STUDIO NEWWORK’s Hitomi Ishigaki on the studio’s magazine, eye for typography and work with UNIQLO
STUDIO NEWWORK is a New York-based graphic design studio, led by Hitomi Ishigaki, Ryotatsu Tanaka and Ryo Kumazaki. Focusing on branding, editorial and fashion, their impeccable eye for detail, as well as type-led direction, can be traced back to their university days at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. We spoke to Co-founder & Creative Director Hitomi Ishigaki about NEWWORK’s editorial origins, as well as its growth and relationship with leading fashion brands.
PT Hello Hitomi, how are you?
HI Hi, Poppy. Very good, thanks! Right now, I’m temporarily back in Japan, spending time with my family and friends and meeting with clients for whatever exciting projects come next!
PT Can you tell us about your creative background, and what led you to start STUDIO NEWWORK?
HI My business partners/founding partners of STUDIO NEWWORK, Ryotatsu and Ryo, and I met at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Before graduation, we launched NEWWORK Magazine (IG: @newworkmagazine), a large-format design publication featuring talented artists and designers from around the world. In order to get our magazine circulated by distributors, we needed to be a publishing company, which is how STUDIO NEWWORK was founded in 2008.
Friends who saw our magazine started asking if we could design for them. Some of them had fashion brands, and they were looking for someone who could design their logos, branding materials and seasonal catalogues. So, we started working with them. When we first started the magazine, we didn’t expect our publishing company to become a design studio - it just happened naturally.
PT How has the studio, and the work you do, evolved since you started out?
HI For the first few years, the majority of our work was for fashion clients. Clean aesthetics projects we worked on for fashion clients were embraced by corporations and brands in other industries as well, and we began to work on many different types of projects, including book design for artists, packaging for cosmetic brands and rebranding for global media companies. Over the past 14 years, a wide range of projects have helped us grow as a design studio, and our style has evolved in positive and unexpected ways. Whereas our approach used to be more visually driven, I believe we are now more idea-driven and seek to bring freshness, richness and balance to our clients.
They were not afraid to embrace new ideas.
PT What do you enjoy about working with brands in the fashion industry, such as Aimé Leon Dore?
HI In 2017, we began working with Aimé Leon Dore (still an emerging brand at the time) on graphics for apparel, packaging and collaboration projects. They provided us with some inspirational images at the beginning of each season, and we explored and proposed numerous design ideas. They gave us creative freedom and were open to our fresh ideas. The founder, Teddy, and his team loved what we did, and they still use some of our graphics today. Their collaborations with New Balance, Woolrich and the ALD Monogram are among our highlights. We also worked on the name and logo design for the café in their flagship store. Teddy had other names in mind, but when we proposed ‘Café Leon Dore,’ he liked it and it became the official name. We enjoyed this process of sharing and exchanging ideas with them, and they were not afraid to embrace new ideas and continue to evolve.
PT And how does working with brands like them differ to global entities like UNIQLO?
HI When we worked on the project to renew UNIQLO’s global in-store communications, we developed a new visual communication system to enhance the look and feel of the retail store and the shopping experience, creating approximately 1,000 new designs for panels and POPs. Because the designs we developed were to be used in UNIQLO stores worldwide, they needed to be considered carefully from multiple perspectives, including legibility, to ensure that the facts and benefits of each product were clearly communicated – no matter in which country or language they were used. We also created design templates that could be used in other languages to maintain consistency of design and content in their stores around the world.
We also worked on their Broadway-Lafayette and Times Square subway station ad domination projects. Frankly, these were some of the largest and most complex projects we have ever worked on, but, regardless of the size of the project or company, our design approach is the same and uncompromising. We explored numerous design concepts and proposed what we thought was best for the brand.
PT Why do you consider typography to be such an important part of your practice?
HI Since we started our studio, typography has become the biggest part of our design practice; not just because we're drawn to designs that are clean and easy on the eyes, but typography contributes legibility, balance and visual hierarchy. Although we do more digital than print work these days, typography is still central to every form of our designs, whether print or digital.
PT What is the process of finding the right typefaces for your projects?
HI We frequently spend time researching and testing new typefaces and comparing their differences and similarities to existing ones. These experiments are not for a specific project, but rather something we do on a regular basis, so we often make intuitive choices when selecting typefaces to use.
For logo design projects, before choosing any typeface, we practice basic experiments. After reviewing design briefs and hearing sheets from clients, we test with a simple sans serif typeface to see and identify which case is appropriate: uppercase, title case, or lowercase. We then try many of the typefaces we have in mind to find the best weight, which is one of the factors we consider very important. Even if it’s a beautiful font, we don’t use it if it doesn’t have the weight we’re looking for. We analyse stroke thickness, its counter shapes, letter spacing, etc. and repeat until we find the right one. In book design and web design, we tend to seek typefaces that are easy on the eyes to read.
We’d love to work with galleries, museums and art institutions.
PT How does working in New York inspire you?
HI New York is a very unique place where we have lots of opportunities to meet with creative minds from many different fields. New Yorkers are robust and fearless when it comes to new ideas. The culture and diversity of this city continue to be a source of inspiration for us.
PT Who are your creative influences?
HI Our main sources of inspiration begin with family, friends and teachers. Even casual conversations can be a powerful source of inspiration for us. All of us studied the foundation of graphic design and typography under professors Eli Kince and Willi Kunz at the Fashion Institute of Technology. They taught us a lot about the importance of paying attention to details, such as grids, layouts and typography. They instilled in us the idea that design is part of everyday life.
PT Who would you love to work with, moving forward?
HI We’d love to work with galleries, museums and art institutions. We love the power of art and design collaborations.