Akaoni: designing between the past and the future

Published:  April 8, 2014
Lucy Waddington

Based in the northern region of Japan, Akaoni Design is a creative studio that blissfully unites the traditional and modern styles of their country. Within their array of studio output, including packaging, posters, books, brochures, identities and digital, Akaoni encourages classical Japanese art forms and contemporary image-making practices to meet. With an eye for uncluttered simplicity and beauty in sinuous organic form, this studio captures a distinctive Japanese sensibility — that which celebrates meticulous yet joyful creativity.

Logo and packaging for IMO FES 2013

Logo and flyer for Yamagata Festival of Design Excellence, 2013

Japan is an oscillating country where modernity and history collide. It is a place that respects its past and recognises its future, enabling it to create its own transient present. This cosmic mixture of the established and the emerging allow Akaoni’s work to appear both visually unique and professionally considered, utilising the precision and clarity of digital mediums as well as the imperfect – and evidently human – impressions of manual practices. It is clear that the studio understand their appeal to modern consumers and simultaneously possess a passionate respect for artistic tradition, Japanese culture and the natural world.

Poster and flyer for Local = World

Logo, packaging and Tshirts for Tohoku Mirai Ehon, made from a collection of children’s drawings

Keeping their designs locally focused, if not regionally then nationally, the studio have a tendency to pursue projects that have a social conscience or are environmentally minded. With a particular loyalty to Tohoku University of Art and Design (as many of the Akaoni designers are alumni), they have been responsible for the University’s promotional and tertiary products as well as the branding and identity of the annual Yamagata Biennale.

Logo and packaging for Gassan no Megumi

The Gassan no Megumi logo was originally a wood cut

Logo and paper wrapping/packaging for Legend Vegetable Sweets

With an appreciation for the powerful qualities of line, shape and colour, Akaoni’s designs are a pleasure to inspect. Embracing the qualities of the Roman alphabet and all three Japanese alphabets, the studio are able to deliver an image that dampens the translation of each word and instead harks back to typography as visual symbolism. Their block and screen-printing techniques hint at traditional Japanese stamp-making processes and textile design, while restrained shapes conjure images of mountain peaks, fish scales and many other cultural identifiers. Naive illustrations also act to consciously deconstruct the formality of linear composition and sans serif typefaces.

Poster and flyer for the Bokurano Bungaku Music and Culture Festival

Poster for Sendai City incense festival

Within this admirable concoction of Japan’s visual history and constantly evolving digital identity, Akaoni are singular in their ability to create within an arena of cultural coalescence, rather than cultural competition.


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