Meet Tomoyuki, a UI Designer Who Thrives to Go Above and Beyond the Traditional Craftsmanship and Glam Rock

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”.

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Here we look into the roots of UI designer Tomoyuki Arasuna, born into a family with tatami-maker and kimono-maker parents and taking added inspiration from Japanese Rockstar “hide”.

Tomoyuki Arasuna
Design studio KOEL, UI designer Blog / Twitter

After graduating from Osaka University of Arts, he worked as a web designer at a number of design companies. Since 2020, he has been a part of KOEL in the Design Division at NTT Communications’ innovation center, working as both a UI designer and a manager. In his private life, he runs a designer community, Designer’s HYGGE

1. What is your philosophy behind design?

I have a vision of where I want to be in a few years time and go about my actions in line with that. When I left my previous job at a production company that I worked at for around 10 years, I wrote a blog looking back on that time, what I noticed, and what I had valued back then.

From Tomoyuki’s personal blog(http://tomoyukiarasuna.com/baigie-learning/

There are nine items in total. Rather than it being specialist content, it’s centered around doing what I must and things that are a given to me. I split it into an action and mental axis and wrote down that which I want to be careful of.

Of the nine items, what I have valued particularly highly in the last few years has been “having a strategy”. In creating an organization, you have the responsibility to manage team members and encourage people to grow, so I often consider the long-term strategy with a view to the next few years.

2. What are your ways of boosting productivity?

I make an effort to sleep twice in order to make good progress with my work. I read a book about how the mind works that “When asleep, the brain processes information that has been stored up while awake. In addition, the most information has been processed when one first wakes up in the morning”. I have made naps a habit of mine in order to create this situation twice a day.

Working from home has been the norm over the past few years, meaning it has been easy to have naps. While working at the company, I didn’t let anyone see me napping, but recently I nap 15 minutes after lunch, making sure to make the room pitch black. This refreshes my brain, so I make an effort to use sleep to allow me to work in efficient cycles.

I also make children’s toys to give myself a little breather from work. With the coronavirus, we’ve spent a lot more time at home, so I decided to find something to do while I did. You can make toys or other small things like this fairly easily, so it was a good choice for me. I try to add an interesting gimmick to each item so that you can play with them without getting bored.

A set of sushi made from blocks sold at a 100 Yen store. The rice and fish are separate, clipping together with a magnet.
When children ask me to “be a sushi chef”, I take these out and tell them that they say “welcome”. Playing make believe like this really makes them happy.

When children ask me to “be a sushi chef”, I take these out and tell them that they say “welcome”. Playing make believe like this really makes them happy.

My children really like cars, so I made a lot of toys that can be used with Tomika toys. I first drew it out in rough how I thought it would look, sometimes also using Illustrator to make a simple draft.

Recently, my son has been obsessed with hero-related things, so I made him a transformation belt. It didn’t come out very well in the end, so I didn’t upload it to my SNS account. My son’s requests are becoming more demanding, so the creation process is also harder.

3. Who has been your greatest influence?

I think I’ve been heavily influenced by my parents who were both craftspeople. That’s what formed the foundation of things.

My father is a tatami maker and we used to have a tatami workshop behind our house. Inside the workshop there were a few big machines for making tatami mats, which always made huge banging noises. Tatami are made using a blend of straw and styrofoam. To my younger self, that workshop with so many of those materials just looked like the perfect place to play.

Burrowing into bundles of piled up straw as wide as the workshop itself, making my way through the straw with my siblings and other kids in the neighborhood and deciding on how to make our own hideouts together. “This is 〇〇’s hideout”, “this is 〇〇’s place” we used to say. We used to secretly eat candy there, bring our own toys, and just experienced the fun of making something together.

My mother is also a kimono maker (she sews them). In her room, she had kimono sewing equipment such as needles, thread, a sewing machine, cloths for making the clothes. There is so much to kimonos, and I saw my mother work hard on them all the time. Each year around the time of the Coming of Age Ceremony, she also made kimono for local girls, and often wore kimonos herself.

I think that, at the very least, the fact I grew up in a household where both of my parents were craftspeople influenced me to work in making things. Looking back, there are points in my memories where I truly feel that my parents had that nature of being particular about their work and had a sense of responsibility as professionals in their work.

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

A lot of things have helped stimulate me up until now, so it’s very difficult to just pick out one in particular, but when I was in my teens someone who really left an impression on me was the guitarist from X JAPAN, hide (pronounced hee-de). It was truly sensational seeing him back then on TV with his red and pink hair playing his guitar.

X JAPAN guitarist, hide. Stylized as HIDE when with X JAPAN and hide when as a solo artist
(Image source: https://www.hide-city.com/profile/)

He was a shocking, yet really cool person to me at the time, from the psychedelic pattern on the guitar he designed himself, to his unique fashion sense, it all really stood out to me. The CDs I bought with the pocket money I saved up, things that I could physically touch were honestly like treasure to me and his CD was almost like the crown jewel among them.

For example, the CD jacket for his debut singles as a solo artist in 1993. Two singles went on sale at the same time, which contain a hidden gimmick to them. Hide, who appears to be like a virus inside the bottles, appears to be in 3D when you buy both the red and green CDs and line them up side-by-side and view them cross-eyed.

hide’s “50% & 50%” and hide’s “EYES LOVE YOU” (copies pictured owned by Tomoyuki)

Also, on his first album that went on sale the following year in 1994, the worldwide famous sculptor, H.R. Giger, who designed the creature in the movie Alien, was in charge of creating the iron mask (actually made using a watch) that makes up the main visual draw on the cover. The first press has 3D printing on the iron mask and holes where the eyes are, with the added gimmick of hide’s face popping out when you open it up and look at the middle.

hide’s “HIDE YOUR FACE” (copy pictured by Tomoyuki)

There are many of his CDs that have these “little ideas” included in them and I’m convinced he was particular about working hard to make these kind of things in order to make his fans happy. This isn’t just limited to hide, but whenever you encounter things that have clearly been made with such care, it makes you want to do the same thing and have people who receive what you’ve made feel a sense of surprise and happiness, too. That was something of a catalyst for me.

5. What were you into as a teenager?

I don’t remember ever really being into one specialized thing. I’m originally from Fukuchiyama City, Kyoto Prefecture and I went to a school that was deep in the mountains. There were only 15 students in total at my middle school and I never changed class right from kindergarten to my middle school graduation. It took 30 minutes by car just to get to the nearest bookshop and the only ways we could really get information were via the TV or radio.

You hear it a lot, but I think I fell into the trap of feeling that normality is unhappiness. I found myself wondering “why am I so normal?”. I was disappointed I was so normal despite wanting to be a spectacular creator like hide. But just what is “normal”? Being able to grasp both sides of the coin regarding complex things was just part of my youth, I’m sure.

But it’s precisely because I had that feeling of normality that I’m able to do my current job. The UI design and visual design work that I do involves conveying complex ideas with a sense of simplicity. I often feel that being able to honestly accept things just as I feel them is something that is I use in my own designs.

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

The comprehensive ICT service aimed at childcare facilities, Lookmeee. Where I work at KOEL, we have a study meets about good design awards, and it was at one of those I first learned about them and became interested. Lookmeee are working to digitalize childcare work and reduce the burden on nursery staff, in addition to aiming to create a rich environment to interact with the children.

I’ve also got a young child and the nursery staff have a big responsibility on their hands taking care of the lives of children. They’re often running around taking care of things carefully and I always think that it really can’t be an easy job.

Regardless of that, if the contact notebook or notices are paper-based and various procedures are contracted with their own individual services, it is not uncommon for both the managing nursery staff and the parents and guardians that seek out the service to have a great burden pushed upon them. By comprehensively digitalizing these fine details and tasks at the childcare facility, Lookmeee is providing a good experience not only for the staff, but for parents and children, too.That example was about childcare, which is an area quite familiar to me, but there are still many areas in which products and services have yet to truly meet users’ needs, as well as areas where there are numerous barriers to introducing new ideas that do not fit with the values that have existed up until now. Designers nowadays face these kinds of adversities, and, on behalf of the users, I would like to say that this case has really made me feel just how important it is to keep on creating better things.

Related Links

Designer’s HYGGE

An online community that anyone who likes design can participate in, regardless of age, occupation, experience, or whether they’re a working adult or student. At present, around 200 people are registered, with participants gathering in online workspaces at the end of every month to chat. This is still held regularly. If interested, please send a DM to Tomoyuki on his Twitter account.

Tomoyuki’s Twitter:https://twitter.com/tomoyukiarasuna

Written By

Arisa Nojima

Arisa is an editor at Spectrum Tokyo. After graduating from Massachusetts College of Art and Design, she worked for a game production company and a HR startup for designers before going independent in 2021. As a freelancer in the design community, she currently supports recruitment and writing at various companies. She loves radio and cats.

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