DesignInquiry Personal Journal

DI the first evening

I am a bit nervous about coming to DesignInquiry this year, but as soon as I get wonderful greetings from Peter Hall and Matt Soar, I have the feeling that I am happy to be here again.

Whenever I arrive at Poor Farm, it always gives me the sensation that it was just yesterday that I was here last year. It’s like a time trip that makes me lose my sense of time. And the people I see only once a year feel like family. These days I don’t care what kind of design matters we talk about at DesignInquiry, I come here because it is like an informal gathering, or another thanksgiving where we all talk about how we have been and we let each other know that we care.

The dinner that some of us prepared is very tasty and comforting. I wasn’t going to drink any alcohol, but I drink it anyway and head out to bed early.

The rain at night wakes me up. For some reasons, I start thinking about what I am going to do about my presentation. I always come here without preparing anything for my presentation, but I try to pick up some key events, comments made by the attendees, or whatever strikes me as day goes by and put it into a quick and entertaining presentation.

It seems like this method works every year. Everyone shares enough insights related to the topic, which allows me to articulate what I want to communicate.

I can’t remember when I fell asleep after my mind was going with endless thoughts, but my gut tells me that things will be fine.

I just thought that I should have spent some time talking to people before I went to bed.

Day 1

I wake up early in the morning and enjoy the moment I can’t afford to have in NYC, and the day starts with the smell of bacon and egg.

Melle and Matt give their presentations, which already sparks the conversations on this year’s topic, “Fail Again”.

Matt’s presentation is quite interesting because his point of view represents how we, as designers, look at signs or whatever we can find on the street, figuring out what was done wrongly or analyzing what the intention of the creators of the thing would have been. We are basically obsessed with anything to do with letters. We are bunch of nerds, but this crazy obsession can push us to do something unexpected or lead us to create some amazing piece of design or whatever although it often makes us realize that it may fail.

I take a short nap in the afternoon. I am tired from drinking last night. I really shouldn’t drink like I used to.

After Lauri Churchman’s presentation on boat lettering, ideas for my presentation start forming in my mind. The next step would be to visualize the ideas by making some sketches. It will be how to describe my name, Satoru, typographically in English.

Later that night, I find out that Lynn Fleming, one of the DesignInquiry board members, has been accepted to Cranbrook Academy of Art. This news makes me so happy since I have known her for almost 3 years through DesignInquiry, and I knew from the beginning that she had something to offer. It will be curious to see what Lynn is going to get out of the Cranbrook education.

Karen cooks fantastic pasta and salad for dinner, which is the magic moment of DesignInquiry.

Peter Hall also gives his presentation on Neon Sign Typography, which shows some creative and well designed neon signs from back in the day. Sadly we have lost the aesthetics of making neon signs today.

Following Peter, George, a documentary film maker, presents his film booth video. What he does for his work is not something I want to do even though I guess that’s what pays the bills, but I love his personal work, which is a documentary that he asked people to tell their stories, whatever they are, in the video booth he made.

It’s always fascinating to see someone’s personal work because that’s when some interesting things happens, and your audience can immediately sense the authenticity of it and shows their interests and enthusiastic reactions to it.

It is now 11:26 pm, and some people, staying at Poor Farm, are still talking about design matters that came up today with a help of wine and beer.

I feel like I should join in.

Day 2

A scraping noise wakes me up in the morning.

Charles is alone in the kitchen preparing our breakfast and trying to do the dishes at the same time. No one is helping him, so I quickly go down to the kitchen and start doing the dishes. Most of them are wine glasses from last night, and I break one of them.

Every year we have a lot of wine drinkers and beer drinkers, and I notice that the wine drinkers tend to stay up too late and love to argue. They also hate to be called a post modernist. On the other hand, the beer drinkers are a bit mellow and laid-back. They tend to go to bed early and love dancing and playing music.

It looks like it is going to be a lovely day.

Anita and Gabrielle give a presentation on Typographical landscape through their point of view as an interior designer and architect. They present the amount of information rather quickly, but making a point by showing images and words. Their presentation is very intriguing. I just never look at the architecture or the design around it in a way that they describe or observe. The idea that Anita and Gabrielle showed us gives me some ideas to use for my presentation, which is what I love being here at DesignInquiry. I can learn something new from someone who practices another discipline and I use the knowledge I gained for my presentation to try out immediately to see if it works or not within the topic for the year.

After the presentation, it seems to me that the form is the key word here as well, which recalls the conversation I had with Denise Gonzales Crisp before we called it a night yesterday. We had a short conversation about the form we deal with in theory and practice in our discipline and how we thought the form plays a very important role in our life and culture.

The form is the language we can share and understand or differentiate one from another within our diverse community or culture.

Bud Rodecker, a young designer at Thirst of Chicago, gives such an entertaining presentation on the time/embarrassment machine, which shows us every single website he has designed since he was 14 years old. They are so bad and embarrassing to show to anyone, but Bud walks us through his journey of creating his websites with his passion and obsession. It takes courage to show your old work especially when they are just so so so bad.

I respect his courage and honesty. I can see why Rick hired Bud because he proved to me that he is not afraid to be who he is. I feel that Bud is going to be a great designer within a few years.

We have leftovers for lunch from last night.

I spend my afternoon time to sketch out the sequence of my presentation and write half of the journal.

It is 3:10 pm and it sounds like Mark Jamra, my former professor, has just arrived.

Denise Crisp introduces us to her typography book she has been writing for two years. She doesn’t have a book title yet. She states that there is only one rule in Typography, which is “Everything depends on everything”.

We play together too and the conversations can happen anywhere and any time at Poor Farm.

Anita and Gabrielle cook a fabulous meatloaf for dinner. Gabrielle is a great cook.

After dinner, we watch a DesignInquiry Movie Mark made. The outtakes are hilarious. You don’t see often someone like Peter gets lost in his conversation or Nancy Skolos makes a funny joke while they are being interviewed.

I fall asleep while we are doing a writing workshop. It’s just the mellow music and the candle lights.

As soon as the writing workshop is done, I head out to bed, but I can’t sleep. I hear some people are still sharing their writings from the workshop. After they go to bed, I get up and come down to sit on the sofa. I start writing today’s journal, but I can’t seem to organize my thoughts.

Lynn comes down and sees me awake looking at my laptop screen on the sofa. I overheard her share her writing when I was in bed trying to sleep, and some of her thought she wrote kind of concerned me so I grab her to ask some questions.

We talk about how we have been. I share some of my life stories that’s been going through last 4 months and some of my private matters and how I feel about it. Life always surprises.

I can’t remember how long we had a conversation, but I realize that it’s already 2:30 in the morning so we both head out to bed.

Day 3

When I wake up, Charles and Matt are already up preparing breakfast. A peacock is on the deck looking at us through the window.

When I am having a short conversation with Peter about my sleepless book, I drop the banana I was eating for my breakfast.

We go through five presentations before dinner. Denise, David shields, Jimmy Luu, Ann McDonald and Natalie, which inspires me enough for my presentation I will be giving tomorrow.

Bud keeps asking me to go swimming.

The moment, after dinner, for me is when I give my Strickland House Story, in response to Matt’s assignment to everybody. The story I made up must have sounded so fucked up, and I have never seen my former professor, Mark and Charles cracking up and crying over my story that much. Even after I finish my story, Denise has her what-the-hell kind of look on her face and says, “I am done here.”

I must have passed out on the couch for a while. When I wake up in the middle of the night, no one is around, except Peter is working on his stuff.

When I go up to my room, I notice that the light is on by my bed. Someone must have left it on for me, and it is nice.

Thank you.

Day 4

Margo is an archive rat. She keeps everything that her kids has done like their drawings, doodles, sketches and so on and keeps them in the boxes. Margo shares some of them with us in her presentation. Her views and observations on how children develop their visual languages are so personal and touching.

Mark talks about how the spaces between the letters affects readability and legibility in his presentation with his sense of humor as a type designer. Ben and Peter also make their presentations.

Karen’s presentation sparks a big conversation. In her presentation, Karen touches on the issues of class in America, which has deeper in the roots than one might think, with her point of view in design. Karen makes a great point by showing what Wal-mart has started in order for them to gain potential health conscience customers with similar design choices and decisions they employed from another health food store like Whole Foods.

Tonight I am going to give my presentation and I have only a few hours to prepare. Every year I look at everyone’s presentations and prepare mine with what I learned or observed while attending DesignInquiry so I don’t know if my presentation will go well or not until I show it to the attendees. As long as I don’t miss the point in my presentation, it usually works out well.

While I am working on my presentation, some people go swimming and some start preparing lobster dinner and a chocolate cake. It is Charles’ birthday today. Gabrielle is the best cook in town.

The lobster dinner is always great, and it’s not DesignInquiry without it every year. Right after the dinner, we sing a song and celebrate Charles’ birthday with the chocolate cake, which was so rich and tasty.

I give my presentation, which has something to do with my name. When you spell my name in Japanese, the character of my name means something and speaks something about who I am, since Kanji in Japanese are pictograms, but as soon as it’s spelled with alphabets, the meaning of it disappears although it says my name and it sounds like my name. My point is to show in my presentation when something from another culture gets translated, how it loses some of the meanings in a different cultural context, and how I can describe and explain within a broader, but limited cultural context.

My presentation goes well although I was a bit emotional because I was talking about how my parents named me and what they wished for with the meaning of my my Kanji character.

My only criticism about my own presentation is that I should have spent a little bit more time to explore what I am trying to communicate to make the point in my presentation. This will be my homework for the next year. There is always something to learn and improve.

After my presentation, Rosalind Carnes comes to me and apologizes that she missed my presentation last year and she later heard a lot of great things about it. Rosalind says she felt bad about it, but at the same time, she tells me that she thought my presentation this year was so nice. I tell her that she doesn’t have to feel sorry for missing out my presentation. Everything is fine.

I also get some nice feedback from Karen, Natalie, Ann, Ben, George, Bud and Denise.

After my presentation, Lynn shares us a small movie clip, and Ben van Dyke shows his projects he was doing for a quite some time.

Finally it’s the time for the annual dance party. Whether they are good at it or not, graphic designers can dance too. I missed out last year so I join and show off my moon walk. We are dancing until I don’t know, but maybe 3 am in the morning. I think I head out to bed around 4, but I don’t remember.

Day 5

Officially it’s the last day of DesignInquiry, which means that people also start leaving. It’s time to say thank you and good bye.

I have made it and done better than I thought I would. I am very tired now.

I have to get in touch with Stacey Whipple who will host me tomorrow night and Sunday before I go back to NYC on Monday. She also graduated from the same college and I haven’t seen her for three or four years.

I go for a little walk with Melle and Denise in the afternoon. We walk along the beach.

Gabrialle again cooks Lobster stew this year for dinner. She cooked it last year, but I had to leave. Finally I get to taste it.

I go to bed early.

I am very exhausted.


I sleep in and I hear everyone is busy cleaning. I wake up and take a shower.

I have a small but big talk with Melle and Margo in the morning.

I have to eat breakfast, clean up my mess and get ready to leave.

Mark gives Melle and I a ride back to Portland.

Dinner with Margo, Charles, Melle and Mark.

I leave to see my old friends, Stacey and Lizzie.