In the land of Daisuke Maki, everything around him could be a seed that may develop roots into a project. Working in the field of graphic design is for him the opportunity to “make things better both visually and functionally.” Unbeknownst to me, I’ve stumbled into his Lower Nob Hill apartment this Wednesday October 10th, on his birthday. Apparently, because it’s a weekday, he has kept it under wraps, planning to celebrate with friends over the weekend. Not wasting any time, we crack open a pair of ales and set to some question and answer as city life continues on the streets only a few stories below his opened window.
* BACKGROUND *
Moments of Truth ~ How would you describe the creative medium(s) you focus in?
Daisuke Maki ~ Graphic design. It starts from sketching with pens and paper. Then after making rough sketches, I’ll go on the computer and execute my idea. I used to be a fine artist before. . . or at least I wanted to be a fine artist before. After studying fine art for two years, I spent the majority of my life wanting to become a painter – since I was little even – until I met a guy in Japan who did graphic design. He showed me his stuff and it clicked, “oh shit, this can be my job!” I didn’t know how successful a focus on fine arts would be, so that’s the time I switched to graphic design.
MOT ~ Would you like to get back to what might be considered “fine arts” work in the future?
DM ~ Yea, definitely. [In regards to what I do now,] graphic design is about having the subject first and our job is to make it better and more appreciable. Let’s say there’s a cell phone, there are so many cell phones around, and you want to make a better cell phone. That became an icon. Our job is to make things better both visually and functionally.
Graphic design is based on business more, always money related before you start doing the job. Also, you have to think about the target audience, budget, among other elements. It’s more challenging in a way because you have to put your creativity into [the existing concepts]. I’ve found that pretty interesting.
MOT ~ Where did you grow up?
DM ~ Tokyo. Well, actually I’ve moved around a lot. I was born in Tokyo, then moved to Kawasaki. For middle school I went to Chiba, which is basically the middle of no where pretty much. After I got tired of it, I moved to Canada, spent five years there including high school and two years doing fine arts in college.
MOT ~ Do you think living in and experiencing these different communities has influenced your work?
DM ~ Definitely! Not just because of the environment, but also meeting different types of people. The friends that I had in Japan are a lot different than high school friends. Meeting people in different countries forced me to totally open up to different perceptions about life. Like to everything essentially.
MOT ~ Do you think it comes out in the way you create your work?
DM ~ I hope so (said in a questionable voice). (Then we both laugh, why…? Hmm, that’s everybody’s hope right?)
MOT ~ Do you have any particular memory when it really struck you to work in a creative medium/field?
DM ~ Yea, well, when I watched movies [as a kid], say a movie about fire fighters, I’d want to become a fireman. Or I watched ‘Top Gun’ and want to become a jet pilot. Those are real temporary states, although I’d always wanted to become an artist. I liked to draw when, let’s see. . ., I was less then four, even three. Like in kindergarten, I kind of thought this was going to be my job some how and never changed my mind since.
MOT ~ Have mentors been a factor in helping guide you in the graphic design industry?
DM ~ In both skill ways and mentor ways. For example, one of the guys I talked about from Japan, he was a year older then me, had a real strong idea what design was all about. Also, a couple teachers from school had really good ideas of what graphic design is all about. I got really impressed with how they think about graphic design. He was the one always fighting to show what was happening in the world by working to find a direct way to incorporate real world occurrences in his design work. Incorporating these concepts in graphic design magazines, posters, and other communication materials with super visual graphics. I was really surprised how people could do that, and [thought] how I’d really like to do that.
* INSPIRATION *
MOT ~ What inspires you to express ideas in some creative way?
DM ~ It could be just everyday things. Anything I see in the world like here, stuff in the news, camping.
MOT ~ On certain projects do you try and explore different subject areas, or is it more about preset guidelines?
DM ~ Well, it always starts with research about the project. For now, I research about the project, the company, what they do, their target, competitors and think about how we can sell the idea making them better. This generally requires a fair amount of research because things are constantly in flux.
MOT ~ How about any creative influences, or styles that you really like or think about incorporating into your own work?
DM ~ Pretty much everything, like music, graffiti, fine art, photography, yea, it’s everything for me. I’m trying to expand my style more and more. I don’t stick to one style, I want to keep pushing myself constantly develop something new to me. It’s tough to say, I read books, look at magazines, graphic design books, but I think it’s all connected.
Once something hits me, it hits me. I’m not trying to seek from everything, but when I like something it automatically comes to my mind. It just gets stuck in it. I think that’s how it works.
MOT ~ Can you explain your over all philosophy?
DM ~ The big plan is I just want make things better then they are right now. Did that answer your question? I mean, there’s so much shit around, not just product wise or visual thing but overall concept of like, . . . everything has to be a certain way, all about commercialism. I don’t believe in it, so I kinda want to put more independent or more street stuff into, but I don’t want to just show them “Hey, this is what’s happening the streets.” I want to filter the streets through me making a completely new stage then show it to the public and let them know this is one way of showing stuff. I try to always come up with something making things raw, I just don’t want to be following some style, be a follower. That was good question though, maybe we can come back to that later (obviously not entirely happy with his answer).
MOT ~ Are there specific creative goals you’ve set for yourself, or have you had any in the past that you’ve accomplished?
DM ~ No.
MOT ~ No, nothing like that?
DM ~ No, I’m still seeking my goal.
MOT ~ When you work on something creative, it can take a lot of energy, physical and mental. Does this happen to you, and if so do you use any strategies to keep yourself charged, energized and on point?
DM ~ Not really. When I start, I need time to come up with something good. I don’t have any ritual, when I get tired of working on it, I just need to go back to nature, go camping or sit in the park on the weekend and just relax. . . . And drinking helps too (hahaha… we both laugh).
MOT ~ Can you, you’ve kind of already explained this a little, but could you expand on how your process works from beginning or idea stage to its material release?
DM ~ I try to make rough ideas in an organized way, but when I come up with something good it’s more of like a gut instinct. Trying to be more stable, because sometimes I can’t come up with what I want by the deadline. But I always meet it in the end, but still, I want to be more consistent. I believe all creative moments are like that. When [the idea] comes, it comes, when it doesn’t it doesn’t. I just follow my instinct.
Dealing with deadlines isn’t really that stressful, I just get stressed out dealing with overtime work. I don’t mind, I like the job as a graphic designer, the overall job doesn’t make me stressed so much, but when I have to handle three or four projects at once and have to work overtime even when I have something else to do after work, that makes me stressed out.
MOT ~ Do deadlines, stress, whatever, do they cause you any hindrance in your ability to develop ideas slash create viable concepts? Or maybe a better question is what are your strategies for balancing stresses with creative flow?
DM ~ It’s usually the same, getting back to nature, slow myself down. Get relaxed. Also switching between my different jobs, say company logos to package designs helps refresh me too.
Do you want more beer?
(Speaking of which, Daisuke grabs a couple more brews for us to continue to relax, celebrate his birthday, and quench our thirst. Kumpai!)
MOT ~ How much creative freedom do you have? How much is it your idea and how much the clients?
DM ~ Not much [creative freedom], to be honest. There’s like certain projects that I’m so confident about and I get props in the firm, but that doesn’t mean the client’s going to like it. Even though [the firm may] push it, the client may say it’s not viable, so it will just die. It’s a tough part of graphic design for me, but I think I can live with it, get used to it. Any designer faces the same problem. The clients are not the creative people, that is they’ve hired us for our creative abilities. But at the same time they have certain minds, and they are good at doing business or explaining the philosophy of their company, etc. Even though the graphic is really tight, and we think it matches the company, if they say no, that’s it; the end of it.
MOT ~ How do you continue to put your fullest energies into projects that may just be rejected?
DM ~ I hate to say this, but I get money constantly, I mean I’m paid to do my job regardless of the outcome. Let’s take painters for example, there’s no limitations so they can do whatever they want. . . but… so it’s nobody to critique the work, it’s all by yourself. Sure, sometimes you do a shitty job even though you’ve spent a month possibly painting it and sell it. For me I can do creative job still, and if I can’t sell the idea I still get paid. So I really don’t want to blame, or focus on that kind of stuff. It’s not all about money, but I still need to eat and drink, ya know. (Laughing as we both look at our fermented beverages nodding in agreement)
Also, I know what I like in my gut. At the same time when they reject my idea I might get angry for a sec, but then I remember ‘hey, this is going to be in my portfolio and I’m not going to just work for one firm my whole life. So whatever I do is what I do. In a way it’s fine art too, because I follow my aesthetics, I can keep those ideas and apply it to the next time.
Yea, I can get stressed out for a real short time that a client didn’t like my concepts or direction, but I think it happens in any job. If you make music, you still have to sell it. I think any creative job is pretty much the same.
* TECHNICAL *
MOT ~ Do you have any particular techniques, programs, … you use?
DM ~ Illustrator. Adobe Illustrator. I try to do my own drawing, like my ‘Blue Note’s’ project, which was a really fun project. I try to put drawing in my design whenever possible. I tend to aim to keep it more raw.
Other then that, I just look around the city, go shopping, see new stuff, clothing, shoes, anything. Music helps me a lot too. I read books a lot, constantly read two or three books at the same time, which helps me get through what I’m thinking and narrow down all that’s going on in my head. Or get new information and try to put it in my way, filtering through it, express the way I want. That’s the way I work.
There’s a poet I really like in Japan named Shinkaro Tanigawa. He writes about nature, freedom of the soul, and I really respect that.
I try to enjoy everything, and think it impacts me. Anything that I feel is exciting can be influential to me and with out even knowing about it hits me. I tend to automatically put it in my designs, almost subconsciously, so I don’t even notice. Yea, music is like a big thing for me. It’s two totally different mediums, design is all about the visual while music is auditory.
When I listen to music, it’s supposed to have nothing to do with the visual. With music I can see certain colors, styles, hmm, maybe not style. How can I put it? Yea, maybe I can say style. Like when I listen to jazz I think “how can I express myself in a visual of jazz?” When I listen to hip-hop it’ll be totally different, or techno, classical, whatever. My point is to capture and point out the music, I can’t really explain how I process it in my brain, it just works out that way.
* CONCLUSION *
As soon as we finished, our conversation leapt on all other subjects from wrestling masks, more on music to all kinds of conspiracy theories. As sagging eyelids signaled this guy needs his sleep, Daisuke mentioned that our conversation after the interview seems more interesting, and a more fitting discussion of ideas to post. Possibly, I agreed, but it didn’t really match with the format of this project (nor had I recorded it). Still, it was a lot of fun spending his birthday chopping up ideas and putting back some suds. Thanks Daisuke for taking your time to share!
Historical findings index a long trail of the creature called homosapien’s forays into design. Possibly starting with tools to hunt, basic characters to communicate with, to aqua ducts, pyramids and musical instruments. Human beings build on ideas to make something else, often under the guise of ‘to make something better.’ I suspect it is just what we have been designed to do. When someone decides to do something and believes some kind of tool will make it happen, they will work to make one. As material availability and circumstances alter, following generations will adjust the design to fit current needs. Adaptation to one’s surroundings will continue.
Daisuke Maki’s website is dmdsign.com “In Art We Trust” to see more of his work or inquire about him designing something for you. Also, feel free to post questions for him in the comments section of this post.
* UPDATE *
He is now part of the collective ‘Sureality In Reality.’ You can check them out at www.sir-sf.com