Posts tagged “kawaii”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] Before I die I want to… [Creative Review] – [Flat-out inspiring and deeply moving public art in New Orleans. One brilliant comment after the article observes that the installation proves that: "…design work is incomplete without an audience."] "I believe the design of our public spaces can better reflect what's important to us as residents and as human beings," says Chang.
  • [from julienorvaisas] New Version of Madden 12 Called a ‘Teaching Tool’ on Concussion [NYTimes.com] – [Video games largely exist to allow people to immerse in fantasy, unbounded by physical constraints and free to indulge in acts not possible – or advisable – in real life. Madden NFL takes a different tack.] Player animations, now sophisticated enough to depict Peyton Manning’s throwing motion and Randy Moss’s gait, will not display helmet-to-helmet tackles, hits to the heads of defenseless players or dangerous headfirst tackling, said Phil Frazier, the executive producer of Madden 12. John Madden, the coach for whom the game is named and who is involved in its development, said that the impetus for the changes was twofold: to further hone the game’s realism, and to teach youngsters to play football more safely. “Concussions are such a big thing, it has to be a big thing in the video game. It starts young kids — they start in video games. I think the osmosis is if you get a concussion, that’s a serious thing and you shouldn’t play. Or leading with the head that you want to eliminate."
  • [from julienorvaisas] Crimes against design: Airport carpets [ICON MAGAZINE] – [Apparently I'm not the only one noticing and often lamenting commercial carpet patterns inflicted upon us in airports, convention centers, and movie theaters. I marvel at the number of deliberate choices that must have led to these tragic outcomes and how many dark souls are complicit.] Those travellers who turn their eyes away from the skies and look down at the ground of their immediate present will be richly rewarded. For unbeknownst to many, beneath each traveller's feet is a knotted kaleidoscope of shapes and colours, a flat-weaved cornucopia of scintillating signs and sigils, a polypropylene sea awash with dark and hidden beauty. I speak, of course, of the airport carpet. As the world's largest interior visual design medium, airport carpets have spread a multi-faceted but uniform aesthetic to the furthest reaches of the globe In their geometric precision, sensitivity to colour, and ability to absorb and hide stains. The link between carpeting and flight stretches back millennia.
  • [from steve_portigal] The Lighter Side of Plutonium; Energy Group Mascots Include Little Mr. Pluto [WSJ] – [Interesting that in the land of cute the nuclear mascot was seen as going too far even before the disaster] But perhaps the most controversial of all promotional characters is Pluto-kun, or Little Mr. Pluto, who represents the friendly side of one of the most toxic substances known to man, plutonium. The brainchild of a now defunct government research organization, the apple-cheeked animated Little Mr. Pluto debuted in the mid-1990s wearing a green helmet with a pair of antennae and the chemical symbol for plutonium, PU. Promising to “never be scary or dangerous,” Little Mr. Pluto extolled the benefits of plutonium, which Japanese nuclear authorities have viewed as a fuel of the future for fast breeder reactor technology. But an animated video used in educational materials included a widely criticized scene showing Little Mr. PU shaking hands with a boy who safely downs a plutonium-tainted beverage to make the debatable point the substance would pass through a body without doing harm.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • ‘Law & Order’ canceled by NBC after 20 seasons: The culprit behind NY show’s demise? Low ratings [NY Daily News] – "Law & Order" is going the way of egg creams. After two decades and 451 shows, NBC pulled the plug on the New York-based series to make room for new shows. The series will end May 24. Once a top-10 show, "Law & Order" had struggled in recent years – along with the rest of NBC's prime-time lineup. This season the show is No. 56 overall.
  • ‘Little Orphan Annie’ comic strip skips off into the sunset [Washington Post] – Daddy Warbucks's favorite pupil-less redhead had enough Depression-tested pluck to survive 86 years in daily newspapers, but now the orphan's outta luck. Come June 13, her clear-eyed comic strip will end as her syndicate, Tribune Media Services, sends her off into the sunset. Canceled. "Believe me, this wasn't a decision we took lightly," said Steve Tippie, TMS's vice president of licensing. "But we also felt that 'Annie,' unlike many strips, has such wide, almost iconic presence in our culture that it would serve the character and our business best if we focused on other channels more appropriate to the 'kids' nature of the property." The strip's current artist, Ted Slampyak, said: "It's almost like mourning the loss of a friend."
  • In Search of Adorable, as Hello Kitty Starts to Fade [NYTimes.com] – Hello Kitty has been licensed to products like dolls, clothes, lunch boxes, stationery, kitchenware, a Macy’s parade balloon and even an Airbus. But amid signs that Hello Kitty’s pop-culture appeal is waning, especially at home, where sales have shrunk for a decade, the company has struggled to find its next-generation version of adorable. Recent flops include Spottie Dottie, a pink-frocked Dalmatian, and Pandapple, a baby panda. Even the moderately successful My Melody (a rabbit) and TuxedoSam (penguin) show no signs of achieving global Kitty-ness. “We badly need something else,” said Yuko Yamaguchi, Sanrio’s top Hello Kitty designer for most of its 36 years. “Characters take a long time to develop and introduce to different markets,” Ms. Yamaguchi said. “But Kitty has been so popular it’s overshadowed all our other efforts.” …In a ranking of Japan’s most popular characters, compiled Character Databank, Hello Kitty lost her spot as Japan’s top-grossing character in 2002.

Mundane is the new fun


IxDA SF
Originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.



Last night we attended an IxDA-SF presentation of Matt Jones on “Playfulness in Design”. No full summary to share (although maybe Matt will post the slides eventually) but one great line was the statement that “Mundane is the new fun” which refers to the little interventions of joy that are being added to everyday life, providing a new veneer of experience on top of behaviors that were once only necessary for survival.

This was one of the themes of Virginia Postrel’s Substance of Style (with its legendary discussions of the broad range of choice now available for toilet brushes). It’s also something that I’ve seen a lot of in Japan. Here’s one quick example:
vacuum.jpg

This vacuum cleaner is fun: it is presented like a futuristic robot, available in at least 3 novel colors, and is styled in a notable way. This isn’t about making the chore of vacuuming fun, but about acknowledging fun as an ingredient can always be fun, from the purchase moment to the instant the vacuum is grabbed and turned on. Check out this elephant-robot for urinal cleaning as another example of fun. As a one-off, this is taking drudgery and distracting you with cuteness, but put together across so many product categories, brands, signage, TV advertisements and beyond, the notion of the constant layer of fun is so visible in Japan.

Matt is right at calling out the trend, and you can look to the Japanese as lead users of this trend.

Japan pictures – part 3 of 3

I’ve uploaded nearly 1300 of my Japan pictures to Flickr. For reasons I’m sure you’ll understand, I haven’t added titles or tags or descriptions proactively, but please add comments or questions on flickr and I’ll gladly offer a story or explanation.

Meanwhile, I’m including some of my faves here, as well as part 1 and part 2.

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Japan pictures – part 2 of 3

I’ve uploaded nearly 1300 of my Japan pictures to Flickr. For reasons I’m sure you’ll understand, I haven’t added titles or tags or descriptions proactively, but please add comments or questions on flickr and I’ll gladly offer a story or explanation.

Meanwhile, I’m including some of my faves here, as well as part 1 and part 3.

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The bear that saluted me

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I thought this advertising bear in Shinjuku was cool, and so stopped to take a picture. The bear saw me and posed with the typical Asian two-fingered V-gesture. After I took the photo, I did my best gaijin attempt at a bow. The bear returned the bow, and then saluted me.

Without a common language (indeed without a common species) we had an interesting opportunity to share our knowledge of each other’s culture in gestures. And although I rarely salute my friends and family, I understood its intent as a gesture-of-Western-origin.

Japan is quite impenetrable to the outsider, and it’s easy to subsist on a parallel layer, free from the possibility or opportunity for everyday interactions. In our two weeks that moat was crossed less than a dozen times (i.e., the couple in a cafe who smiled and waved at me when I peered in the window and inadvertently triggered the sliding door, letting in some very cold air; the couple who saw us eating Taiyaki (cooked sweet batter filled with bean paste in the sahpe of a fish) and explained what it was, what is was called, and compared camera models) and each time was rewarding in its own small way.

But making this connection with a bear, in the land of kawaii, was briefly and intensely magical.

Kawaii Superheroes

marvel_kawaii.jpg
We saw these kawaii decals for sale in Tokyo. According to the in-store display, they are intended for mobile phones and iPods, but could go on anything.

I was amazed to see the familiar and consistent visual brands of Marvel superheroes so dramatically localized, reflecting the Japanese kawaii (“cute”) aesthetic by infantilizing Wolverine, Spiderman, and the Hulk.

Pop Culture Osmosis, Tokyo (part 1)

What sort of stuff is “popular” in another country? How do we, as visitors, experience, catalog or contextuallize pop culture? More posts on this to come.

Being in Japan means constant encounters with kawaii, or cute, characters. Some will be familiar to visitors, whether imported (i.e., Stitch, Snoopy, Miffy, Mickey, Pooh, Pink Panther) or domestic (i.e., Hello Kitty, Totoro, Domo-kun). We were intrigued to come across a new character, then, and wondered who he was.

A display at Tokyu Hands featured this plush toy and a catchy song, in Japanese.
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Then we saw him (with friends) in an arcade window.
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And then we saw a complete window display in Harajuku featuring this (presumed) bug.
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And that gave me something to Google: bug, and mono comme ca (the name of the store). Success! It’s the Bottom Biting Bug (Oshiri Kajiri Mushi).

As my New Year’s Gift to you all, then, here is the video, with subtitles in Japanese and English. This is what started it all, and is an awesome, awesome earworm. Someday soon, very soon, you will awaken with a slight startle, and as the real world comes into grey focus, you’ll grasp at the fading threads of your dream only to realize that it’s been the Bottom Biting Bug song as your internal, nocturnal soundtrack.

Biting is important business, indeed.

Note: the first of what should be over 1000 images and stories are up on flickr here.

Tokyo: 2002

In 2002 I travelled to Tokyo a couple of times with clients in order to do in-home ethnographic research, participatory design sessions, and general cultural immersion. Here’s some of my walking-around pictures. The entire set is here.

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Community Safety Family

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You must be 20 to buy us!

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Delicious

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Late night snack

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Late night

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Harajuku girls

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Strolling Through Shibuya

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Coming home from school>

A Visit to Adobe

A Visit to Adobe is an interesting cultural artifact. From a site focused on Photoshop, a journalist/fanboy/blogger/enthusiast/insider strolls around Adobe and takes pictures of the people behind the product and their offices. There’s little practical information here, but that’s not the point. It puts a face on a corporation and highlights the individuals that make the products that we use (and in this case, that the writer and his readers love).

I paged through it rapidly, and actually came across some mentions/images of my friend Lynn Shade. She and I spoke together at DUX2003 about ethnographic research in other cultures (PDF link here).

And later this week I’ll be speaking at Adobe, to Lynn and her group, in a presentation entitled Buttoned-Down Creativity, about being a creative inside a corporate environment.

FreshMeat #20: Pun Americana

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FreshMeat #20 from Steve Portigal

               (__)
               (oo) Fresh
                \\/  Meat

Anecdotal evidence indicates FreshMeat causes happiness!
=========================================================
Cute ideas about putting a friendly face on a brand
=========================================================
Recently, I gave a presentation about conducting user
research in other countries (in this case, Japan). I
explained the phenomenon of “kawaii” (cute) – a prevalent
design aesthetic that cuts across age and gender. Most
people will recognize “Hello Kitty” as an example of
Japanese cuteness, but in North America that’s simply a
toy-like brand for young girls. In Japan, many businesses
will use a cute image as the “face” on their organization,
in order to present themselves as friendly, inviting, and
of course, non-threatening.

But kawaii is everywhere in Japan. The police use a kawaii
character as their mascot. Stores sell dustpans, tazers,
and dish brushes that are anthropomorphized with eyes and
a mouth.

Some quick examples here and here.

Anyone designing products, brands, services, etc. for the
Japanese market needs to at least be aware of kawaii,
and so I emphasized this to my audience.

One person spoke up and reminded us of the characters that
western companies created to personify their brands,
especially in the 50s and 60s. (For a great collection
of these mascots, check out the book
Meet Mr. Product: The Art of the Advertising Character
).

It was a provocative comment, because in my fervor to
describe the ubiquity of kawaii imagery in Japan I had
forgotten about something similar in our own culture. Kawaii
is a powerful style of communication (and perhaps mode of
thought) in Japan, and it manifests itself in many ways,
one of which is cute characters to personify a brand, and
of course, the Japanese are not unique in putting faces on
brands. Point taken.

Later, I began thinking of other ways that we create
inviting brands in our culture, beyond the usual
tools of designing logos, retail experiences,
environments, web sites, etc. I realized that in the
shopping mall we’ve got a new, unique form of
Americana/Canadiana/etc…the pun-brand.

Just for groans, check out these names of mall stores:

My Favorite Muffin
Once In A Blue Moose
Gymboree
Northern Boarder
The Athlete’s Foot
Foot Locker
Romancing the Stone
The Stitching Post
Between the Sheets
Humphrey Yogart
Close Encounters
The Hotdogger
Zutopia
Banana Republic
Asian Chao
Bare Escentuals
Bead It!
Bubble Gun
Corda-Roys Originals
Sox Appeal
Hawa-E!
We’re Going Nuts
Deck The Walls
Pops Corn
The Nutty Bavarian
Soul To Sole
Whole Addiction
Time Zone
Finish Line
Site for Sore Eyes

Okay, take a deep breath! Starts to get a little
painful there, doesn’t it? Notice that sometimes
it’s hard to “see” the pun; when the brand has
established itself so well (i.e., Foot Locker)
it becomes a new “thing” rather than a clever
combination of words. It also seems that the
pun-brands that have been more successful are
(relatively) subtle – I don’t ever see Humphrey
Yogart going national (estate litigation aside)
because it’s just too broad. And some pun-brands
don’t work unless you already know what they are
selling (i.e., Whole Addiction is a body-piercing
concern…get it??).

Obviously, being punny is not enough. Like
any face being put on a business, a thoughtful
approach that is executed well and considers the
audience is essential. The Foot Locker brand
consists of more than the name, and it all
works in harmony. And let’s not forget the
Foot Locker mascot, called The Striper! (see
him here)

A great article about kawaii can be found here and there are a ton of kawaii links here.

Nice piece on visual puns in advertising is here.

Series

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