : The client originally wanted a chic metropolitan design, but the factory is in a forest way out in a rural area. I thought that those images would clash, so I asked, why not take advantage of what they already have? We could turn the rustic aspect into the strength and that's what I pressed on. I came up with three alternate proposals, and the client chose the one I presented in a heartbeat.

DI: Is your design being produced or used by another company, or do you plan to sell or lease the production rights or do you intent to produce your work yourself?
ST : All of the characters and names for this design are the original creations of my company, but the trademark is registered under the client.

DI: What made you design this particular type of work?
ST : In addition to my work in package design, I was also drawing picture books on the side. Before I worked on this project, I always felt hesitant, even guilty, about trying to approach package design with a picture-book mindset. But then, a few months before this design was born, I traveled to the Dick Bruna Museum in Holland. Seeing how he integrated his picture books with his designs really opened my eyes, and made me realize that I could use my picture-book skills in package design too. That became my motivation for this project.

DI: Where there any other designs and/or designers that helped the influence the design of your work?
ST : Dick Bruna.

DI: Who is the target customer for his design?
ST : Young women.

DI: What sets this design apart from other similar or resembling concepts?
ST : The warm, gentle atmosphere of the whole thing, plus the presence of the characters with their organic lines. It’s sentimental and homey, but still has a taste of coolness, and that balance creates this whole unique world.

DI: How did you come up with the name for this design? What does it mean?
ST : From the natural forest around the client’s sweets factory and the name of the city it’s in.

DI: Which design tools did you use when you were working on this project?
ST : I drew out the characters with a pencil and drawing paper, then finalized the design with Illustrator and Photoshop for Mac. The textures use actual photos of the products (the bite mark on that donut is mine!).

DI: What is the most unique aspect of your design?
ST : The storylike vision of imaginary animals working in a caf. For example, the next new product will also get its own animal to fit it, and get turned into a character, so every time a new product comes out the cast of characters grows and expands the idea of the sweets brand. It’s also easy to see this as a picture book or animation, so you can set up the image that the sweets are part of a story, and that adds value.

DI: Who did you collaborate with for this design? Did you work with people with technical / specialized skills?
ST : I collaborated with an engineer to design the form of the boxes. We aimed for a tough, sturdy box that could be used around the house even after the sweets were gone (to put tissues in, etc.). The outside of the box is square and gives it the sense of sturdiness. The inside has softer, nicer curves. The contrast between them lets it strike that delicate balance between form and function. We went for organic lines, to go with the forest-animal motif. I also worked with a photographer. The dripping image on the chocolate package is actually a photograph of real chocolate that we melted and then drizzled on a pane of glass. Looking at it close up, you really become aware of the cacao inside.

DI: What is the role of technology in this particular design?
ST : I tried to make each product look mouth-wateringly good. The rusk is golden brown, with a sweet smell and crisp texture . The baked donuts and roll cake are soft and moist. The chocolate is sweet and melts in your mouth.

DI: Is your design influenced by data or analytical research in any way? What kind of research did you conduct for making this design?
ST : I don’t trust market research at all. You can base your whole business plan on it, but that won’t give your product an ounce of creativity or innovation.

DI: What are some of the challenges you faced during the design/realization of your concept?
ST : I had some trouble at first convincing the client to go with the humorous name. Since “Airaguma” and “Araiguma” are so close, there was a lot of concern that the consumers would think that it was a misprint instead of a pun, but I tried to turn that into a selling point. Any customer who realizes it’s not a mistake (since the name is written in English) will want to tell their friends about it. Basically, everyone who buys the product becomes your advertising medium. That's the great thing about living in the information age. Even now, there are plenty of people uploading photos of these products to their blogs, raising more interest.

DI: How did you decide to submit your design to an international design competition?
ST : One day I just got an email announcing and explaining the international competition for the A' Design Award. We had also gotten a request from a publishing company which had seen our firm’s designs after we registered with the Japan Package Design Association a month earlier and wanted to publish them in a foreign design book, so I suppose that this was probably the same sort of thing. I had never even entered a local design contest, so I was hesitant, but I thought it might lead to good things so I presented the idea to a superior and was able to enter.

DI: What did you learn or how did you improve yourself during the designing of this work?
ST : I learned the courage that it takes to expose my inner worldview, since I was going against what my client wanted originally. I learned that sometimes making a good design which truly fits the product can be more important than doing exactly what the client wants.

DI: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
ST : I’m so grateful to receive this award. This job was such a turning point for me, and getting this kind of recognition for it is like a dream come true. I want to turn this into the encouragement and confidence I need to make the best designs I can from now on. Thank you so much!