Jai Ranganathan: 'Sharpen and heighten'

Editor’s note: First published in S P A C E in 2017, this short Q&A about the creative process still rings true today to those of us at DK who remain very curious about how to continuously improve on what we make.

OFFLINE CONVERSATIONS lately are turning to the process itself, and, to take it further, discoveries that happen on the way to ‘making.’ Maybe it’s in the air? Looking back on what creative people have told me about this work of making, I recalled something I learned from science podcaster Jai Ranganathan. (Find him on twitter at @jranganathan.) We had met at a science conference in NC’s Research Triangle Park. That was the kind of place where bunches of people convened to share tips on making science interesting to a general audience, more or less, and I discovered Jai was set to instruct scientists at University of California Santa Barbara on how to use social media.

Conversations about sharing discoveries inspired this interview with Jai Ranganathan.

DK: What do you need to think about when opening a wide-open project like a podcast? That’s a pretty big blank canvas.

JR: First, define your purpose. Then, what’s your scope? Do you want to be a local brand? Have a national audience? If you want a large audience, people really go for video.

DK: OK. So if you know your purpose, then what? Any tips?

JR: Sure.

  1. Think about where can you add value. Ask businesses, ‘What’s a problem you have?,’ and then share, ‘Here’s how we might solve it.’
  2. Give your product away so people want to know more.
  3. You can do latest tips. Interviews. You could have seminars.
  4. Just get started. Do it frequently. Keep it short—2 minutes.

DK: Wait, so you just have to be prolific?

JR: You don’t have to be flashy, or always funny, or the best-looking. But you have to be compelling in your voice. Be engaged, animated, and interesting.

DK: But what about talent?

JR: Talent is overrated. You have to be interesting/entertaining first, or else it doesn’t matter what you have to say!

DK: How do you do that?

JR: Boring podcasts are that way because people are checking boxes off a how-to list, as opposed to doing something that’s really them. Anything creative like this—podcasting, video, or writing—is about deciding what you want to say, and what’s your way of saying it. How to make that your own is key.

DK: How did you get into this?

JR: I was doing my postdoc in conservation biology. If you’re not a scientist, your job is to write papers. I was disenchanted after a while. How likely was it that what I wrote would lead to action? So as a hobby, I started interviewing scientists. I’ve always really liked radio. Someone found me and offered to pay me to do this, so now I have $2,000 broadcast-quality equipment and I make a good living. But, I had hoped more people would listen.

DK: What can others learn?

JR: It takes a while to figure out what you’re doing and why the heck you’re doing it. Don’t make it too scripted. You can have a script, but don’t read it. Imagine somebody giving a talk and reading a script–it’s death! And you know, you have to like doing it. And keep doing it, that’s key. Don’t wait to get good. No one sprouts out of the earth fully formed.

Published in S P A C E, 2016.

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Kiyoshi Inoue: a samurai designer of American corporate identities, from the era of hand-drawn logos

Editor’s note: This post was one of the most popular from our blog 2006-2013, which is no longer in our archives. It’s written by DK co-founder Akira Morita.


I WAS JUST WATCHING an interview footage of Seijun Suzuki, a Japanese film director known for his penchant for wild cinematography, seemingly random, comic, plot-aside and kitschy, colorful sets (seen in titles such as “Tokyo Drifter” and “Branded to Kill”).

Conversations about graphic design

In the interview, Suzuki talks about his good fortune of starting out in the shadows of the giants — Mizoguchi, Ozu, and Kurosawa — with a healthy dose of “we are going to top them, some day!” kind of chutzpah.

I was reminded of a person with similar spirit, someone we met this year that really helped us coming into our own as graphic designers.

His name is Kiyoshi Inoue.

He is a self-taught businessman and a talented designer of corporate identities, whose work featured prominently in American Corporate Identity by Art Direction Book Company, among familiar logos such as Citicorp, DHL, Westin Hotels and Domino’s Pizza. Now retired, Kiyoshi lives with his wife Masako in Los Angeles.

How we met Kiyoshi Inoue

WE MET THE COUPLE through their daughter, who is a friend of us here in Seattle, and when we had an opportunity to travel to LA last October, we made sure to pay a visit for some inspirational stories.

And inspiration we got.

This is what we learned.

Kiyoshi and Masako came to America as young professionals in the 1960s. Masako to learn art, and Kiyoshi to learn advertising at Art Center College of Design “so he could start a school back in Japan.” Talk about visionary!

But Kiyoshi ended up getting a job here, and stayed on to do what he’d come to love: creating corporate identities.

He set up his own shop in 1982 with Masako, who had established herself as a interior designer, and as a team they would brand supermarkets and department stores. In his hay day, clients from Japan, America, Italy and beyond sought him out for his expertise and design skills.

He tells us of those times, laughing: “sometimes, when I get tired of those board meetings where they start to tell me what they think should change, ‘move this line over here’ and whatnot, I’d just get mad and walk out, and someone would run after me, begging me to stay and work with them.”

He understood the big picture: that the brand identity should be about who you are, and how you are different from others.

In his brochure for prospective clients, he states, “a good symbol is not only visually appealing, it makes a statement.”

At the time in the early 80s, Jack Trout and Al Ries’ Positioning (a modern classic on marketing) had just come out, and this fundamental idea of marketing for a pre-selected “audience” was pretty new and novel.

Also novel at the time, which Kiyoshi did not take to too much, was the idea of using computers for design. Apple would come out with the first Macintosh computers in 1984, and this changed the face of the industry for good. In short ten years that followed, Macs and Adobe’s suite of software became the standard de facto of graphic designers everywhere.

Kiyoshi was an old-school designer with rulers, pen and paper—all his drawings are painstakingly rendered by hand, including the custom typefaces he’d design for his clients—and as such, a project would sometimes take a year to complete.

He decided, rather than try and compete in the increasingly rapid-paced, crowded field of desk-top-publishing, to close his shop and enjoy his retirement.

‘A good symbol makes a statement’

WHEN WE MET UP in October, we couldn’t resist showing him our work and telling him what we were trying to do. We were anxious to hear what they thought, and very excited for the opportunity, but it was one of the most nerve-racking experience we had to date, too.

Here they were, a seasoned, celebrated masters of design, and we were showing them our work as if it was worth something! But Masako and Kiyoshi couldn’t be more encouraging.

“You guys are doing what we were doing years ago, and already you are doing great work!” Masako mused. Kiyoshi raved about our “attention to the details, the deep thinking behind each idea expressed.”

It was a milestone for Design Kompany, a turn whereupon we no longer needed justification or qualification for ourselves as designers.

As a Japanese immigrant, I also can’t help but to feel certain affinity, even kinship, and the notion that we are carrying some kind of torch being passed down generations of side-stepping, enterprising renegades.

It’s a very un-Japanese tradition, at least in a stereotypical way, but I now know that there’s lineage among my people! –Bicycle

Comments from original post…

  • Wow what an amazing story, it made me feel so good to read it and is so amazing that you had the opportunity to meet this man, that you think so highly of. I think it is always so amazing to know ones culture and heritage, where you come from I think that is something that is really very important in life.
  • Wow what an amazing story, it made me feel so good to read it and is so amazing that you had the opportunity to meet this man, that you think so highly of. I think it is always so amazing to know ones culture and heritage, where you come from I think that is something that is really very important in life.
  • I really liked the article. To teach yourself is really impressive,especially when you become great at what you do and everybody wants you to work with them. Great story.


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Introducing ’16N’

Nominate a city*


N Ventspils: NASCENT

[in progress]


N Melbourne: NOTICING

[in progress]


N Portland, Ore.: NEXT

[in progress]


N Vilnius: NEW

[in progress]

N Helsinki: NEUROSIS

29 August 2018
Reported in the zine, S P A C E | Helsinki, ‘Coat Check’

N Copenhagen: NEARNESS

Niels Bohr Institute
29 July 2018



Nhọ Nồi
27 June 2017


National Theatre
15 November 2016

N BangkokNOW

11 October 2015


NUK Cafe
26 April 2015



Their paths have never crossed.

But they are about to meet.

By design.


And once.

Welcome to N.

‘N’ gathers 16 strangers for a big blind date in each of 16 cities.
*Cities with an ‘N’ in them. To talk about a topic that starts with an ‘N.’
In a venue that has an ‘N’ in its name.


MATH & GEOMETRY. Okay, I need to explain the little arrow on top of the ‘N’. And the ‘variable’ idea, behind ‘N’, too. This is a bit mathy. So, yeah. Okay, now I have to talk about vectors. That instance of intersecting vectors (16 of them), that moment, that is a point. Right. Bear with me now. A point is onceness, in a tangible spatial representation. I know this is heady. But yeah. Imagine it. Picture it. Sixteen people meeting just once in their city. What might happen? I love that. The urgency of now. And this is the ‘onceness’ instance we call ‘N’. Making space for ‘N’ moments to happen is the reason we are going around the world hosting ‘N’. No one is sponsoring this. No outcomes to share outside of the circles of people who are saying ‘yes’ and opting in. No donors, no advertisers, none of that. Guests contribute towards tickets, that’s it. But who cares about monetary stuff. Let’s find a way to be interesting. Yes?

INTERESTINGNESS. Let’s make it even more interesting. Let’s host each ‘N’ in a venue that starts with an ‘N’. Let’s enjoy a theme, too, and for each city pick a new one, a theme that will start with an ‘N.’ And just to be even more arbitrary rule-y about this, let’s do ‘N’ events only in cities that have an ‘N’ in their name. Constraints, right? Don’t designers love playing with the room you get, which can be so expansive, within the bounded box?


The story so far

SO FAR. ‘N’ started in 2014. That’s when ‘N’ happened in Phnom Penh. The next year, 2015, DK hosted ‘N’ in Bangkok, and in 2016 it went to London, in 2017 to Hanoi. What happened so far? Who came? Are you wondering? Well, there is nothing to report. Because the whole thing about ‘N’ is that it’s about who comes and what happens in that exact moment. To write about it afterwards from my own perspective wouldn’t be interesting, and it’s too hard to get 16 people to contribute to a writeup. (I’ve tried). But I did chronicle the Hanoi one, just because people were curious and asked, and because it was about NARRATIVE, so that made sense.

But yeaSo we are leaving it quietly mysterious, and that’s just fine. Each person who has joined ‘N’, that means committed, gotten a ticket, helped choose the date, and arrived on the day, each guest that completed the ‘N’ journey was asked to select a unique color from the 256-block color grid pictured above. So that means, by the time this project is finished, we’ll have a person connected to each color. What we look like, how we sound, what we think about, what we choose to identify with… these usual ways we define ourselves gets thrown out. And we become, in the short space of ‘N’, a box of color.

Want to know more?

Click on the box