Taku Sato has created many logo designs that come to everyone’s mind, such as Meiji’s milk “Oishii Gyunyu” and Lotte’s ”Xylitol Gum”. In fact, SMO’s logo was also created by Taku in the past.
Taku, who is active at the forefront of not only the world of design but also various other fields, talked about the relationship between design and strong brands, and how brands should be in the future, from a designer’s point of view.
Timeless Logo Design
Taku: It’s been a while since SMO started advocating “Purpose” strongly, and finally the world is starting to advocate “Purpose”. Purpose is important. I always look at what kind of words the company has in its assets, and how they describe the company in a few words. I have also read your (Saito) book, and it is a good reference for me when I interact with various companies.
Saito: Thank you very much. Taku(-san), you are also active in various fields, not only in product design.
Taku: I’ve done all kinds of work. I’ve created corporate and visual identities for companies, organized and held exhibitions, and created TV programmes. In terms of branding, I have helped with anniversary projects, and also created Purpose for companies, just like SMO does
. I’m not afraid to suggest anything, and I’m not afraid to say with a smile, “I don’t think this is good enough for the corporate’s Purpose” (laughs).
“How about this for your company’s Purpose?”
Saito: So have some companies actually changed their Purpose?
Taku: In some cases, companies say, “We’ve already spent too much time and money on creating it, so we can’t change it anymore.” In other cases, we are not even asked to do the work, but we bring a proposal and we say, “How about this word choice?” and they adopt it. There have also been cases where we were asked to do something about a logo or symbol that didn’t fit the wording.
Saito: It’s like going back from the opposite.
Taku: Originally, I was commissioned to create Purpose for a designing facility, and they were doing a great job with the design, but the words they were putting out in the company were not in keeping with the times. So I questioned them and said, “Why these words, with this logo and mark? Everyone can say this word. I think there are things that only this company can say.” The next time I visited, I created my own wording and brought them with me. Then they said, “This! This is what I wanted to say. It’s an eye-opener,” and then the representative said, “I’d like to use that.” Of course, I don’t want to cause trouble, so if they say differently, I will do my assigned job properly (laughs). I tell them what I think honestly.
Logos reveal the quality of a company
Saito: So there can be problems with the design of the company logo, right?
Taku: The logo shows the quality of the company. A logo is the face of a company, so it can also be an indicator or criterion for the company if it is not good enough. Professionals can tell when something is of high quality, that is, something that will not fade in time and will remain for 10 to 20 years. On the other hand, if the logo is not good, it looks like there is a lot of work to be done. If someone asks, “When was the logo created?” and it has been a long time, it can be corrected, but if it was changed recently, it would be a big problem (laughs). A case where the representative either doesn’t have an eye for logos or doesn’t know anyone who can be trusted with a good eye.
Saito: Having a quality ‘face’ is what leads to a strong brand, isn’t it?
Taku: Absolutely. Top companies and brands have well-designed logos. They even fix them up a little bit at a time. The general public may not notice it, but professionals will know if they see it. If you think the logo is not good enough for the brand, then one day it is reworked and you think, “Oh, someone with an eye for detail has been added,” and you have a better impression of the brand
Saito: Even if the general public don’t understand, they kind of feel it, don’t they?
Taku: That’s where you can’t really fool around. The general public might not be able to tell at a quick glance, but after 10 or 20 years, they will somehow feel that something is not so good, or on the contrary, that there is nothing wrong with it. Conversely, when you become a very strong brand or company, a suitable logo will fit in, even if you don’t think it’s very good. This is much better for top companies and brands.
Saito: You mean a design that is not influenced by times or trends.
Taku: If you reflect the times, it becomes old. What is cool in its time will always become uncool. Brands and companies remain for 10 years, so the ‘face’ should not be created in an advertising manner.
Saito: The same goes for the wording of the Purpose statement. We tell them that it is not enough to have an advertising statement that is pleasant to the ear, but that it must capture the essence of the message.
Taku: I’ll talk about the pot calling the kettle back (laughs), but in my job, I like to look at corporate logos and such.
The job of design is to express an appropriate appearance for the brand and connect it with society
Saito: What do you keep in mind when designing and branding?
Taku: I believe that design is the job of connecting the gap between the two, so I ask myself, “How can I connect a company or brand with society and the world”? In order to do so, we first understand the good qualities of the organization. We draw out the good points and design an appropriate appearance as part of the overall presence of the organization. That is the form of a symbol or a logo. People inside a company are often unaware of their good points. It is because we are from the outside that we are able to notice the great things about a company. We will find out what is good about the company and suggest which media and in which words and expressions are appropriate for the current era, which should be conveyed to the world even without using celebrities.
Saito: How would you define what SMO calls “authentic” or a strong brand?
Taku: I’ve never been asked for a direct definition of a strong brand before, so it makes me think… but I think it’s ‘solid trust and credibility’. Trust is the past and achievements, while credibility is the future. If you don’t keep sending good products to the world, you first can’t gain trust. If you gain trust, people’s expectation of the future will lead to trust. Brands that have earned both are really strong.
Saito: What do you consider to be a strong brand, Taku-san?
Taku: A brand that I observe regularly is Apple. Since Steve Jobs has passed away, there are some things that I think are a bit shaky, but still his DNA lives on in every detail. Also, I like cars – Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Volkswagen, Audi, Volvo… and in Japan, recently Mazda! I think the design has improved and, in fact, the number of cars on the road has increased enormously.
Apple’s packaging is also amazing. The design of the experience is so well done that we are compelled to look at it, which is a strange thing to say, but we can’t help but notice it. I think that’s why their influence is so strong.
Saito: Apple does not have a clear statement of purpose, but there is a definite purpose-like core
So, we have no choice but to always pay attention to it as an example of purpose branding. From a design and creative standpoint, what do you think is the reason for their strength?
Taku: Good design. Not just in terms of shape and color, but also in terms of interaction and service – UX, experience, speed, and in many other ways, it feels good. I think it is very difficult to create such a world because you have to pay attention to every detail. It transcends languages and countries and makes you think, “Who in the world is in charge of this?” They have achieved this on such a global scale. The design language of all interfaces is few and simple. It looks easy, it doesn’t look difficult, and it has such entrances everywhere. If the entrance looks difficult, people won’t come in. And the identity is everywhere. There is no way to deny it.
Design sense required of future executives
Saito: So, even if you imitate Apple, you still think something is different.
Taku: I’m sure there is someone who is supervising the project properly. The strict eye for checking the products is passed down from generation to generation. The representative will definitely be replaced, and the people on the frontline will also be replaced, and usually the brand will gradually become useless.But a strong brand will be passed on even if the people are replaced. This is important. Maintaining quality while preserving a certain worldview – I think this is something that requires a great deal of skill. You have to pass on a strict eye, and that is how strong products grow. It is a major theme for any brand or company whether or not the brand strength will not decline when people are replaced.
In this sense, there must be someone with a strict eye for creativity in a place that is directly connected to management. I think that a company with a department overseeing design at a lower level is not going to make it from now on.
Saito: I understand very much. I believe that in this age of technological development, it is brand power that will remain. It is not good if creative people are not directly connected to management.
Taku: So in the end, it is the way to build an organization. Design thinking has been talked about for about 10 years now, but unless such an organizational structure is put in place, the activities of a creative company will not be effective. Without creative power, there is no good business! I say it out loud! It is important to convey to the world the best of any rural craftsmanship, not just to make it sophisticated and modern. It is the design that decides whether or not to make the best use of what is appropriate. Without a management and organizational structure that has the ability to see things in this way, it will be impossible to survive in the future. Some companies do this unconsciously, but if they do not have the awareness to pass on the knowledge, it will end with their generation. The difficulty with brands is that they must not become too dependent on the people. Even a successful brand will face the next major challenge of passing on the knowledge after 10 to 20 years.
Saito: Do you have to constantly revise your designs? Or in a 10-20 year span?
Taku: The flow of the river doesn’t stop, always. Is it okay to stay as is? Doubtful. Environmental issues, SDGs, etc… People’s values and the world are all changing, so we have to ask ourselves, “Will this be okay 10 years from now?” I always have my doubts and think that it is better to do this while we still have time. It will be too late when that time comes.
Saito: What kind of person is a manager with a creative eye?
Taku: That is difficult. In Japan, They haven’t been nurtured yet. It is difficult to find people who have both a managerial sense and a creative sense. Just being able to create interesting things is the domain of artists. Branding is directly related to management, so it is important to have both a managerial sense and a creative sense of what can move people. Such people are also needed in the political arena.
Saito: How can such people be nurtured?
Taku: No matter how many books you read in college, you can’t acquire a creative sense unless you have creative experiences. Whether it is music, calligraphy, or flower arrangement, if a person who has been trained in such a sense somewhere acquires a business sense, he or she can become someone who has both. Whether or not you have a “pure experience” of being immersed in something from a young age has a tremendous impact on your later life. If many people like that are nurtured, the world’s creative power will be revitalized. There are many excellent creators in Japan, and we need to make the most of them. Even if a manager cannot do it himself, he should hire someone who can. But if they don’t know who to entrust it to, they are out of luck if they don’t have the sense to do so.
Looking back on the time when the SMO logo was created
Saito: I will always keep this in mind as I manage my business….
Lastly, the SMO logo you made for us almost 10 years ago, is still going strong! Thank you very much. Do you remember what you had in mind when you created it, or how you wanted it to look?
Taku: First of all, we thought it would be better for SMO to have a standard impression without too much individuality in the course of its various jobs. So, while using Mincho font, I made the horizontal lines very thin to express the delicacy and politeness of the company. In the Mercedes-Benz logo, it is pointy and connected to a circle, and the thinness of that line shows high-performance engineering.
SMO is also very delicate, but neutral and can go anywhere. And, as you keep looking at it, I thought it would somehow slowly become memorable because it is an original typeface that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s not just a quick glance that gives it a sense of individuality, but after a long time of use, people will say, “This is the SMO logo, isn’t it?” We are creating a sense that people can feel that they are in the right place at the right time.
Saito: That is exactly the kind of logo that will never get old or out of date 10 or 20 years from now. We will continue to use it with great care as the face of the company and pride in its high quality. Thank you very much for your time today.
Taku Sato Graphic Designer
Graduated from Tokyo University of the Arts Department of Design in 1979 and completed the graduate course in 1981. After working for Dentsu Inc, became independent in 1984. Representative of TSDO. Has worked on package design for Meiji’s “Oishii Gyunyu” and Lotte’s ”Xylitol Gum”, graphic design for PLEATS PLEASE ISSEY MIYAKE, symbol mark for the National Museum of Nature and Science, etc. Also active in product and facility branding and corporate identity. General supervisor of NHK E-TV’s ‘デザインあ’ and director of 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT, where he also organizes and holds exhibitions. His publications include “塑する思考” (Shinchosha).