Aoshi Kudo (Designer and Creative Director, Communication Design Laboratory) × Yuka Nagasaki (Art Director, Advertising and Design Department, Shiseido) × Akira Muraoka (Designer, Advertising and Design Department, Shiseido)
Packaging Designs that Remain Popular for a Century

This is an interview series in which creators at Shiseido discuss the idea of beauty with other designers and professionals active in their respective fields. In 2016, which marks the 100th anniversary of Shiseido’s Advertising and Design Department, guests appearing in this series will consider future Shiseido designs. This issue presents a three-way conversation based on the theme of packaging design, the “face” of Shiseido’s products.

Today’s guest is Mr. Aoshi Kudo, who once worked in the Shiseido Advertising and Design Department, and is currently the President of Communication Design Laboratory. Having produced numerous packaging designs, he explores communication in design and is engaged in various types of design projects that encompass not only products, but also other areas such as signage for public facilities. In conversation with Mr. Kudo are Ms. Yuka Nagasaki and Mr. Akira Muraoka, Shiseido designers who were both born in the 1980s. The talk will focus on the topics of information technology and changes in the social environment. What will the current designers who think about the designs that we need today discover in conversation with Mr. Kudo?


Aoshi Kudo
President of Communication Design Laboratory. Born in Tokyo in 1964. Graduated from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (presently: Tokyo University of the Arts) in 1988, and joined Shiseido the same year. Stationed in Paris for four years from 1992. Kudo left Shiseido in 2005, and established Communication Design Laboratory (CDL) with designer and “visioner” Keiko Hirano. Some of the major packaging designs that he has produced include SHISEIDO MEN, qiora, and IPSA. His main works in creative direction include SHISEIDO PROFESSIONAL and the communication design for Oita Prefectural Art Museum (OPAM). He has received numerous awards in Japan and overseas, including the 2001 Mainichi Design Award, the Japan Package Design Grand Prize on four occasions, and the iF Design Award.

Yuka Nagasaki
Born in Nagoya in 1982. Graduated from the Department of Design and Craft, Faculty of Art, Aichi University of the Arts in 2006, and joined Shiseido the same year. Her main work as a designer covers brands such as SHISEIDO, clé de peau BEAUTÉ, INTEGRATE, and HAKU. As part of her activities in the company, she launched a research team named “DesignR&D” in April this year, with the aim of creating beautiful lifestyle culture by fusing design and technology. The team proposes new ways and forms of design in cosmetics, e-commerce and other fields of the future.

Akira Muraoka
Born in Tokyo in 1986. Graduated from the Product Design Course in the Department of Product and Textile Design, Tama Art University, in 2010 and joined Shiseido the same year. He is mainly in charge of the SHISEIDO brand design. In August this year, he was involved in the design of the SOUL of MOTION perfume, a collaboration with Mazda Motor Corporation. Outside of Shiseido, he is also a member of the design unit AMAM, which won the Grand Prix in the Lexus Design Award, an international design competition targeted at creators of the next generation.

The Importance of Objectivity in Packaging Design

----Mr. Kudo was involved in designing many masterpieces of packaging design until he left Shiseido in 2005. Designers Ms. Nagasaki and Mr. Muraoka, who would be considered his juniors in this field, described his designs as “fresh and surprising while retaining the character of Shiseido.” Could you give us some specific examples of these designs?

NagasakiThe Kudo design that left a deep impression on me was his design for the “qiora” brand. Although it has a very simple form, it leaves a powerful and intense impression on the mind. While remaining conscious of the character of Shiseido, the design gives a sense of innovation through elements such as the subtle curves. I think that these delicate twists are an attempt to communicate with the user. This is what makes the design so wonderful.

MuraokaI really like the “vocalise” perfume. I feel that the simple design is highly effective in many ways. Whether it is viewed from the front or the side, I am surprised and amazed that such a design is possible. It is packaging that offers much in terms of beauty and discoveries.

NagasakiIt is difficult to create a sense of delicacy and of the inner world within a simple design.

MuraokaI agree. When I began working in packaging design, I had a tendency to create forms that were compact. They tended to be shrunk. However, exposure to the boldness in Mr. Kudo’s work has given me a real sense of what comfortable design is like.

----Mr. Kudo, your works have had an impact on successive generations of Shiseido designers. At the time, what were the thoughts and ideas that you had in mind when you were producing these works?

KudoWhen I first started working, I thought that objectivity in design work was very important but we could not maintain it if we became too heated. I felt that an ego, represented by a desire to do things my way, would get in the way of design. I think that I maintained an attitude of constantly searching for the optimal answer to the work that was tasked to me, and carried out my design work from the perspective of objectivity.

----Perhaps it is vital to remember whom the design is for. Mr. Kudo, your attitude toward design may have been passed down to the designers of today.

KudoTsunekazu Nishioka, a shrine carpenter, wrote in his book Ki no inochi ki no kokoro (Life of trees and heart of trees) (1993) that “ultimately, the work of a shrine carpenter cannot be taught.” As an example, he wrote that the Shikinen Sengu, the rebuilding of Ise Jingu shrine, is held only once every 20 years, so there are extremely few opportunities to teach others directly at the site of the work. Even so, if the building is constructed properly, it is possible to learn many things when the structure is dismantled.

----In other words, by dismantling the structure, the skills and ideas of the craftsmen whom one has never met in person can still be conveyed.

KudoThat is why I am really happy to hear that Ms. Nagasaki and Mr. Muraoka were able to gain something through the products after seeing and touching the designs for “qiora” and “vocalise.” I would like to ask a question at this point. How do the two of you approach design? It may be a different process from the one we used in my younger days.

MuraokaTo expand and develop the image of the design, I collect as many hints and clues as I can, and draw sketches. In addition, I make prototypes over and over again.

NagasakiI believe the process itself has remained unchanged from the past. However, looking at Mr. Kudo’s designs, I get the sense that there were hardly any worries or doubts, but rather, that you arrived at the correct answer immediately.

“qiora” designed by Aoshi Kudo; recipient of the Mainichi Design Award (1998) “vocalise,” a perfume bottle that leaves a strong impression with its smooth curves (1997)

The Evolution of Packaging Through Technology

KudoNow and in the past, the issues and environment surrounding products are different, and I think that there is probably no such thing as a “correct” process that is common to all of us. When I was new to this field, there were methodologies for creating products in Shiseido’s Advertising and Design Department, and we drew our sketches in accordance with these methods. However, as I gained more experience and expanded my horizons, I began thinking about various other things, such as what kind of audience is seeking the product. Consequently, I began thinking that merely following a process with a fixed routine is not adequate.

MuraokaI understand that to some extent.

KudoIn my case, I began considering the impressions of storefronts lined with packaging, the packaging appearances at the homes of consumers who have purchased the products, and what they would look like five years later. In an attempt to resolve these issues, my answer was to expand my horizons infinitely. However, the more I thought about it, the more elements I felt I could incorporate into the product. Yet apart from constructing a design, these issues are not described in the operational flow, and there were many problems that could not be solved through the existing processes.

----Doesn’t a process that involves this train of thought take up quite a lot of time? It also does not appear to be an answer that you can ever arrive at by traveling in one straight line.

KudoAlthough it takes time, the route may be surprisingly straight and direct. For example, even if there were 50 issues and conditions that had to be fulfilled, if we were to look carefully at all of them, we may find that there is only one answer. Hence, it would be critical whether you find the answer that can consistently solve all the problems. The design process is an exploration and search for the best route to arrive at the one answer that you want to find, so in that sense, we could also say that we never get lost.

----Mr. Kudo, since the time you were at Shiseido, you have gone beyond the realms of design and expanded into the field of communication, which designers must keep in sight. In that sense, I think that you have something in common with the “DesignR&D (Research and Development)” initiative that Ms. Nagasaki is currently involved in.

NagasakiAs technology gradually evolves, the concept of cosmetics is probably also changing gradually. The “DesignR&D” initiative was established with the aim of considering the future of cosmetics brought about by new technology from the perspective of design. The question is, how should we incorporate technology in a way that can enrich the lives of people? I think that there is a need to consider the values and ways of packaging in the rapidly growing field of e-commerce.

KudoWhat are the destination or goals of this initiative?

NagasakiWithin two years, we expect to produce some kind of output. While we do not know if it will become a commercialized product, the aim is to produce it in a form that can reach customers. We are currently in the research period, and we are talking to those who are involved in android research, as well as researchers of wearable design (digital devices that can be worn on the body).

----That sounds interesting.

NagasakiIn the many conversations that we have had, someone told me, “In the future, when androids who are exactly like human beings become a common sight, the norms of beauty may become standardized. When that happens, will it be sufficient just to focus on pursuing ways of beautifying the skin?” My response was, “Exactly!” When that happens, inner beauty may become increasingly important.

To Design is Primarily to Facilitate Communication

----“Shiseido” and “technology” seem likely to become keywords of interest in the future. Mr. Muraoka, outside of your work at Shiseido, you participated in the Lexus Design Award, an international design competition targeted at creators of the next generation, and won the Grand Prix. What was your work submitted for this competition?

MuraokaIt was packing material made from vegetable gelatin (agar-agar). Using the vegetable gelatin sold in supermarkets, we attempted to create a packing material and package. The team members were my classmates from university. One of them has a keen interest in environmental matters, and questioned the fact that packaging materials used for products are simply discarded. If the material were made from vegetable gelatin, it would be soluble in hot water, and could then be returned to the soil. If further improvements were made to the material, it could possibly even contribute to improving soil quality.

KudoWhat was this vegetable gelatin plan commended for?

MuraokaThe theme of the competition called for a social nature of design as the premise. We seemed to be highly commended for our success in proposing a scenario that covered all the processes from the birth of a design to the disposal of the packaging. Personally, I hope that I will be able to apply this experience to Shiseido’s products.

----External competitions, which require you to produce designs from a different perspective, are probably good for helping designers to grow and develop. Taking this opportunity, Ms. Nagasaki, is there anything that you would like to ask Mr. Kudo?

NagasakiYes. Mr. Kudo, your company is called the Communication Design Laboratory. I am interested in communication in design, so I would like to find out why you selected this as the name of your company.

KudoI wondered why the tasks are clearly divided and assigned to each department when engaging in product design in an organization. There are various types of design, such as graphic design, product design, and spatial design, but I had doubts about the standards that were used to segment these categories of design tasks. In actual fact, all of these should basically be one seamless category of design.

----It may be necessary to segment the design tasks in order to establish an industrial system.

KudoHowever, these categorizations have nothing to do with producing good design. Rather, I think it is detrimental to producing good design. What is good design? In the case of cosmetics, creating something that is good for the user is the top priority. After the industrial revolution in the 20th century, however, this matter has not received serious attention because of the system of division of labor, which prioritizes mass production and speed.

----The consumption society today also basically follows the social system that emerged after the industrial revolution, doesn’t it?

KudoThat is why I thought about how to recapture and reconsider design when I started my own company. In doing so, I kept in mind the idea that to design is to facilitate communication in the first place. Professional knowledge and skills such as space, planes, packaging, and film are all areas of specialization, but what they have in common is the goal to produce optimal communication. In view of that, I used the word “communication” in the company name to reflect the meaning of complex design of communication.

Packaging material made from vegetable gelatin, designed by Akira Muraoka for the Lexus Design Award

Considering Products from a Century Ago as “Designs Lasting a Century”

----Mr. Muraoka, you are also involved in many design revamp projects for existing items. What are the points that you pay attention to?

MuraokaSometimes I approach such projects with a desire to tackle new and unprecedented challenges while respecting the existing design. For example, the revamped packaging for the “Bio-Performance” brand comprises a three-layer structure for the cream bottle that expresses the cell division of the product, which is formulated with moisturizing ingredients produced through biotechnology. While making use of the existing three layers, my challenge was to improve the user-friendliness of the packaging and express the themes through a contemporary design.

----Mr. Kudo, you were also involved in the new design of “EUDERMINE” products for the global market when you were at Shiseido. How did you incorporate the Shiseido character into the design?

KudoEUDERMINE was the first facial lotion produced by Shiseido, and a new product for the global market was developed to coincide with its 100th anniversary. The master plan was conceived by French artist Serge Lutens, and I worked alongside him as his assistant. Mr. Lutens sketched quickly and easily with his pencil, and I designed the actual products based on his sketches. These words of his left a strong impression on me, and I remember them even today—“Making this anew now means that we have to make it something that lasts for 100 years.” Hence, he placed the greatest emphasis on keeping the red color that is the greatest characteristic of the product unchanged, and on retaining the round shape of the cap while transforming the bottle into a modern square form. That was all.

MuraokaIt was very simple, wasn’t it?

KudoYes, it was simple. In addition, rather than communicating the brand name EUDERMINE through words, he created a logo of symmetric mirror writing to facilitate recognition of the brand through symbols. In short, in design, it is very important to think about what should be extracted. That defines the direction of the product for the next 100 years. However, there are few people who can come up with such ideas. I was able to witness that when I met Mr. Lutens, and I am aware that it has had an impact not only on my design philosophy, but also on my way of life.

NagasakiIt is rare to have an experience that can change your way of life.

KudoWorking in the field of cosmetics, I have learned that women are very sensitive. When a cosmetics design is highly appraised, women point out things such as, “Wow, you even notice and pay attention to such details?” Although there is a wide range of expressions in words, such as “cute” or “I do not like it,” sensors that are completely different from mine function beneath the surface of these expressions. Hence, we have to be aware of these sensors, and deliberately control the design elements that appeal to these sensors. I think that the character of Shiseido is probably related to this.

Top: Bio-Performance at its first launch (1988); Bottom: Bio-Performance designed by Akira Muraoka (2015) EUDERMINE when it was first launched as a cosmetic product. Top: First design created 119 years ago (1897); Bottom: EUDERMINE (global) design that Aoshi Kudo was involved in (1997)

The Appraisal of Design is Relative to the Times
That is Why We Pursue “Unchanging Beauty”

----Mr. Kudo, what do you think will be demanded of packaging design going forward?

KudoI think that the things that are truly important do not really change whether it is 100 years ago, today, or 100 years into the future. If we didn’t not think about what the most important things that are not influenced by the times are, wouldn’t it be impossible to produce good design? It is vital for creators to adopt that as their universal theme. Shiseido was able to become a corporation lasting for more than 100 years because it had these things. I believe these were established by the founders of the company. One of these were the words of the first president, Shinzo Fukuhara: “Let the products speak for themselves.” I first heard these words during my new employee training, but I still believe that they represent the root to creating and designing products at Shiseido. On the other hand, I think that the appraisal of design is relative. The appraisal changes with the environment as well as with the times.

----Is that to say that the appraisal of design is influenced by the times?

KudoYes, that is right. I think that design is appraised within its relative positioning during each era. That is precisely why those of us who are involved in production work have to pursue something that is universal. If we are able to present something that is close to the true essence, it should be accepted by many people for a long period of time. I think that the top criterion for appraisal is, as one would expect, beauty. I believe the sensation of beauty is the most widespread, common, and unchanging criterion for appraisal. The concept of beauty lies beyond personal preferences of liking or disliking something. The highest common factor for “cool” and “cutting-edge” is probably “beauty.” I believe that Shiseido, which has pursued beauty throughout its history, holds that philosophy.

----Going forward, what types of design do you two current designers who are now in a position to spread the message of “beauty” want to create?

NagasakiI believe that Shiseido is always moving ahead of the times. It produces interesting designs that amaze the world, and creates unexpected and surprising things. I do not want to forget the feeling of always taking an approach that is new for the times. Mr. Kudo adopts a very wide perspective in his work; through him, I have learnt something that could possibly be described as “tolerance.”

MuraokaI am of the same view. I would like to do something that I have never done before. Although I joined the company because I enjoy the work of designing, I have recently begun to think of design as a form of social contribution. In addition to fulfilling the demands of customers and contributing to our brands and company by resolving their issues through my designs, I also hope to take up activities that can contribute to the environment from a broad perspective. I believe that this is also an aspect of communication design.

Published in October 2016

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