Kiyonori Muroga & Ian Lynam


BB Kiyonori, you are the editor-in-chief of the Tokyo-based Idea magazine, a publication devoted to graphic design and visual communication. Could you introduce the magazine briefly?
KM The magazine has been published since 1953. Idea’s predecessor Kohkoku-kai (Advertising World) was published from the 1920s through the 1940s. Idea has contributed to or been a part of development of modern graphic design in Japan. Recent drastic changes in the economy, technologies and the environment of information has affected Idea’s editorial policy, apart from mere showcasing of designers’ works.

BB When and how did you become involved in publishing the magazine?
KM I joined Idea at 1999 after graduating from university. From 2002 onwards, I have been working as a chief editor.
IL  I began assisting with the production of Idea in 2008 – I occasionally write, edit or design something.

BB A number of issues of Idea are devoted or related to the Brno Biennial, first (#91) being published already back in 1968, the most recent one (#271) in 1998. What do you know about the Brno Biennial?
KM The Brno Biennial had been one of the important places of cultural exchange in graphic design for Japanese designers, as you see the coverage in old issues. It had a strong affinity with older Japanese designers who found the poster to be a definitive medium.
But when I entered the magazine, that was long after the last coverage (Idea #271), the Biennial looked as if it had stiffening into inflexibility, losing contemporary significance like other similar competitions. It was not solely due to the Biennial itself, but also due to the stiffness in Japanese graphic design culture. So, the recent change in terms of the format of the Brno Biennial looks quite aspiring.
IL The Biennial was very important for Japanese graphic designers after the dissolution of the Japan Advertising Artists Club and the exhibitions that the JAAC held. To have work shown abroad was of the utmost importance for Japanese graphic designers, particularly in Brno at the Biennial.

BB Ian, you are based in Tokyo, yet involved in educational institutions in both the United States (where you are originally from) and Japan. How do you perceive the difference of approach to design between the two cultures?
IL I feel like American and Japanese approaches to design are coming closer and closer. Traditionally, Japanese conceptions of design involved ensuring that all stakeholders in design projects brought their ideas to the table and the utmost was done to ensure that everyone was in consensus. In the past, Americans approached design from a much more ‘maverick’ position (much in the vein that American politician Sarah Palin over-utilizes that term) and attempting to express authority over projects. However, with the global expansion of ‘prosumer’ software and accessibility of the tools of design, we are seeing a general trend toward consensus-based design decision-making between designers and clients/collaborators.
Popular dialogue in Japan and America, be it political, design-oriented, or other, is divided into two camps:―the heuristic (shooting from the hip/heart) and the rational (considered reason). Approaches to design mirror the oscillation between these two in both countries.

BB How have you two met?
IL I moved to Japan in 2005 and started bothering Muroga-san in about 2008, asking if I could pitch in and help out with Idea. He relented and has graciously invited me to participate since.
KM Before, for example, the 2000s, it was (and is still) very hard to work as a designer in Japan. He is a brilliant designer with a very contemporary attitude and practices, one of the new pioneers who not only have found their professional position in Japan, but pursued development over cultural boundaries.
IL I professionalized as a designer rather late and the first design studio where I worked had a collection of issues of Idea from around that time – exactly when Muroga-san began steering the magazine. Being exposed to Idea helped me realize that I could operate far afield from typical notions of practice, incorporate less typical approaches to writing, aesthetics and authorship. I’m lucky to be able to work (and drink) alongside Muroga-san.

BB This edition of the Brno Biennial responds to the metamorphoses and the state of contemporary graphic design; its multitude, variety, vagueness and apparent superficiality. Can you identify some of the basic parameters, current themes or motivations of contemporary graphic design?
IL Contemporary graphic design is plagued by a number of difficult cultural issues. In graphic design literature at present, books-as-tools, style guides, and hero worship dominate – there is nearly nothing suggesting anything outside of the problem-solving/commercial/early- to mid-period Modernist methodological paradigm.
Graphic design culture at large is still caught up in satisfying clients and being goal-oriented to a fault. This is evidenced as much by the dearth of criticism and theory as it is by the apparent lack of interest in these pursuits by practitioners. The printed legacy of graphic design has rarely transcended its origins in commercial art and advertising art. The bulk of our literature today is too much akin to the manuals offered by commercial art schools' correspondence courses from the turn-of-the-century. Most graphic design publications today offer preset methods and methodologies, mechanical coursework in various flavors, and are predominantly hydra-like in their combination of oversimplification, banal generalization, atavistic/retrograde approaches to form and practice, and are conservative in the applied thinking and writing. This dearth of theoretical literature is compounded by graphic design being extremely fractured at the present moment as designers must learn very diverse skill sets in order to function in a market economy. If you are a graphic designer today, you must have an exceedingly varied skill set to make a living – if you say you are a ‘graphic designer’, you most likely operate across the boundaries of print design, web design, motion graphics, identity design, ad nauseam.
Economic desperation and a lack of meaningful education presents a harrowing range of possibilities to designers at present and further dissipates the possibilities for intellectualism.
KM If, as Nicolas Bourriaud pointed out, translation is the key concept of networked global culture, the translation process is not represented in verbal discourse, which is fated to be formed ex-post facto. Therefore the discourse on graphic design cannot but be very limited regarding existing mindsets and grammars, although there are too many voices arising over the network. I am interested in the role of designer as translator – even more than designer as producer – in being someone who might bring real change to an invisible structure.

Kiyonori Muroga (JP)

Kiyonori Muroga is an editor, writer and lecturer. After graduating from the University of Tokyo, he has edited Idea magazine and books on graphic design, typography and visual culture since 1999 as well as contributing essays on the topics. He also teaches at various design schools including MEME Design School, Musashino Art University and Tokyo University of the Arts.

Ian Lynam (US)

Ian Lynam is a Tokyo-based designer operating at the intersection of graphic design, design education and design research. Originally hailing from New York, Lynam has a BS in Graphic Design from Portland State University and an MFA in Graphic Design from CalArts. He is Chair and faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts in the MFA Graphic Design program, faculty at Meme Design School and at Temple University Japan. He is a co-founder of Néojaponisme, a critical cultural online journal.

Biennial News

Short interviews with collaborators of the 27th Brno Biennial, authors of its exhibitions, jury members and Biennial Talks speakers.


Interviews and graphic design: Radim Peško Radim Peško (1976) is a graphic designer based in London. He works in the field of type design, editorial and exhibition projects. In 2010 he has established his RP Digital Type Foundry that specializes on typefaces that are both formally and conceptually distinctive. His work includes identity for Secession Vienna, typefaces for identities of Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Aspen Art Museum, Fridericianum, Berlin Biennale 8, various work for the Moravian Gallery in Brno, Bedford Press London or a long-term collaboration with artist Kateřina Šedá. He has lectured at many schools including Gerrit Rietveld Academie Amsterdam, ÉCAL Lausanne, HFK Bremen, KISD Cologne, École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts de Lyon, Sint-Lucas Ghent, University of Seoul. Since 2011 he is part of the curatorial board of the International Biennial of Graphic Design Brno., Tomáš Celizna Tomáš Celizna (1977) is interested in graphic design in connection with new technologies. He is a founding partner of design studio dgú in Prague (2001 to 2005), recipient of J. W. Fulbright Scholarship (2006), and holds MFA in graphic design from Yale University School of Art (2008). He currently lives and works independently in Amsterdam. Collaborations include, among others, OASE Journal for Architecture, Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, Sandberg Instituut, Amsterdam and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Since 2011 he is a lecturer in graphic design at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, and a member of the curatorial team of the International Biennial of Graphic Design Brno., Adam Macháček Adam Macháček (1980) is a graphic designer. Following studies at the AAAD in Prague, Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam and ÉCAL in Lausanne, he co-founded in 2004 studio in Lausanne and is a member of 201∞ Designers collective. His work includes publications, exhibition catalogues, illustrations and identities. Collaborations include, among others, the Moravian Gallery in Brno, Théâtre de Vevey (seasons 2003–2012), Galerie Rudolfinum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Chronicle Books, Editions Pyramyd, Museum of Czech Literature, Brno House of Arts, California College of the Arts, Airbnb. For Brno Biennial he initiated and organized exhibitions Work from Switzerland (2004) and From Mars (2006, together with Radim Peško). Since 2011 he is a member of the curatorial team of the International Biennial of Graphic Design in Brno. He lives and works in Berkeley.
Translation and copy editing: Alena Benešová, Kateřina Tlachová
Production: Miroslava Pluháčková
Printed by: Tiskárna Helbich s. r. o.
Print run: 2000
1st edition
Published by the Moravian Gallery in Brno, 2016