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Building Bridges for International Innovation


Sakamoto uses g-speak to create an interactive piece that responds to a user’s hand claps

RISD partners with Japanese font developer Morisawa to explore creative leadership and innovation through art and design

Does studying art and design make people more creative? And does that creativity translate into innovation in the workplace? These were among the many questions posed when RISD teamed up with Morisawa & Company Ltd., a boutique Japanese font developer, to establish a Research Fellowship Program.

Together, the two organizations have embarked on a nine-month experiment to develop the company’s most promising young employees into agile-minded ‘business designers’ – non-designers who incorporate design thinking into the company’s business practices and drive new approaches to innovation.

RISD President John Maeda has spoken to this idea as part of his push to integrate art and design into the national innovation agenda. “Before, you’d make a perfect product and then ship it,” he says. “Now, companies have to ship something that’s not perfect and fix it while it’s out there. That requires a different kind of business mind – one that can take risks, be adaptive and change.”

Though they may seem quite different on the surface, RISD and Morisawa share certain underlying values. Both place a great deal of emphasis on craft and designs made by hand. And like RISD, Morisawa is continually trying to push the envelope and find new ways to innovate.

These shared values, coupled with a personal relationship between Maeda and the company’s executive director Takeshi Morisawa, led the two organizations to explore opportunities for collaboration. The Research Fellowship Program involves selecting one Morisawa employee each academic year (a second fellow has been named for 2011–12) to become part of the RISD research and teaching environment, and to help build bridges for sustained collaboration.

Morisawa Research Fellow Keitaro Sakamoto

Keitaro Sakamoto, the first Morisawa research fellow, finished his year-long cultural and educational immersion at RISD at the end of spring semester. In addition to an intensive program of graduate-level Graphic Design and Digital+Media classes, he sat in on classes in a variety of other fields, reached out to faculty across multiple disciplines, explored the Rhode Island arts community and became fully engaged in his new environment, going so far as to keep a photo blog on Flickr of all his meals, starting with a Haven Brothers hot dog.

Working with his RISD mentors, Sculpture faculty member Lane Myer 80 GD and former Associate Provost David Bogen, Keitaroinitiated and self-directed his studies around his own interests, while being open to new opportunities and creative risk-taking. It’s a strategy that paid off. With a love of anime but only a basic high school-level art education, he threw himself into developing sophisticated projects that incorporate typography, 3D design, motion and time.

For example, over Wintersession, he learned both G-speak (an experimental spatial operating environment) and Processing (a programming language) in order to create the interactive piece holy clap, an animation that responds to a user’s hand claps.

Keitaro also took an analogue approach in working with visiting designer Vaughan Oliver to create a paper-based calendar.  The time constraints of the two-day workshop led him to develop an iterative way of working, making small-scale samples to test and prototype his ideas.

“I always set very advanced goals, but I had no time,” Keitaro explains. “At every step I found that ‘I can’t do that so I have to change my mind.’ I think that changing my mind is also a starting point of creativity; [it made me think about] how to show the same expression in different ways. I didn’t throw away the initial idea and instead created an idea that is more simplified.”

At RISD, Maeda noted, Keitaro discovered the value of experimentation and the audacity to explore, which will enable him to be agile and take risks when he returns to Japan.

“The willingness to explore is woefully undervalued,” Bogen agreed. “It’s not always understood what it takes for corporations and institutions to truly explore and step into that open-ended space.”

To ask a visiting researcher without a design background to investigate whether the creative process has wider applications in the business world was a great experiment in itself, Myer points out. “Having a company enlightened enough to endorse this kind of learning is inspirational,” he says. The critical, hands-on approach to problem solving and the type of “inquiry that is taught and experienced here [at RISD] is clearly translatable.” And it’s especially valuable in “that it doesn’t have any limitations on who can use it.”

related links
Morisawa & Company Ltd

tags: corporate, technology, Digital + Media, digital, graduate, global, innovation, interdisciplinary, Graphic Design, multimedia, partnerships + collaborations, research, STEAM

At RISD there's nothing unusual about suddenly finding a doorknob on a tree trunk, shown here across from Carr House,
the charming home of Student Life offices and the student-run Carr Haus Café.