Jan 30, 2011
Zelda Harrison

Lightspeed and the Human Hand

Jonathan Arena explores art, craft and design in Japan: Entry # 1

Recently, I was given the opportunity to visit and work in Japan for a month. While I
was there, I began compiling photographs and writing to help satiate my interest in the
relationship between art, craft and design. These journal entries reflect that intent.
Kenya Hara, in his seminal book Designing Design, says verbalizing design is another act
of design. This statement compliments the notion of graphic designers as visual storytellers.
On the most basic level, stories are a vessel to share or create experience. The writing
process and the creative process are often times one and the same; just as when the
craftsman is sculpting an object with his hands from wood, and a writer is developing a
character through prose. All creative disciplines share an overlapping process that revolves
around the senses.

In an introductory essay by John Maeda to Designing Design, the author states “Kenya Hara is
a complex man. He views the world through his many lenses of seeing, tasting, smelling, erasing,
evaporating, and all the forms of construction and deconstruction”

Perhaps the most ubiquitous field of design, graphic design combines a multi-sensory
approach and holistic conceptual process to act as the world’s global communicators.
The role of the designer, and specifically the graphic designer, has expanded and grown in
depth over the past few decades, in large part due to the medium by which these responsibilities
have been built – the computer. It is becoming increasingly difficult for a designer
to specialize in one specific task; rather, they must expand his or her responsibilities at the
risk of becoming over extended, and be knowledgeable about many detailed processes.

In Japan, by contrast, there have traditionally been masters of craft, and apprentices who
learn from them. These masters dedicated their lives to perfecting a single art — sword
making, woodworking, or martial arts, for example. In the contemporary design world, the
institution of master-apprentice relationships are much harder to find. This is a fundamental
rift between art and design.

Andrian Kreye, a writer for Design Mind, asks very pertinent questions that speak to this contrast:
“Should we be celebrating individual creativity at the risk of valorizing ego? Should we focus more on
collaboration and co-creation or does this diminish designers’ power and effect? If we set design in
contra-distinction to art, to architecture, to invention, are we claiming too much for design, or too little?”

Jonathan Arena attended the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island where he received a BFA Graphic Design in 2009. He is most inspired by creative workspaces, uncommon food combinations, and perfect dovetail joints. In his free time, he likes to build things by hand, use his polaroid land camera, and create small experimental websites. Jonathan currently works as a UI/UX designer in San Francisco, California.

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