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Japanese designer Shigeo Fukuda first met Paul Rand as a design student at Tokyo Geijitsu University. Rand had been invited to participate in a exhibition called Graphic' 55, and Fukuda was so taken with his work that he visited the exhibition ten times in seven days. After graduating, Rand recommended Fukuda for a teaching position at Yale University, and the two would remain friends until Rand's death in 1996.
I believe that in design, 30 percent dignity, 20 percent beauty and 50 percent absurdity are necessary.
Toys and Things
Shigeo Fukuda began making toys for his daughter Miran beginning in the mid-1960s. Recognizing the quality of his friend's work, Rand championed and produced an exhibition of Fukuda’s designs at the IBM Gallery in New York. Toys & Things Japanese: The Work of Shigeo Fukuda opened in May of 1967 and marked Fukuda’s first United States exhibition. Years later, the Japanese designer fondly remembered the experience as the highlight of his career.
Paul Rand is a man who has shaped and influenced the course of 20th century graphic design to a remarkable degree.
Shigeo Fukuda was a highly influential Japanese post-war graphic designer, known for his radical visual simplicity, fierce wit and political advocacy. Fukuda worked with a universal visual language, inspired by both eastern and western traditions, creating an impactful style well-suited to his anti-war and pro-peace themes.
Fukuda was born in Tokyo in 1932, into a family of toy manufacturers. Aware of his creative proclivities from a young age, Fukuda attended the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music from 1952 to 1956. During his studies, he was largely interested in the design style originating from Sweden in the 1940s and 1950s, which later became known as the International Style and served as the basis for much mid-century graphic design. This style focused on posters as the most effective means of communication, mathematically-precise layouts, and simplistic, dynamic visual designs. One of Fukuda’s idols, graphic designer Takashi Kono, was also rising to prominence at this time, as he and his contemporaries were working to introduce the west to eastern aesthetics and elevate posters as an art form. Kono was also a veteran and believed socially-conscious, captivating design could be influential on a global scale - surely something that Fukuda was inspired by. Graphic design in Japan in this era, unlike America, was not focused on advertising, thus the medium was seen more as a vehicle for communication and used to spread ideals of pacifism and environmentalism.
In 1966, Fukuda’s work was included in an exhibition of posters in Czechoslovakia, and featured at the Montreal Expo the following year, bringing him international recognition. A work of his appeared in an issue of Japanese Graphic Design Magazine in 1967, catching the eye of Paul Rand, who was an ardent supporter of Japanese design and noticed Fukuda’s capacity for simplicity and humor. Rand, then designing for IBM, arranged an exhibition of Fukuda’s work at the IBM Gallery in New York City in 1967— the first in the United States for the designer. This show featured his posters, as well as small puzzle-like wooden sculptures he had made for his young daughter. Rand and Fukuda maintained a close friendship over the years and very much respected each other as artists, with Rand saying of Fukuda’s work, that “a playful heart requires no translation.”
During the 1970s and 1980s, Fukuda designed some of his most famous posters for organizations like Amnesty International and events such as the World’s Fair in Osaka in 1970 and Earth Day. In 1975, his famous poster Victory 1945 won the grand prize at the International Poster Biennial, and all proceeds went to The Peace Fund Movement. Inspired by M.C. Escher, Fukuda was also interested in optical illusions and humor; he had the column “Ryu Mita Ka?” (“Do you see the Dragon?”) in the Japanese newspaper Ashai, as well as a bi-monthly feature in Idea Magazine called “Visual Circus.” During the 1970s and through to the 1990s, Fukuda also designed spaces such as Tokyo’s Seibu Department Store and the UCC Coffee Pavilion, both of which are in his recognizably colorful, geometric, playful style.
By the 1980s, Fukuda was recognized as one of the great graphic designers of the world and was especially revered for his commitment to causes that promoted peace. He published his influential and iconic Visual Illusion in 1982 and taught design at his alma mater from 1973 to 2002, as well as at Yale University in 1982 and 1984. In 1987, Fukuda was the first Japanese designer to be inducted into the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame; he was recognized in 1986 as an Honorary Royal Designer by the Royal Society of Arts in London and received numerous service and industry awards in his native Japan. Fukuda was committed to advancing the prominence of Japanese design internationally and served as the director of the Japan Graphic Designers Association from 2000-2009 and was the vice-president of ICOGRADA from 1993 to 1995.
Fukuda’s life reflected his work. His home in Tokyo was famous for its quirkiness— with a fake, oversized fried egg on his lawn, flanked by realistic sculptures of bulldogs, and a 4 foot front door at the end of a long walkway that was a complex optical illusion, causing befuddled guests to think the door was always getting further away. Fukuda is often referred to as a visual prankster, which perfectly fits his ethos as to what design is: “30% dignity, 20% beauty and 50% absurdity.”
In addition to his first solo show at IBM, Fukuda has had major exhibitions at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco (1987), the Museum Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires (1993) and the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo (1997), among others. Fukuda passed away in 2009, leaving an indelible, humanistic mark on the language and heart of international graphic design.