Google Tokyo wayfinding

We designed the wayfinding systems for Google’s Tokyo offices. I documented the process in an essay called “Faith/Void Split” which was published in Slanted. In lieu of photographic documentation of the hundreds of signs I created, I have excerpted the essay here. :

It is a Monday in April, 2012. I am on the 50th floor of a giant office building in the middle of one of Tokyo’s largest financial centers, staring at the ceiling and trying to think of how the fuck I am going to come up with a wayfinding plan to make navigation of 600-plus offices, meeting rooms, and cafeterias spread out over three floors easier for the 1,000-plus people that work there. They’re already lost as hell in the two floors they currently occupy, and the addition of a whole new floor of offices has brought the mandate: get it to all make sense somehow. 

 The past few years have been a flurry of time lost to stopgap solutions with no apparent results. Every single one of my previous visits to the site has revealed employee-after-employee squinting, scrutinizing, craning necks sideways, and attempting to make some sort of sense of the never-ending parade of laminated floor plans set with 4-point type, as well as a lack of depicted physical orientation. The new signage system must be big, bold, and obvious. It must use numerous mnemonics including color, two languages, and some semblance of form-making. The site is gigantic, and for some reason, I have been chosen to make it happen. This in itself is a really cool thing: it’s one of those star projects that every designer dreams of—the budget is reasonable and it’s something so big that there’s a decent timeline. As long as I don’t fuck it up, it’s going to enhance the value of our rinky-dink little studio a thousand-fold. It’s going to be very interesting for these reasons, along with a variety of others, most notably in that I have no natural sense of direction. Perhaps this somehow makes me the most suitable candidate for the job—essentially, if I can figure it out, then so could anyone. 

Now, when I say I have no natural sense of direction, what I mean is that I constantly ride my bicycle around Tokyo blindly, unable to geolocate myself in any fashion, even with the help of Google Maps on my phone. I leave our home office an hour prior to meetings just to be safe if I have never been to a particular meeting place. I have lived in Tokyo for the past seven years, and this does not bode well. 

 I have always been like this—perhaps it’s the result of my country bumpkin childhood or my copious drug intake in my teens and twenties, though I doubt it. I have no idea. My mom grew up in the same small town I did and she gets around fine. She can drive from her new home in Prescott, Arizona to Los Angeles without a map, whereas I got insanely lost last time I was there just trying to get to the liquor store. I wish there was some Roland Barthes-ian post-Structural/poetic aspect to all of this, but there just isn’t. I have lived the past 39 years hopelessly lost and there is little doubt that this will continue until the time I’m interred.

This project was the result of going to a site and looking at how the humans who inhabit a site were interacting with their environment. One day, I had a meeting at Google and after haplessly attempting to decipher their wayfinding system, ambled upon the appropriate meeting area and waited outside.

While waiting, I watched diferent Googlers try to find where they were going and I started timing them—the average time they tried to decipher the old wayfinding came to an average of 30 seconds per person. For a company that prides itself on its engineering as much as their design, this seemed off…

I proposed a wayfinding system based on the greater scheme of the giant round building that the Tokyo division inhabits—round paths with bilingual stops akin to a nature trail.

Now, Googlers find their way quickly and immediately through their Tokyo offices via a quick visual scan. I tested the times last time I was there—people barely looked at the signs, and if they did, the maximum time was for 5 seconds.

Low & Low

I curated a small exhibition at VCFA in coordination with our first semester students’ regular Documentation project in October of 2014. The exhibition was accompanied by the following explanatory text:

Low & Low: Today’s Trash, Tomorrow’s Treasure 

Our every day aesthetic is shaped often not by what we choose to consume, but by what is forced upon us. This small exhibition compares and contrasts core samples of “disposable” graphic design from 60 years ago or more and the present day—belying questions as to the “veneer” of history… What happens to direct mail, real estate advertisements, everyday flyers, et al if they are discovered in the future?

 Presented are ephemera from my everyday life in Tokyo—flyers, product promotion, a coaster from a favorite bar, as well as promotional material from the realms of the design industry and fine art. In all, the sense of contemporary vernacular Japanese graphic design comes through—it all feels quite commonplace.

 An opposing set of materials are also presented—printed promotional items from over five decades ago—some pre-world War 2 and some immediate post-War. These items were found in a used bookstore in Fukuoka Prefecture, in Osaka, and in Tokyo. Included are travel brochures, product labels, an electronics brochure, and a matchbox for a bar/cafe.

 These items are very much a documentation of national design vernaculars—of design from everyday life in Japan, just in different eras.

Tai mo hitori wa umakarazu

We put together a quick little exhibition with our pals at Tuba Design for their recent event with Tisch & Thymian—a guerilla dinner held in Munich, Germany. The name “Tai mo hitori wa umakarazu” means  “Even sea bream is not delicious when eaten in loneliness”. The saying is a Japanese paean to the joys of company when eating—an appropriate ode to a dinner of fifty held in Munich’s beautiful English Gardens eating a bespoke menu from custom furniture.

Japanese Modernism Unearthed

In October 2013, I curated a micro-exhibition of books and printed material that charted the development of Japanese Modernist Graphic Design called Japanese Modernism Unearthed that accompanied my lecture The Winners and Losers of History: The Emergence of Graphic Design in Japan.

This tabletop exhibition was a project in providing a tactile analogue to a lecture, allowing students to handle the materials (without gloves!) and to make observations about the material discussed outside of how it was editorially framed in the lecture.

The media included:

Elementary English Course
W.E.L. Sweet
This 1910 book was printed by Japan’s first type foundry, and is an example of the high quality of typography provided by the Tsukiji Type Foundry, the brainchild of Shōzō Motoki. Shōzō developed Japan’s first sustainable system of moveable type technology for printing (and Japan’s first typography school) in 1869, with the assistance of the Irish American missionary William Gamble in Nagasaki.

Matsumoto Takashi
A geometry text book with a stunning two-color title page circa 1926. This book is proof that Japanese graphic designers and typographers had a thorough early understanding of Classical title page composition and localized the form with exceeding results.

高等小學 毛筆畫手本 男生用 第三學年 / Koutou Shougaku Mouhitsuga Tehon Dansei You Dai san Gakunen
文部省 (Ministry of Education)
A lovely annotated manual of illustration which shows the rigor expected of budding illustrators in 1905. Some images are traced and others are broken into perspective grids by the previous owner, most likely a boy aged 10 to 14.

寳塚 少女歌劇脚本集 / Takarazuka Revue Playbook
宝塚歌劇団 (Takarazuka Revue)
A look at the “Moga” / Modern Girl aesthetic from a 1932 magazine for the famous Takurazaka Revue and Theater School in Hyōgo Prefecture, noted for it’s all-female casts women of that time. The Playbook features unique lettering throughout, images of women and women’s fashion from that era of feminization in Japan, and a beautiful, if off-kilter cover illustration.

テァトロ / La Teatro
An immediate post-World War II theater magazine published in Tokyo that shows the vertical orthographic form that Japanese typesetting took in 1948. Wonderful cover lettering that shows the post-War turn toward showcard-influenced lettering.

現代商業美術全集 / The Complete Commercial Artist
Sugiura Hisui, editor
Published from 1927 to 1930, this was one of Japan’s most important graphic design publication at that time, providing commercial art and design in all its forms from both Japan and the world. Foreign and domestic application of design trends and theories were catalogued within. One cannot fathom how important this journal was to Japanese graphic designers, as it brought the world to their local bookshop.

中學圖畫 / Art Text for Middle School
美育振興會 (Government Publishing House)
Chugaku Zuga is a fine art textbook from 1931. It is notable for its last page, introducing lettering and commercial art to students via lavish bilingual lettering.

三河國 國寶社噐械製絲
Mikawa Silk Manufacturing
A label for a package of raw silk from approximately 1890. The silk was manufactured in Mikawa no Kuni (Mikawa Province)—a now-defunct area that comprises the eastern half of Aichi prefecture.

伊呂波引紋帳大全 / Irohahikimonchoudaizen
Wada Shōzō
1885 manual of “kamon” / 家紋, traditional family crests, acceptable ornament, and usual application to Japanese clothing of that time.

洋酒まめ天国 / A piece of liquor heaven
Yanagihara Ryohei, editor, designer
Suntory’s house ‘style guide’ for the swinging gentleman of the mid-to-late 1950s and 1960s. Yoshu Mame Tengoku featured sexploitative illustrative covers by Yanagihara himself, as well as racy nude photography and explicit sexual illustration (with j-u-s-t the right amount of detail left out to not enrage censors) by Yokoo Tadanori to illustrate the bawdy tales within.

横尾忠則 / The Complete Yokoo Tadanori
横尾忠則 / Yokoo Tadanori, editor, designer
A collection of Yokoo’s work up until 1978, immediately prior to his near-death experience and decision to stop producing graphic design for much of the 1980s. This book is notable because it was edited and designed by Yokoo himself and bears traces of the darkness, vanity and egoism that permeates so much of his work. It is a beautifully, lovingly designed book and an amazing work that sums up the best of Yokoo’s career from the mid 1960s.

商業デザイン全集 / The World’s Commercial Art
Aai Sen, Hara Hiromu, Hijikata Teiichi, Imatake Shichiro, Katsumi Masaru, Kamekura Yusaku, Kono Takashi, Koike Shinji, Takiguchi Shuzo, Yamana Ayao; editorial board
Within Shogyo Design Zenshu, foreign work and domestic Japanese design work were placed side-by-side, creating a literal in-step reference for how Japanese design fit into the global continuum. This is a collection of the first four issues from 1952 through 1954, published in 1955.

造型思考ノート / (literally, Notes on Making and Looking) / Thinking Eye
Awazu Kiyoshi
This 1974 book is a loose design theory book by Modern master Awazu Kiyoshi, one of the founders of the Metabolist movement of graphic design and architecture—a post-war Japanese architectural movement that fused ideas about architectural megastructures with those of organic biological growth. Awazu is notable for his persistent leftist/Labor-oriented political leanings throughout his career.

カメラ / Camera #7
A notable 1939 photography magazine that exhorted readers to investigate both photojournalism and Moholy-Nagy-style “typo-photo”. Camera is notable for its display lettering in advertisements and “slice of life” examinations of the upper class following the explosion of photography as a leisure pursuit in Japan.

のらくろ伍長 / Corporal Norakuro
Takamizawa Michinao
Literally “Corporal Blackie the Stray Dog”, Norakuro is the tale of an amiable, aloof and earnest stray dog who attempts to pitch in to support his country by joining the Fierce Dogs Brigade, a stand-in for the Japanese Army. This lavishly designed 1969 reprint of a 1933 volume. Norakuro’s creator, Takamizawa Michinao, was a member of the revolutionary avant garde art/design/architecture group MAVO in the early 1920s, a little-discussed link between proletarian graphic design and the then-nascent form of manga. Interestingly, despite widespread appeal and the nationalistic message the manga conveys, Norakuro’s production was forcibly ceased in 1941, immediately pre-war, due to it’s message being “frivolous” by the Press Unit of the Army of Japan. The importance of this manga cannot be understated, as it was the main influence on Tezuka Osamu, “The Father of Manga”, in his childhood, and what pushed him to be a manga cartoonist.

YouTube Space Tokyo

Interior graphic design scheme for YouTube Space, a full event space and multimedia studio in the Mori Tower in central Tokyo. The project was a collaboration with Klein Dytham architecture.

Photos by Koichi Torimura


I curated Letterfirm, an exhibition of international expressive typography, featuring some of the most diverse graphic designers and typographic artist in active practice today. The exhibition was held in conjunction with TypeCon 2013. It opened on August 20th at Reading Frenzy.

Participants in Letterfirm include:

Aaron Winters
Gail Swanlund
Chris Ro
Tom Kracauer
Thea Lorentzen 
Scott Massey
Jiwon Lee
Masato Nakada
Sarah Faith Gottesdiener
Yasmin Khan
Ed Fella
Silas Munro
Ian Lynam
Michael Worthington
Jae-Hyouk Sung
Benjamin Woodlock
David Matthew Davis
Troy Patterson
Kat Catmur
Alex Pines
Mylinh Trieu Nguyen
Micah Hahn

Published in conjunction with the exhibition was The Letterfirm Reader, a 96-page booklet of recent essays on graphic design, aesthetics, history, and criticism.

All photography by Bitna Chung Photography.

Washington County Museum

Identity update for the Washington County Museum. We drew a custom wordmark for the museum with an increased x-height for higher readability and legibility on-screen and in print. Each character was drawn from scratch, improving on the old logo – a default setting of Robert Slimbach’s Arno Caption. Each capital letter has differentiated shapes, while lowercase characters have been made more readable and friendly. Overall, the logo is slightly heavier, allowing for increased presence across all media.

Le Comptoir Occitan

Identity and environmental design for Le Comptoir Occitan, a new Basque restaurant in the Daikanyama district of Tokyo. The project included signage, business cards, posters, flyers, lettering for glassware and stationery.

Photos by Michael Holmes Photography.

Google Tokyo Office Interiors

A collaboration with Klein Dytham architecture. Ian Lynam Design created the interior graphic design scheme for Google’s new floor of offices in Roppongi. Hundreds of meters of custom wallpapers with bespoke graphics were designed that crossed six complementary graphic themes:

• a stylized koi pond for the office entrance with dual projections
• an abstracted, hyper-pop alternate Tokyo for meeting rooms
• garden brickwork with emphasized decorative elements revealing the hidden gardens of Tokyo for hallways and common areas
• sedate gardens for the relaxation and wellness area
• a modular Tokyo for the technical services area
• windows into the Tokyo of the future created in a psychedelic take on 60s and 70s science fiction book covers

We also designed a trilingual room signage system using an alternate, but complementary graphic language.

Photos by Koichi Torimura & Toshiki Senoue

Doodle 4 Google

Doodle 4 Google is a contest where Google invites students in Japan to use their artistic talents to think big and to redesign Google’s homepage logo for millions to see. We created the full experience for Google’s Doodle 4 Google event in Tokyo in 2012. The project included set design, stage design, animations, lighting design, print design and sound design.

We also designed the after-party, which included activities such as a suite of computers running Google Jam attached to tactile interfaces. We used the Makey Makey system to turn pieces of Play-Doh into a guitar, the floor into a piano and pencil drawings into a drum kit. Less high-tech activities, such as doodling on the windows to build “the Tokyo of the future”, cookie decorating and playing with multiple Google-themed yoga balls rounded out the event.


Signage for Portland design management group Upswell‘s new office.

NASA Hubble Telescope

Identity and advertising campaign for NASA and The Washington County Museum‘s 2012/2013 exhibition Hubble Space Telescope: New Views of the Universe. Included in the campaign were vinyl banners, street pole banners, billboards, rack cards, posters, key art for the web, newspaper ads and web banners.

The designs utilized some fancy custom typesetting of our typeface family Smythe Sans hand-in-hand with new photography from the space telescope to create a comprehensive look and feel for the exhibition.

Space Is The Place

Space Is The Place is an exhibition in Portland, Oregon at Land Gallery. It is a curated selection of graphic design work from the past decade.

Featured are a series of new oversize metallic posters, assorted editorial designs, identity design, type designs, music packaging, assorted broadcast work and other projects.

A limited edition booklet printed in a series of 1,000 containing design-related writings is being given away for free to complement the exhibition.

A set of 4 custom buttons was produced for the event, as well. Assorted projects designed by the studio are available for sale at Land throughout the run of the show, as well.

Accompanyingthe exhibition was a West Coast lecture tour in which I waved my hands around and gave glib, incisive commentary on Japanese typography, recent projects, writing on graphic design, and the state of Design in Japan today.

The lectures:

  • October 4, 5PM at CalArts (California Institute of the Arts), Valencia, CA
    Room A100
  • October 5, 5PM at Otis College of Art & Design, Los Angeles, CA
    Ahmanson Building, 6th Floor
  • October 6, 12PM at Portland State University, Portland, OR
    Show & Tell Lecture Series, PSU Art Annex – Room 160, 1990 SW 5th Ave, Rm. 160
  • October 10, 7PM at California College of the Arts, San Francisco, CA
    Room GC-4, Graduate Building, SF Campus

Little Bird

Identity design for Little Bird, the sister restaurant of Le Pigeon, Portland’s finest restaurant. Bespoke signage, menus, business cards, coasters, and other printed materials backed up with an elegant CSS-powered website.

Nike supergraphics

Promotional wall supergraphic for Nike World Cup parks.

Colleen’s Bistro

Identity for now-defunct French restaurant in Portland, Oregon. The identity positioning package included logo, colors, interior design standards, type standards, menus, print advertising, and an xml-controlled Flash website (archived here.)

Le Pigeon

Identity and branding for Le Pigeon, a French restaurant in Portland, Oregon. I worked with Le Pigeon’s owners and branded the business from its inception, creating a holistic identity system including typographic standards, print advertising, online advertising, website, press release kits, menus, wine lists, business cards, letterhead, envelopes, and apparel. Le Pigeon has won accolades in Gourmet, The New York Times, Bon Appetit, The Washington Post, People, along with a James Beard Award along the way.