Masashi Kawamura for the agIdeas International Design Forum

Published:  April 30, 2015
Jessica Yu

NYC/Japan-based design studio PARTY likes to think of itself as a “creative lab”. For the small team of creatives at PARTY, each new design is a new experiment, a point of difference — not just from other creative content producers but from their past work.

Jessica Yu spoke to co-founder and executive creative director of PARTY, Masashi Kawamura, ahead of his appearance at the agIdeas International Design Forum.


MK: What time is it in Australia?

desktop: 6am

MK: Holy shit. I’m sorry.

desktop: It’s okay! Should we get started?

MS: Yeah!

desktop: How would you describe the ethos of PARTY?

We consider ourselves to be a creative lab. We love to think of everything we do as an experiment. An R & D of creativity. Everything we try and do, we try and do it differently from other people and not just from other people but from our past work. We like knowing 80% of what we do and then being unsure for the other 20%.

We have a belief that normal advertising doesn’t work anymore. I wouldn’t say print, TV and radio no longer works, but I think the passive way those brands communicated in the past doesn’t work anymore. You can’t just say “look how awesome we are” anymore. People see through that now. They don’t believe in it because they recognise that it’s advertising. To have a good ad you have to have something that’s purely utilitarian or entertaining for the consumer.

Above: Disco Dog by Party NY

And why did you start PARTY?

The reason I started the company was because I and a lot of the other founders were working at advertising agencies. We wanted something with more agility and efficiency than an advertising company. Something innovative and fun. A much smaller team. We also didn’t like the division between a production company and an advertising agency.

So in saying that you didn’t want there to be separation between an advertising agency and a production company, you were highlighting that you don’t like creative ideas and the creation of those ideas to be divided?

Yeah.  Another one of PARTY’s ethos is that we believe that the creative process is really important and so are the tools we use in terms of creating different and innovative outputs. I always say: make things differently to do things differently. (laughs). It’s a little bit yoda-ish. Making new ways to make. So it’s kinda like: if you’re using the same cameras and the same process, you’re working within invisible boundaries already. But what if you invented your own camera? And this works much better when the people who can make come up with the ideas. They understand what’s feasible.

Above: Kawamura’s collaboration for Uniqlo, Shanghai

Going on that idea that an understanding of the discipline and its tools is crucial to making new things… How does working with people from different disciplines impact upon your creative process? Do you need to understand their disciplines as well as your own?

The short answer is no. I don’t think you need to have too much knowledge. But for me, I think that even before talking about totally different disciplines like architecture vs making clothes vs cooking, the first hurdle in our current time is about coding vs art.

So someone might say, I’m a designer but do I need to know how to code. Again, the answer is no. But it’s important to understand the language in which you can communicate with the people that make these things. I started as a coder then a film director. I don’t code anymore but at least I know what goes on. I can put myself in the coder’s shoes. I don’t make unreasonable demands and assume, “Oh, so you can do all this in a day, right?” I’m not saying you need to code to understand, you just need to be able to understand the language of coding in order to communicate effectively.

It’s the same kind of deal when we work with other companies. E.g. If we work with a car company, do we need to understand how to make a car? The answer is no. We would never know that. But the language that is currency between us is design language. It’s the sensibility of a producer that’s really necessary there.

PARTY have been commissioned by huge brands such as Muji, Google to creative astounding and boundary-pushing work. How does collaborating with a commercial interest affect your work?

One thing we kind of allow ourselves to do is to go back to the company and tell them the brief is wrong. We like to be their partners. Not just coming up with the answers but also the questions. We work with the boundaries but within that we try to come up with crazy ideas to engage the audience in the right way.

Last question: If you had an infinite amount of money and creative resources and no limitations what would you make?

I would make a new country. I would love to design a perfect country. There has been no country built based on design. There’s a lot of junk from pervious eras you don’t really need. There could be a new way of building a country.

Above: Party for the Narita International Airport

It’s been great chatting with you.

Same! And please go back to bed.

Masashi Kawamura will be speaking at this year’s agIdeas International Design Forum on Thursday May 14th.


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