Tradition and Future
Midori Katsuragawa, designer of the CRF1000L Africa Twin's coloring and graphics,
talks with Eriko Kawakami, Art Director at DRAFT Inc.
The medium with which they work differs radically, yet they are both designers.
Katsuragawa and Kawakami share their experiences,
and unravel how to express new values while inheriting tradition.
Expression True to the Design's Essence
Color and Graphic Designer,
Motorcycle R&D Center, Honda R&D Co., Ltd.
Born in Kanagawa, Japan, in 1982. Graduated from Tama Art University, majoring in textile design in the Faculty of Art and Design. Joined Honda in 2006, designing the color schemes for motorcycles such as the VFR1200X, VFR800F/X and the original NC series. Driven by the power of color, so powerful it "defines the first impression," she specializes in color graphics, focusing on expressing the design's essence.
Expression Naturally Flowing
from the Concept
Art Director, DRAFT Inc.
Born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1982. After graduating from Tokyo University of the Arts, majoring in design in the Faculty of Fine Arts, joined DRAFT Inc. Involved in various projects, including the branding of "san grams" for Marumatsu Tea Co., Ltd., graphics for the Pocchiri purse store, and branding of D-BROS, product branding arm of DRAFT Inc. Kawakami has been awarded with the JAGDA Award, the ADC Award, and the JAGDA New Designer Award. From June 2016, she will be organizing the JAGDA New Designer Award exhibit at the Creation Gallery G8 in Ginza, Japan. Kawakami is interested in old Japanese architecture and publications.
Same Age, Different Paths to DesignKatsuragawa : We were both born in 1982. It's a relief, as interviews usually make me feel nervous.
Kawakami : Yes, I'm also relieved. What did you major in at university?
Katsuragawa : I majored in textile design. My father is a fabric artist, so I have always had materials and color around me, so it was only natural that I studied textiles.
Kawakami : It's very rare to move from textiles to graphics, though.
Katsuragawa : Yes, maybe it is rare to be involved in motorcycles. Color designers aren't rare with cars, because car interiors use textiles, but when I joined Honda, they didn't have color designers specializing in textiles for bikes. When I was looking for a job, Honda R&D were recruiting a color and graphic designer, so I joined as I liked both color and bikes. My graphic skills aren't great though, so I'm still battling along. What did you do at University?
Kawakami : I majored in design at the Tokyo University of the Arts. It covered a very wide range, so my fellow graduates are authors, in advertising, or the film industry, or fashion or products. I'm not restricted to graphics either, but my output differs according to the project. If the project involves a product, I'm a textile or space designer. With my current project, I'm developing a store concept, and working with an interior designer.
Identifying the Essence of the Design
Katsuragawa : You also did the interior for Marumatsu Tea's "san grams" cafe?
Kawakami : No, "san grams green tea & garden cafe" and its interior was designed by architect Hironaka Ogawa, and I was involved in conceptualizing, product development and sales strategies for "san grams," and designed the logo, packaging, posters and web.
Katsuragawa : The "san grams" cafe's interior and the web site express the refreshing image of green tea very well.
Kawakami : Thank you. Marumatsu Tea has been in the business in Shizuoka for over a century. The first thing I did when considering branding, in a market moving away from green tea, was to know everything about the product. Maybe designing packaging or creating a flavor that matches our time would suffice, but I felt depicting the fundamental beauty of the taste of green tea correctly was more important.
Katsuragawa : What is the fundamental beauty of taste?
Kawakami : Tea that we usually drink is a blend of tea leaves from various tea farms, to produce a consistent taste every year. Blending causes tea from different brands to taste similar, and harder to differentiate. At "san grams," we decided to sell tea packages from tea leaves grown at one farm.
Katsuragawa : Is the taste so different to blended tea?
Kawakami : Tea from a single farm has more personality than blended tea. The taste is even affected by how it is brewed, so to show the customer the best way to prepare the tea, we included instructions in the package design, created demonstration space in the shore, and organized classes. We even worked with confectioners from Kyoto to prepare sweets that would complement and enhance the tea's flavor. There was a lot to do, such as determining the shape of the sweets to fit in a small package, and its naming, but I also learned a lot in the process.
Reviving the Legendary Africa Twin
Katsuragawa : Packaging for sweets sounds wonderful! Since my work mainly involves coloring for paints and metals, I tend to focus on coloring and materials. I envy the variety of material colors and textures used on materials I'm not used to handling.
Kawakami : What do you consider when coloring a bike?
Katsuragawa : For sporty bikes, for example, I would consider a solid red. It's not according to my personal taste, but a color that expresses the concept well. Since I work with industrial products, there are a lot of limitations I work with, such as weather-resistance and durability.
Kawakami : Isn't coloring for bikes fun, seeing such a solid form taking shape? The form, its textures become tangible once it is complete.
Katsuragawa : That's true. There are four body colors for the CRF1000L Africa Twin, announced by Honda Motor Europe in October, 2015, and the CRF RALLY coloring and the Tricolor scheme symbolize the revival of the Africa Twin brand.
Kawakami : What do you mean by revival of the brand?
Katsuragawa : The Africa Twin, or "XRV650 Africa Twin," was released in 1988 as a replica model of the NXR750, which won the Paris-Dakar Rally from 1986 to 1989. It was an off-road bike that could go anywhere, very popular with our customers, but was discontinued in 2003. Customers still wanted the Africa Twin, so it was revived. The CRF RALLY coloring pays homage to the CRF450 RALLY which returned to Dakar racing in 2013, and the Tricolor layout descends directly from the original Africa Twin's image. With the CRF RALLY coloring, accent lines are printed on the seat for the very first time. To actually color soft seats requires advanced techniques, but to express the forcefulness of a rally racer, we couldn't compromise on the lines, and realized it through a lot of trial and error. We also had the body stripes wrap around to the inside of the cowl to emphasize the dynamism of the lines, despite the factory repeatedly telling us it was a complex job and they didn't know if it could be done, but somehow, we completed the design. I was in love with the Africa Twin since I was a girl, so I was overjoyed to be involved with the revived Africa Twin.
Building the Optimal Team for the Project
Kawakami : Schedules differ according to project. In the case of "san grams," we developed the concept over one year to 18 months, and spent the next six months on design work. With the annual calender for "D-BROS," we start work on it in February, in time for the annual exhibition in June. What is scheduling like for bike production?
Katsuragawa : It depends on how the bike is developed, but changing the graphics alone takes around one year. With the Africa Twin, I was involved for 2 - 3 years. There are members for each functional segment such as design, engineering and testing. I handled coloring design, exchanging thoughts with other coloring team members, and sketches with other teams. To get more ideas Japanese designers and overseas R&D designers often hold competitions.
Kawakami : So there are a lot of ways a project is handled. With "san grams," there is a creative director, me - the art director, other designers, producers, architects, garden designers, and sometimes, copywriters. At the planning stage for the calender, I'm the creative director, sales staff, and designer!
Katsuragawa : You designed the "san grams" logo, right? Aren't logos difficult? The new logo for the Africa Twin was designed to modernize the dynamism and energy of the original logo. Is there anything in particular you consider when designing logos?
Kawakami : With "san grams," each label is marked with the tea farm's crest, as each box of tea leaves sold comes from a single farm. When designing Marumatsu's logo, we considered it to be one of the many tea farms, so it has the design essence of a crest. "san grams" was named from the amount of tea leaves which makes the best drink - 3 grams. Three (‘san' in Japanese) is pronounced the same as mountain, and since Mount Fuji is in Shizuoka, we combined the character for mountain with "g" (for grams) to create Marumatsu's crest.
Forging the Future with an Adventurous Spirit and the Power of Design
Katsuragawa : Designing something with historical significance requires more than a superficial understanding. We could not just apply the original CRF1000L Africa Twin's tricolor scheme onto the new model. The original Africa Twin was owned, and loved by many customers worldwide. To show our respect to those customers, and inheriting the passion of those who built the Africa Twin, we felt the CRF1000L Africa Twin had to be a model that people now, and in the future, would find attractive and would love. I think that is what inheriting tradition is about.
Kawakami : I feel the same way, although I design on different mediums. Expectations of the designer tends towards the decoration or expression. But most of the design is in the process, and finding the elements that need to be expressed is vital.
Katsuragawa : The design can only be effective when everything extraneous is removed, leaving the fundamental essence.
Kawakami : Even when designing something with tradition, it becomes modern because I see through the eyes of my generation.
Katsuragawa : I agree. Bikes are styled as a result of improvements in functionality, so I aim for graphics that complement that styling. I think the result is a design by our generation with a solid understanding of the concept, rather than an expression of something that simply looks new. What possibilities do you see in design?
Kawakami : Design has to power to change our environment. When I worked on baby buggies, we talked about why Japanese baby buggies were light and compact, while European buggies were large and heavy. I heard that Japanese buggies were small to be unobtrusive, and easier for the mother to handle, while European buggies were large to provide safety, stability and comfort for the baby. Ease of use for the mother is important, but I think the fundamental purpose of baby buggies is the baby's safety. In difficult situations such as a train or stairs, nearby people can be asked to help. Design can be a tool to change the way people think, and I believe design can help build a better environment. What do you think?
Katsuragawa : I think so, too. I believe the Africa Twin is a partner customers can share deeply moving experiences with, such as looking up to the starts at the end of a long trip or gazing at beautiful scenery. I also strongly believe that such experiences can be triggers in our customers, to want to take more care of our beautiful world, or to be even kinder to the people around them. My wish is for design to have influential power on such a large scale.