Case Study
DEC–JAN 2022/23
During my study abroad experience in Japan, I developed a keen interest in Japanese designs, capturing them with my iPhone camera right from the start of my journey. These designs can be desicribed as soley playing and utilizing images. It is then categorized into two main groups: playful and serious designs, each with their own subcategories. Overall, Japanese designs are characterized by their helpfulness, vibrancy, willingness to either intricately stimulate or simplistically streamline, all while utilizing open space effectively.



One notable instance of Japanese design excellence can be witnessed at train stations, where safety designs seamlessly blend with everyday functionality. At these stations, safety signs serve as whimsical companions, ensuring passengers' security during their journeys. Captivating imagery is used to communicate crucial safety information. For instance, signs near the yellow subway lines depict four light-hearted scenarios, encouraging passengers to stay behind the lines. Escalator safety is addressed too, warning against rushing and not holding railings to prevent accidents. 

The ingenious use of animal imagery, like the duck mom and duckling sign, potentially representing obtaining cards or staying together while traveling, adds a playful touch to vital information. A sign above in the subway advises against drunken behavior towards police, humorously reflecting a recurring scenario. Cats with rosy cheeks, how someone drunken looks with a tie over their head meaning they’re beyond “normal” or reason. Cats symbolize people, dogs symbolize police, emphasizing the vigilant camera surveillance. Remarkably, despite being in Japanese, the imagery conveys the messages effectively.



Japanese design prioritizes user experience. In retail, staff seamlessly assist customers from walls, showcasing excellent service. Clear subway doors enhance light and allow distant seat availability checks. Organizational skills in train navigation mirror NYC's subway system. Priority seating is thoughtfully designed, offering seats to those in need.

Tokyo's airport excels in clear wayfinding. Minimalist aesthetics, single-line body depictions, and aligned typography like FUTURA stand out. Bathrooms, labeled in Japanese, use imagery for universal understanding by foreigners. Highly visual signs depict accessibility features, catering to various needs. The subway also employs clear, distinct bathroom signage.

Furthermore, the inclusivity-driven nature of Japanese design is evident. Despite being in Japanese, the visual cues transcend language barriers, making the design features accessible and understandable to foreigners as well.



Finally, Japanese advertising design stands out as an art of its own, particularly in its playful nature. These ads use exaggerated expressions, often focusing on heads and hands, to convey messages effectively. Examples include advertisements for Pockettalk, an innovative translation device, and an Apple ad featuring larger-than-life iPhones held by people. This playful approach enhances the impact of the ads, making them stand out and fostering engagement.

Additionally, I've found that Japanese advertisements exhibit an incredible balance between playfulness and practicality. These ads incorporate exaggerated expressions, showcasing a captivating blend of creativity and functionality. From the utilization of the Korean Finger Heart sign to floating heads with speech bubbles, the ads radiate a vibrant aura, often conveying "love" through pink hues and cheerful floating heads. Other advertisements incorporate illustrated bodies with exaggerated reactions, further enhancing the playful narrative. The Pockettalk advertisement particularly caught my attention, beautifully presenting a device that seamlessly translates languages. The design encapsulates its functionality within a yellow pamphlet adorned with larger-than-life mascot heads and hands, complementing the idea of using hands and voice when interacting with the device.


These are logos, ads, and packaging that stood out to me. Some are more playful while others are more serious but each one works so well with what their company is and many of them stay true to the past discussions of using animals, open space or exaggerated expressions. Some final highlights are the use of real wood carving, anime, and negative space in packaging and logos.

In conclusion, my experience in Japan revealed a remarkable blend of playful and serious designs, encompassing safety communication, enhancing user experience, captivating advertising, and innovative branding. Japanese designs exhibit a distinctive balance between vibrancy and simplicity, proving their effectiveness even across language barriers. These designs not only serve functional purposes but also contribute to the overall cultural experience, showcasing Japan's unique design philosophy.