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Building Bridges for International Innovation
Sakamoto uses g-speak to create an interactive piece that responds to a user’s hand claps
RISD partners with
Japanese font developer Morisawa to explore creative leadership and innovation
through art and design
Does studying art and design make people more creative? And
does that creativity translate into innovation in the workplace? These were
among the many questions posed when RISD teamed up with Morisawa & Company Ltd., a
boutique Japanese font developer, to establish a Research Fellowship Program.
Together, the two organizations have embarked on a nine-month
experiment to develop the company’s most promising young employees into agile-minded
‘business designers’ – non-designers who incorporate design thinking into the
company’s business practices and drive new approaches to innovation.
RISD President John
Maeda has spoken to this idea as part of his push to integrate art
and design into the national innovation agenda. “Before, you’d make a perfect
product and then ship it,” he says. “Now, companies have to ship something
that’s not perfect and fix it while it’s out there. That requires a different kind
of business mind – one that can take risks, be adaptive and change.”
Though they may seem quite different on the surface, RISD
and Morisawa share certain underlying values. Both place a great deal of
emphasis on craft and designs made by hand. And like RISD, Morisawa is
continually trying to push the envelope and find new ways to innovate.
These shared values, coupled with a personal relationship between
Maeda and the company’s executive director Takeshi
Morisawa, led the two organizations to explore opportunities for
collaboration. The Research Fellowship Program involves selecting one Morisawa
employee each academic year (a second fellow has been named for 2011–12) to become
part of the RISD research and teaching environment, and to help build bridges
for sustained collaboration.
Morisawa Research Fellow Keitaro Sakamoto
the first Morisawa research fellow, finished
his year-long cultural and educational immersion at RISD at the end of spring
semester. In addition to an intensive program of graduate-level Graphic Design and Digital+Media classes, he sat in on classes in a variety of other fields, reached out to faculty
across multiple disciplines, explored the Rhode Island arts community and became
fully engaged in his new environment, going so far as to keep a photo blog
on Flickr of all his meals, starting with a Haven
Brothers hot dog.
Working with his RISD mentors, Sculpture faculty member Lane Myer 80 GD and former Associate Provost David Bogen, Keitaroinitiated and self-directed his studies
around his own interests, while being open to new opportunities and creative
risk-taking. It’s a strategy that paid off. With a love of anime but only a
basic high school-level art education, he threw himself into developing
sophisticated projects that incorporate typography, 3D design, motion and time.
For example, over Wintersession, he learned both G-speak (an
experimental spatial operating environment) and Processing
(a programming language) in order to create the interactive piece holy clap, an animation that responds to a user’s hand claps.
Keitaro also took an analogue approach in working with
visiting designer Vaughan Oliver to
create a paper-based calendar. The time
constraints of the two-day workshop led him to develop an iterative way of
working, making small-scale samples to test and prototype his ideas.
“I always set very advanced goals, but I had no time,”
Keitaro explains. “At every step I found that ‘I can’t do that so I have to
change my mind.’ I think that changing my mind is also a starting point of
creativity; [it made me think about] how to show the same expression in different
ways. I didn’t throw away the initial idea and instead created an idea that is
At RISD, Maeda noted, Keitaro discovered
the value of experimentation and the audacity to explore, which will enable him
to be agile and take risks when he returns to Japan.
“The willingness to explore is woefully undervalued,” Bogen agreed.
“It’s not always understood what it takes for corporations and institutions to
truly explore and step into that open-ended space.”
To ask a visiting researcher without a design background to investigate
whether the creative process has wider applications in the business world was a
great experiment in itself, Myer points out. “Having a company enlightened
enough to endorse this kind of learning is inspirational,” he says. The
critical, hands-on approach to problem solving and the type of “inquiry that is
taught and experienced here [at RISD] is clearly translatable.” And it’s
especially valuable in “that it doesn’t have any limitations on who can use it.”
Morisawa & Company Ltd
, Digital + Media
, Graphic Design
, partnerships + collaborations