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Dispatch: 100% Design Tokyo

In my first dispatch, I mentioned some negative comments about 100% Design Tokyo I had overheard in conversations, but I didn’t want to say too much until I had a chance to visit the event myself. My verdict? Certainly no worse than last year, and there are quite a few improvements that help make it a more enjoyable experience.

Now, I’m not going to comment on the business side of things — past years have seen independent designers complain about the high price associated with contracting a booth when compared to the effective return they felt they got from their involvement. And I still think that if you’re not in the industry, this is not necessarily the event for you, since the rest of TDW aims for more of a general audience. DesignTide tends to be more artistic, Tokyo Designer’s Week “Container” and “Student” exhibitions are more conceptual, and Swedish Style covers everything from graphics to fashion. 100% Design Tokyo is a commercial fair, and it does a good job as a commercial fair. Creating a dedicated space for all lighting companies (in a darkened corner of the grounds) was certainly a positive move, offering a better showcase for those products. And the Designboom-sponsored Mart and graphic art exhibitions made for a nice diversion from all the product pimping.

This year’s “Container” exhibition, always a popular attraction at the Jingu Gaien location, felt quite different — with the majority of containers playing host to collaborations between companies and Japanese design schools. This resulted in something that played out more like an extension to the “Student” exhibition (which was also presented in the same area). But in general, we didn’t get the slickness (or exercise in branding) of recent years, which is both good and bad. The Good: most installations had a pleasant organic vibe to them. The Bad: not everyone enjoys seeing what can sometimes amount to a glorified “school project.”

As in past years, a good amount of events gets spread throughout the city’s cafes, shops and galleries — mostly in Shibuya, Aoyama, and Harajuku. Although this makes TDW feel like it transforms the entire city for a week, I wonder how much of these smaller events get experienced. It would be interesting to see some figures on all “extension” exhibitions to find out if those spaces really do give the participating creator’s work the attention they hope to get.

And with that, exhausted beyond belief, we sign off on TDW 2007 (although Swedish Style-related events continue until November 8).

November 6, 2007

Jean Snow lives and breathes design and pop culture in Tokyo — sustained by an unhealthy addiction to magazines and frequent visits to his favorites cafes. His personal website is located at

6 Responses

  1. Name Withheld Says:

    Found this retort to DesignTide over at PingMag. It’s an appropriate response:

    The whole (DesignTide) exhibit is far more about art-making, not design. The good: Shantell Martin relies on her hand skills. I wouldn’t necessarily call it “design”, but she’s a damn fine illustrator (and Lord knows that illustrators have it worse than designers on today’s work-for-hire playing field). DTO’s typefield was ok. Not the most inspired piece from them, but fine enough. W0W’s motion piece was nice. The bad: Abake’s work tends to be about being a well-connected, socializing group of over-educated Britons with nary a typographic skill. The nonexistant arm typography smacks of the same. I wish these damn Londoners would design something instead of relying on default typography and giddy “concepts” that aren’t strong enough to sustain a wet fart, much less being a lecturer at a postgraduate institution. Gelman’s easy outs are about being uptight, oversimplified, and incommunicative. Please explain to me why I should care about this guy’s work. I do not understand.
    The ugly: Tom Tor’s appropriation of other LA motion graphics agencies’ recent work is kind of stunningly lame.
    Ugliest: The premise of Momus’ argument against the concept of play as a premise for design is correct. I daresay that these harbingers of the Dunne and Raby school of “critical design” may have interesting ideas, but they offer little of practical value to those outside of the initiated few. Next year, less talk,more rock!!

  2. Jean Snow Says:

    “The whole (DesignTide) exhibit is far more about art-making, not design.”

    A good part of it, maybe, but not all. As I was taking some of the installations, I was greeted by a few designers that were very excited to talk to me about some of their “real” products. And of course, the exterior part of the show, that featured presentations by Tokyo interior shops, is not unlike what was shown at 100% Design Tokyo (although in a more pleasant and artistic setting).

    I had a conversation with someone at one of the parties, discussing art versus design, or actually more craft versus design. I always find that craft approaches the real of design more than anything else, and I think that’s where the boundary between art and design gets broken (especially in big fairs like these).

  3. Joseph K Says:

    Kinda sad I didn’t hit DesignTide instead of Designer’s Week/100%. Sounds like it was more the vibe I was looking for. I knew I should have messaged you before I headed off, knowing not at all what I was doing.

    Speaking of 100% being more for industry, I certainly got that feeling fairly intensely, but, kind of not realising that they were separate events, I found the atmosphere in the 100% tents a lot more comfortable to be in, and so spent almost all my time in there. However it was the exhibition traffic flow set up that really made it feel like it was targeted toward the industry – and this goes for both events – as it was obvious that there was supposed to be far more room to move around and see things. This was especially evident in regards to the comparative width and setup of the designboom market. Being a place to purchase smaller interesting designs on the spot, it will of course be of great interest to the general public, whereas for buyers and industry, it would be probably be viewed more as a gift shop, and the organisers set it up to reflect that.

    The only other thing I can personally compare it to is Design Festa, which was obviously set up with the expectation of seeing a lot of traffic, and making sure visitors don’t have to elbow their way into a crowd just to peer over someone’s shoulder at what might be on a plinth – for almost every booth.

    One question I wondered as you mentioned that there were many and varied events all around the city: Was there any kind of straightforward all-in-one guide to all (or at least most) events that currently comprise Design Week? I admit I did very little research (beyond the Pingmag article, and your Japan Times articles from last year and this year), and in retrospect should have taken a look at TAB, but I got the impression that Design Week is still a number of different events and happenings that just happen to be occurring simultaneously, without really tying together, at least from a marketing perspective.

  4. Jean Snow Says:

    There is no official tie between the various big events, just that they happen at the same time, and that a few crossovers happen (like Swedish booths at 100% Design Tokyo and DesignTide, which are of course also branded as being part of Swedish Style).

    So you need 3 guides, the one for DesignTide (which had a great map listing all the events that were happening outside of the main site), the one for Tokyo Designer’s Week (which includes 100% Design Tokyo), and the one for Swedish Style (a much smaller affair this year).

  5. Joseph K Says:

    Yeah, it’s as a I thought then.
    Are there actually smaller events that don’t have ties to either of the three major festivals (apart from what you directly mentioned, like Design Touch)?
    If there are quite a few, then a broader reaching guide, probably in the form of something more cheap to produce like a website, wouldn’t go astray. Especially for people unfamiliar with the event, or others that have travelled from other countries to attend.

    I wasn’t sure exactly where I could pick up a guide, but the Camper store I took a chance on only had a Designer’s Week guide… I realise that they are still very separate entities, but as you said, they are mixing little by little, and the name Tokyo Design Week is reasonably strong. So in future it probably wouldn’t be too bad to consider a more overarching identity, right?

  6. Jean Snow Says:

    I agree, they could certainly improve some in those areas. Hey, maybe I should offer my services next year!