Meet Keisuke, A UI/UX Designer and an Aggressive Minimalist Seeking Maximum Possibilities

People have their own ideas and perspectives, and each have their own inspirations and roots from the past. Although those episodes may appear to be random at glance, dots connect to lines and somehow link to what they do now. Different people have different roots, and do different designs, and we are here to realize that in “Diggin’ Roots”.

Here we have Keisuke Watanuki, a designer who envisions unlimited possibilities and an idealistic future in a minimalistic nature.

Keisuke Watanuki
UI/UX Designer at Qiita Inc. Portfolio / Twitter

Keisuke is currently working on a product called “Qiita” which is a knowledge sharing community platform for engineers. He is in a department called CX (Customer Experience) Improvement Group and makes design and also does management for his team.

1. What is your philosophy behind design?

I am a huge fan of Plato’s “Theory of Ideas”. It considers that things in the real world are not perfect but only shadows, copies or imitations of these perfect forms.

For instance, if I ask you to picture a circle in your mind, it should pop without any problem. However, if you try to reproduce it in the real world, even with using a compass, it will be slightly distorted. You can try printing it with a high-definition printer, but it will be blurred on the nanometer scale due to the physical limitations of the fiber and the ink. Although you can easily imagine a perfect circle in your head, you cannot reproduce it because of the real world’s constraints.

Yet, the perfect circle does exist in this theoretical world of Ideas. It considers that humans rely on the original image to create a copy that resembles as much as possible to the perfect form within these physical constraints. It has a romantic ring to it, don’t you think? We will never be able to reach it, yet we keep on struggling to get closer to this ideal. Although I will never be able to have a perfect form, I like this concept of reaching 90% today, going up to 99% tomorrow and 99.9% the day after, and so on.

Since I was a university student, I try to always think about what I need to change or update in order to move toward the 100%, even if though perfection is an unreachable goal.

2. What are your ways of boosting productivity?

I lack in “viability skills” as a human being and have many weak points such as my eyes, noise acceptance or a poor sense of taste… Thus, I try to face these and solve them with money and technology.

For example, I am sensitive to noise and I have a hard time staying in a place with sounds I dislike. It is now a common thing to constantly have the earphones on for Zoom meetings, but I cannot ask other people to buy a good microphone. Therefore, I use “Krisp”, a noise cancellation software.

Another thing although very trivial, I tend to get really annoyed when there are many icons on the menu bar at the top of my Mac’s screen. There is an app called “Bartender” that just hides these icons, it literally only does that but I installed it.

Cleaning up my room is a hassle also, but I can’t stay focused in a dirty room, so I let the robot cleaner “Roomba” do that for me. I try to make everything work as much as I can.

3. Who has been your greatest influence?

It depends really on the stage of my life, I had several. Yet I still remember what my parents told me when I was preparing the high school admission exams.

I didn’t feel like studying for the exams so I asked my parents if I could stop. They told me that someone who went to the University of Tokyo could become a musician but without doing any studies, you can’t be a doctor nor a lawyer even if you change your mind later on. Thus, if I didn’t have any specific vision of my future, I should go on with the studies. Strangely, it was very convincing. I though it was indeed better to choose a path that would ensure the maximum of possibilities for my future.

Additionally, my parents always told me: “If you want to do something, do it, as long as it is not a crime or a harm for others”. I think this motto is very much part of me now and it is fair to say it has influenced me since then.

4. Is there anything particular that might be the roots of your designs and ways of thinking?

Since I started working, I’ve been following Takayuki Fukatsu, CXO of note inc., and was inspired how someone with a designer background could think with such a global vision. I also had the chance the meet Tomo Tsubota, CXO of dely Inc., and he taught me how designers should go out more and avoid staying in their comfort zone in order to contribute more to the society.

Before going to college, my understanding of design was pretty much based on my senses as in “what is cool” or “I like it or not”. Yet, once I joined the university, my professor at the time gave me various books to read. I think this really helped me create the basis of my design.

I borrowed books on typography several times and, although I forgot which book it was at that time, I still have some of them with me such as “The horizon of letters and typography(文字とタイポグラフィの地平)” or “The world of European font design(欧文書体デザインの世界)”.

Initially, I wasn’t particularly interested in typography since I was more into drawing illustrations. The first class I took with this professor was about typography. We had an assignment to make a bus timetable and as I handed in my work, he was not happy about it. He then gave me advice such as changing the font or the size of the letters and as I followed them, the result was astonishing. Although I hadn’t changed much except from the letters’ style, it seemed totally different. I was truly impressed by the power of letters and since then I am truly fond of typefaces.

I tend to get excited when I see some “Gona fonts” on the street. These have been created by Sha-Ken Co., Ltd., a company with a long history in typefaces’ field. Although they no longer exist, you can still find the font on some old buildings and signs in stations. I live in Nagoya, and I know where to find Gona fonts around my station.

5. What were you into as a teenager?

I liked drawing. When I was in junior high, there was a time when it was popular among my classmates to draw characters that were in Shonen Jump style. E.g. “One Piece”, “Naruto”, “Bleach”, etc. I was pretty good at it, so I never compared my drawings to my friends’ but my mother had a friend who was truly skilled. I was really impressed by the quality, so I started practicing with a huge sense of rivalry. I don’t know why though, now that I think about it.

Once I improved my skills, my friends started to ask me to draw illustrations of girls. (Laughs) Most of them wanted me to draw the characters from “To Love-ru”. There were no smartphones at that time so when they wanted to have some pictures of these heroines physically, and I was the only one who could provide them. They really loved these illustrations and the more they praised my drawings, the more I practiced so I ended up spending all my time on them. Additionally, the more I drew some pretty girls, the more I became popular among my male classmates, so I got better and better at it. (Laughs)

“To LOVE-Ru” by Kentaro Yabuki (image : Amazon.co.jp)

As I got into this positive cycle of being praised and drawing more, I naturally started practicing and gradually began to draw original illustrations that were not copies of existing works. Looking back, I think this is how I got used to working hard and how I also learnt the importance of this cycle of delivering the work and getting feedback.

6. Are there any services that inspired you in terms of design?

Recent designing tools such as “Figma”, “Framer” or “UXPin” have a good design for designing. It’s not really about the software itself but, in my opinion, they are well-conceived with a socially-optimal design.

This whole community of designers is a very closed world. There is not much sharing of knowledge, and it is more about playing solo than building something with a team. I wish these tools will speed up the opening of this community and create a future where people can work together and create good products by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Another thing, which is neither a service nor a website, but recently, I’ve noticed that the DNA has a really nice design. It is only composed by four bases (A, T, G and C), yet their numbers and the variety of their combinations can give birth to so many different organisms. Furthermore, errors sometimes occur, causing changes and evolution for the next generation. It is amazing to see how such a minimal structure possesses not only the means to survive the present but also the greatest possibilities.

image : https://unsplash.com/photos/Iy7QyzOs1bo

Converging to a minimalist and a single solution is doesn’t seem much appealing to me. Without possibilities, everything gets boring, and all seems to end at that point. I then ask myself: “Now what?” Or “Are you going to keep doing that all your life?”

Even though I care for minimalistic structure, I also wish to explore all the diversity and possibilities to the greatest extent. I always keep that in mind when designing in everyday life.

・・・

Related Links

Qiita : Keisuke’s current workplace, a knowledge sharing community platform for engineers

Meety : Qiita is looking for designers that are interested in building design systems and making creatives for events. There are lots of exciting projects so feel free to ask for a casual meeting session on Meety (Japanese)

Written By

Ryo Sampei

Ryo is Editor-in-Chief of Spectrum Tokyo. He works as a Producer and Content Strategist at Flying Penguins Inc., a UX design firm in Tokyo, Japan. He is also in charge of Design Matters Tokyo, a pop-up design conference from Copenhagen, Denmark. He loves video games and punk rock, both from the 90s.

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