TALK
Mariko Nishimura (Representative, HEART CATCH Inc.) × Michio Iwaki (Representative, Miracom Inc.) × Nodoka Kagaya (Digital Creative Planner/Director, Advertising and Design Department, Shiseido)

The Future of Shiseido Digital as a Communicator of Beauty

This is an interview series in which creators at Shiseido discuss the idea of beauty with other designers and professionals active in their individual 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 conversation in line with the themes of Internet content and digital design, which Shiseido has been actively engaged in since the early 1990s. Today's guests are Michio Iwaki of Miracom Inc. and a former designer at the Advertising and Design Department who had supported the early stages of Shiseido's digital design efforts, and Mariko Nishimura of HEART CATCH Inc. , a company that provides support for startups with creators. Nodoka Kagaya of Shiseido, who is responsible for the planning and development of Internet content, joins the talk. Amidst the increasingly widespread use of social media and the diversification of approaches toward the concept of beauty, what kind of communication does Shiseido hope to achieve? The three speakers share their thoughts on digital design and beauty.

Mariko Nishimura
Mariko Nishimura
Mariko Nishimura is the representative director of HEART CATCH Inc. After graduating from International Christian University, she worked as an engineer at IBM, as a marketing professional at Adobe Systems, and a producer at the creative company Bascule Inc., before establishing HEART CATCH Inc. Harnessing her strengths in the fields of creative work as well as cutting-edge technology and marketing trends, the company engages in the development of new corporate businesses, provides marketing support, and undertakes a wide range of promotion work. As an engineer, she is the holder of an international patent. The program that she had produced at Bascule Inc., titled "BLOODY TUBE" and which is featured on both television and smartphone platforms, was a winner at the 2014 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
Michio Iwaki
Michio Iwaki
Representative of Miracom Inc., Michio Iwaki developed an interest in computers as a student at the Faculty of Engineering, Chiba University. After graduation, he started working at the Design Department of Toyota Motor Corporation. Alongside his design work, he was also involved in the development of CAD systems at Toyota. In 1973, he made a career switch, moving to Shiseido, and in 1995, was appointed to take charge of the building and management of Shiseido's official website. In 1999, he established the Web Advertising Bureau under the auspices of the Japan Advertisers Association Inc. In 2001, he left employment and founded Miracom Inc., which engages in corporate consulting and the planning and production of websites.
Nodoka Kagaya
Nodoka Kagaya
A graduate of Tama Art University, Nodoka Kagaya has built up a track record of experience at a web production company as a designer and director of online advertising campaigns that make use of interactive technologies such as Flash. After that, she was involved in creative planning and development as a digital communication planner at Dentsu Inc. She has worked on many projects on building media platforms through the use of smartphone applications. She has been a member of Shiseido's Advertising and Design Department since July 2015, and is engaged in the promotion of communication design, planning and development with the aim of enhancing the digital creativity field.

A website serves as a space for communicating with customers

Shiseido's corporate website "Cyber Island of Shiseido" (1995)

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Mr. Iwaki, I understand that you were the catalyst behind Shiseido's move to incorporate the Internet and digital technology into design in 1995. Could you tell us how these events came about?
Iwaki
This history goes rather far back in time. When I was studying design and engineering at the Department of Industrial Design, Faculty of Engineering (presently the Department of Design ) of Chiba University, the experience of using the early versions of CAD (a tool for producing drawings and 3D simulation designs on the computer) left a vivid impression on me, and I even wrote my graduation thesis about the use of computers in design work. After graduating, I joined Toyota as a designer, and worked there for about five years. Thereafter, I decided to change jobs for personal reasons, and joined Shiseido. Even then, I continued with my CAD research work, albeit more slowly.
--
So you continued with CAD research?
Iwaki
Yes, I did. After joining Shiseido, I was mainly in charge of designing packaging. At one point, I was posted to the United States as an expatriate. Mr. Yoshiharu Fukuhara, who is currently our Honorary Chairman, was the manager of the overseas division at the time, and enjoyed touring art museums. When he visited the United States, it was customary for the expatriates from the Advertising and Design Department to accompany him on these museum tours. When it was my turn to do so, I told him, "In America, commercials produced using CG are beginning to emerge. Shiseido should also produce something like that!" Some time later, I received notification to return to Japan.
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Did digital design begin earnestly with support from Mr. Fukuhara?
Iwaki
Yes. To begin with, Mr. Fukuhara was close to researchers at Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus (SFC), which is renowned for its strong IT research. He also had a keen interest in the Internet. I also believe that the Great Hanshin Earthquake that struck in January 1995 was a major trigger. From the day after the earthquake, staff in Kobe City began photographing scenes of the affected areas using digital cameras and sharing them on the Internet. The possibility that the Internet could become an amazing form of media became a hot topic even among the people around me. Against this backdrop, a group of volunteers came together and launched a bilingual (Japanese and English) website in October 1995, titled "Cyber Island of Shiseido." 1995 was the year when many companies, including Shiseido, began launching their own websites, and in some ways, the year when companies in Japan began to use the Internet actively.
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After setting up the website, what kind of reactions were there within the company?
Iwaki
At the time, the company was split between those who were advocates of the Internet, and those who took a prudent approach toward it. Even among the advocates, there were many who perceived the Internet as a new form of advertising medium. Personally, I viewed the Internet not as an advertising medium, but as a way of communicating with users.
Nishimura
I think Mr. Iwaki has incredible foresight. In 1995, I had been studying overseas in the United Kingdom, and it was the same year I began using e-mail as a communication tool. I remember feeling a vague sense of excitement that the Internet would transform the ways in which we communicate.
Kagaya
After you set up the website, what were the reactions from the users like? To begin with, it was a time when few people among the general public had actually been using the Internet.
Iwaki
Just as you said, even when we analyzed the access statistics, we found that the visitors to our website were mostly users from other companies that had launched their websites at the same time, and there were few users from the general public. Nevertheless, that was precisely the reason why the respective companies involved were strongly aware of the moves made by one another. In actual fact, Shiseido was the first among the corporate websites to place a prominent banner on the right hand side of the landing page. We lined up a row of buttons representing each product brand. In the next two months or so, everyone began to imitate us. It was an idyllic and simple time (laughs).
Nishimura
No, the first generation has such a cool aura about them!

An Internet that can be shared also contributes to improving efficiency

Iwaki
Before the Internet, brands only utilized forms of media such as television, magazines, and newspapers. Hence, there was no knowhow about the production of content for the Internet. While there was no one who could teach us anything on the one hand, there was also no one to dictate instructions from the top. The concept of CAD lies in the question of how to improve the efficiency of the product development processes, so in a similar vein, I placed the emphasis on how to create an efficient team. If we were able to create a CAD-based platform, we would be able to produce CG, and that data could then be harnessed for use in commercials. Internet content formed a part of this flow of ideas. With CAD, we would be able to share all the aspects of personnel, equipment, and software.
Nishimura
That is to say, the design work began with the creation of the team?
Iwaki
Precisely. It was also during this period of team-building when we learned that good work could be produced even when the responsibility is left entirely to young people. While we ensured that they reported back on the important points, we sought human resources who were able to proceed with the work even when no directions or instructions were given to them. In other words, we were looking for people who understood the crux of our work.
Kagaya
Even assuming that the premise is to ensure that outstanding and capable people were selected; as long as a good team can be brought together successfully, results that are above a certain quality can be produced even if the team were left on its own.
Iwaki
It is a kind of ecosystem. The important point lies in the concept of "one source, multiple uses." We strive to ensure that the data we create can be handed over to the next process in the best quality possible. If we can achieve that, we are able to reduce the burden on the overall process, and younger staff with less experience would then be able to have some breathing room to enable them to make the right decisions. It is the job of the manager to ensure that this flow is achieved. For that reason, the young people in my department were allocated a significantly larger budget as compared to young people in other departments, and were given the autonomy and freedom to work independently.

The proprietary development of CAM (3D printer) and the significant presence of John Maeda

Poster and sketch produced by John Maeda to commemorate 30 years of producing Shiseido commercials

CG produced for the Ginza Modern & Urban Design Exhibition

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We would like to look back on the works that Mr. Iwaki produced for Shiseido. Taimei Elementary School in Ginza and the CG replication of the Shiseido Parlour in its early days were all projects that were led by you.
Iwaki
Yes, these were produced for the Ginza Modern & Urban Design Exhibition held at the Shiseido Gallery in 1993. Historically, Shiseido was closely tied in with the urban development of Ginza, and that is partly what led me to create these works.
Nishimura
In today's terms, I suppose these could be considered to be virtual representations of the city, such as those that can be experienced using head-mounted displays.
--
You were also involved in the proprietary development of the CAM system (a system that is equivalent to the 3D printer of today).
Iwaki
Around 1990, I was responsible for packaging design, and I wanted to introduce the use of 3D printers that could produce three-dimensional models from an early stage. The three-dimensional modelers of the time were basically the same as the systems used to produce metal molds, but the specialized software for metal mold production was too difficult to use, and I did not have a good command of this software. Furthermore, at the time, this software required too much memory and could not be installed in our computers. To get around these problems, we created a simple 3D printer of our own. Although it could not produce fine and highly detailed workmanship, it could be used to create packaging prototypes. The containers that we designed could be transformed quickly into models and held in our hands. We went through repeated cycles of revising the system. Today, we would use the term "deployment." This was similar to the concept of producing a website. Once a website has been created, it is easy to make delicate adjustments and revisions, isn't it? We tackled the challenge based on the concept that we would be able to do anything once we conquered not only the Internet, but rather, digitalization.
--
Mr. Iwaki, did you also collaborate with Mr. John Maeda, the world-renowned graphic designer who was also the Associate Director of Research at the MIT Media Lab and the President of the Rhode Island School of Design?
Iwaki
John Maeda was carrying out media design research at the graduate school of the University of Tsukuba in the first half of the 1990s. At the time, I was a member of the committee for NICOGRAPH (Japan Computer Graphics Association), and he submitted an application for a contest organized by the Association. The instant I saw his work, I was certain that it would win the Grand Prix. During that time, there was no fixed criteria used to evaluate digital works, so for that year, we decided to wait and see. As we expected, his submission the following year was an outstanding piece of work, and was selected for the Grand Prix. That was how our association with each other began.
Nishimura
To what extent did he collaborate with Shiseido?
Iwaki
He collaborated with Shiseido on quite a number of projects. There were interactive works, as well as works that entered into the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Personally, the poster that he created to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Shiseido's commercials left a deep impression on me. This was the first work of John Maeda's that was produced in print. The interesting aspects of this piece of work are not easily understood.
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I have heard that it is a graphic created based on a collective intellectual idea.
Iwaki
30 years' worth of commercials has been compressed into individual cells, and the representative colors made into graphic form. The flowing curves on the side were created by taking apart the curved lines in Shiseido's logo and lining them up. The lines that resemble a barcode at the bottom are a visualization of the music used in commercials.
Nishimura
He has created an immediate visualization of 30 years of Shiseido, hasn't he?
Iwaki
I agree. What impresses me most about John is the fact that he does not keep his knowhow and expertise to himself. For example, he came up with a program for design elements by himself, and provided it to everyone as an open-source program. I believe that the field of media design in Japan rose to eminence with thanks to his generosity in giving, and I think that there are also many people who entered this field under his influence. It seems he also had an interest in education, and thereafter became a professor at MIT as well as the President of the Rhode Island School of Design.

Communicating ideas about the pursuit of beauty through digital media and the Internet

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Let us take the conversation into the present day. Ms. Nishimura and Ms. Kagaya are both active on the front lines of digital creativity today. I believe you both have many thoughts and views after listening to Mr. Iwaki.
Kagaya
Starting from around 1998, Shiseido began developing a makeup simulator. In about 2005, it began introducing real-time simulators such as the Mirai Mirror, which offers makeup simulation just by having the user stand in front of the mirror. Today, we are continuing to develop and improve these simulators, but I was surprised the other day when I heard that Mr. Iwaki had already developed the predecessor to these simulators. Shiseido's origins lie in the exploration of beauty, and the ideas that are created based on this concept resonate with the changing of the times and needs. I believe that Mr. Iwaki's accomplishments were underpinned by the will to design something in response to the changing of the times, and this spirit has been passed on to the work that we do today. It gives us courage to reflect on and return to our roots, and made me feel that I have to work even harder going forward.
Iwaki
Changes will not arise in the world if we just sit and wait. Somebody has to take action and communicate that effectively to many people. There were many people who wondered why a company that makes cosmetics, which is in a sense an "analogue" product, would want to put effort into digital design, and I think there are still people who wonder about this even today. However, Shiseido had originally been a company that came up with various innovative products and ideas. It created advertisements centered on illustrations and photographs, and made pioneering attempts even in the area of packaging design. It was a company that was always conscious of the changing of the times and technological innovation. I believe that the memes of this corporation empowered me to achieve what I did.
Kagaya
In tandem with the changing of the times, there has also been a rise in the number of fields where digital technology can be applied. For instance, the brand "Free Soul Piccadilly" (FSP), which expanded between 1999 and 2003, launched a website that makes use of a virtual space created based on the image of airports. In 2005, Shiseido launched "Seeds of Beauty" to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Shiseido website. This project incorporated an interactive element; when users spoke continuously about their ideas of beauty, they would be able to give "seeds of beauty" some water, which would then blossom into flowers. Although this was a simple set-up, the addition of a narrative element to web design was an attempt to create new experiences for the users.
Nishimura
The website of MAJOLICA MAJORCA, a brand for which development commenced in 2003, also employed many Flash elements, and invited users to experience a worldview that was unique to the Internet. I remember this vividly because I was responsible for nurturing Flash communities and creators when I was working at Adobe. I have since established HEART CATCH Inc., and presently provide support to startups with creators through this company. The organizational structures that Mr. Iwaki created, as well as his ability to create scenarios, resonate strongly with me. Today, we live in times that are result-oriented, and which tend to focus on budgets and profits. However, after listening to Mr. Iwaki, I felt strongly that there are things that cannot be fostered based on results alone.
Iwaki
It is true that web-based companies tend to become overly obsessed with efficiency and KPIs (indicators that show the extent to which a goal has been achieved). Furthermore, rather than thinking in terms of vertical divisions, it is vital to implement projects while considering how to create lateral connections between different genres and different lines of work. To that end, I believe that a holistic perspective and startups are indispensable. It is all the more important to provide startup opportunities for those who are prominent in the fields of design and technology, and to create systems that enable mutual cooperation through their individual talents rather than money.
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Mr. Iwaki, you have supported and contributed to the early days of the Internet. What are your thoughts on the Internet of today?
Iwaki
Currently, social media is a prevalent trend, and I get the impression that the Internet is a chaotic and very different place from what I initially expected it to be. Even in a situation like this, I would still wish to place importance on quality. I think that is my spirit of "Shiseido-ism," but I would still like to contribute to improving the quality of society through various forms of beauty.
Kagaya
As you said, I think that social media is currently going through a difficult phase. Even when companies attempt to utilize social media, there are many restrictions on the words that they can use, and they are gradually straying further away from the initial intention of communicating with users. Even so, it would be meaningless if they were to give up on social media as a communication channel; rather, I think that it will become increasingly necessary to identify the features of services and tools, and to have the ability to assess the areas in which they can be applied to.

Free Soul Piccadilly (FSP) website (1999)Free Soul Piccadilly (FSP) website (1999)

Seeds of Beauty, commemorating the 10th anniversary since the launch of Shiseido's website (2005)Seeds of Beauty, commemorating the 10th anniversary since the launch of Shiseido's website (2005)

MAJOLICA MAJORCA website (2003)MAJOLICA MAJORCA website (2003)

Toward an era of social media that responds to individual needs

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A Shiseido that pursues beauty would probably have the ability to create services that give consideration to the communication style of the social media era, while at the same time inherit the concept of the makeup simulators that have been produced before.
Kagaya
That is right. I would also like to develop completely new services that can spark greater communication, while placing the emphasis on enjoying makeup in a way that is characteristic of Shiseido.
Nishimura
I think the approach toward beauty is changing gradually alongside the growing prevalence of social media. It is important for people to be seen, and to be supported by others. For example, we often hear about how girls who upload their daily makeup look onto Instagram become ever more adorable as the number of "likes" that they receive increases. Hence, simply giving more "likes" from the Shiseido account to girls who are putting effort into their makeup could possibly give them the push to put even more effort into becoming more beautiful. YouTubers have also emerged on the scene, making it possible for their audiences to take makeup lessons together with them. This is another way in which digital media is raising the level of beauty.
Kagaya
Although the platforms are changing rapidly, the fact remains unchanged that human beings are the ones gathering at these platforms. I think that we have to place our value on the premise that digital technology exists to serve people.
Nishimura
One of the major transformations brought about by the penetration of digital technology is the emergence of the possibility of interacting closely with each and every individual. The Internet of Things, or IoT (building communications functions into the products around us, and providing services that are optimized based on individual or group behavior), which has become a hot topic since last year or so, is one such example. A beauty product called "ROMY Paris," which I saw at a home appliance show in Las Vegas the other day, was very interesting. It is able to formulate a different face lotion every day to match the weather or the user's emotions for the day. It felt like an evolved representation of customization in the world of beauty. Without needing to visit a spa, it gives the user the feeling that he or she is special, that "it is doing this for me today." I think that this is an interesting approach.
Kagaya
This is because we are easily influenced by things that improve our mindset or our emotions at a point in time, such as the idea that "I will become beautiful." What was important before, and which is still important today, is to achieve results that benefit customers. By doing so, if we are able to stay firm in our approach of "what do we wish to provide, and to whom?" we will be able to carve out an enjoyable path.
Nishimura
Everyone wants to be beautiful, don't they? (laughs) Moreover, recently, men have also begun to be able to say proudly that they wish to be beautiful. This is also an era where the pursuit of beauty can be shared widely across many different groups of people.
Iwaki
The mass media of the past was able to respond to user needs only by providing universal information in the form of programs for television and articles for newspapers. However, digital media is able to offer communication that responds to individual needs. That marks significant progress. For example, there are people who believe that holistic beauty, which does not involve the use of cosmetic products, is important. If we were to consider such people as non-customers of Shiseido because they do not use cosmetic products, we would not be able to achieve innovation. I believe that it is Shiseido's role to provide a wide range of people with a beautiful, comfortable, and enjoyable environment, and I think that digital technology is able to provide that powerful push.
Kagaya
As Mr. Iwaki pointed out, the Shiseido of today is becoming more than just a cosmetics company. Women go through various important stages in life, and we wish to provide all women with support for their respective lifestyles in each of these stages of life. The pursuit of beauty through digital media and the Internet represents one such attempt, and is an extension of the digital design that Mr. Iwaki has been engaged in for a very long time. I am convinced of this now, after having listened to the conversation today. I aim to continue working hard so that we do not lose out to the generations that came before us!
Nishimura
I completely agree!
Published in April 2016
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