So one evening in January, as dusk was falling, we took a tram to Abiko, a peeling, charmingly shabby district in the south of the city. Here, in a shopping arcade, we found a fairly typical cross-section of signage from the last three or four decades. I snapped photos of the more interesting displays. Then, back at Tennoji, the Westerner and the Japanese sat in a cafe comparing notes on what we'd seen. The article records the conversation we had when we asked: "How was it for you?"
Despite the apparent simplicity of the format -- pictures run in-line with text, and two people commenting -- the Voice found this a bit of a challenge to run; they don't usually mix text and images, preferring to put "Fig. 1" thumbnails off to the side. (It's surprising how often visually-oriented websites have problems with visuals. If it's not some clunky, idiosyncratic Flash site that repels any new challenge to its own visual supremacy, it's a parsimonious pixel allowance on photos, like Design Observer's apparently arbitrary 356-pixel limit.) Anyway, despite giving AIGA's designers some headaches, the article got the best response of any I've written for the Voice. "More articles like this!" came the cry.
And, lo, more articles like that there were. First, in the AIGA Voice itself, a week or so later, came Beneath the Surface: Iran’s Graphic Design Evolution. Then, this week, came Handwritten Japanese Fonts in PingMag. It's almost like a new field suddenly emerged overnight. What shall we call it: Comparative Ethno-Graphics? Cross Cultural Free-Associative Design Studies? We could set up new departments at design schools, financed by World Design Tours in which people pay to travel somewhere exotic with us, walk up and down arcades taking snaps of the signs, then sit in cafes analyzing the results -- and examining the associations of their own cultural subconscious, bien sur -- over coffee and cup-cakes.
Hey, not a bad retirement plan, that! I mean, this art lark is too good to last...