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Yuri Suzuki

Yuri Suzuki





Yuri Suzuki

Designer in Residence 2012

Yuri Suzuki is a sound artist and designer who explores sound, interaction and electronics through his thought provoking designs and ‘sound interjections’. Born in Toyko, Yuri studied industrial design and later worked for Japanese art unit Maywa Denki. He went on to study at the Royal College of Art and opened his studio in London after he graduated in 2008.

For his residency Yuri has investigated the workings of consumer electronics. Fifty years ago, simple household electrical appliances like transistor radios and toasters were easy for the user to take apart and repair. Today, products such as iPods have sleek, impenetrable skins and nano-components too small for the human hand to fix. It is difficult for consumers to understand the sheer complexity of the workings behind the exterior so these objects are devalued by becoming throwaway items when they malfunction. In response to this, Yuri has created a collection of working objects that attempt to demystify electronics and give the user a better understanding of how things work.

Yuri has explored the use of printed circuit board(PCB), the simple and efficient components found inside the majority of electronic devices today. Working collaboratively with engineers, Technology Will Save Us, and a graphic designer, Mathew Kneebone, Yuri has created bespoke PCB components, each one with an individual shape which visually represents its function – resistor, speaker, tuner and so on. The kit of components can be assembled to form working appliances such as a radio or light. Through the process of assembly, the user gains an understanding and appreciation of the building blocks of more complex technologies.

When did you first become aware of – and interested in – design?

It’s difficult to remember when I first became interested in design. However, when I was in kindergarten I was not good at communicating with others, so I just concentrated on drawing pictures instead. For me, that was a sort of starting point for my creativity.

When and why did you start working with sound and electronics?

From an early age I have always been in interested in music, and it’s still what I am most attracted to. One day my father showed me a music video clip called “Rockit? by Herbie Hancock. I can still recall when I first saw that video, I cried and screamed, as the video is about freak robots attached to wires dancing, walking or masturbating along to electro beats and scratch sounds. Over time I became obsessed with this video, and it’s probably the first instance where I connected with industrial made objects. This fascination in mechanics and kinetics grew over time.

Why did you decide to study design and how has your education influenced your work?

Because I loved industrial objects from a young age, I always dreamed to be a product designer. I graduated with a BA in industrial design in Japan, however this education proved to be a disappointment for me. Freethinking wasn’t the focus of the course, rather the university was more concerned with teaching students how to draw beautiful sketches. I am not good at industrial design sketching, rendering or drawing a plan, therefore I lost confidence in becoming a designer.

Fortunately, during the same time I started my career as an assistant for Japanese Contemporary art unit Maywadenki. Working for Maywadenki gave me a lot of confidence. It was where I learned methods to create objects, and see how I could work in the art and design field in a real-world context; this also helped me to focus on conceptual design thinking.

While at Maywadenki, many Royal College of Art (RCA) graduates such as Crispin Jones, Abake amongst others visited the studio. These people are always opening up new fields within design and I felt this was something I really would love to do.

I decided to study at the RCA which allowed me to experiment and try out many creation possibilities. I’m not sure whether I found my own expression or creation method at the RCA, but definitely that experience helped to express ideas through design.

What / Who inspires you?

I always work with other people I respect, so collaborating with designers, illustrators and engineers is inspirational, and helps lead the work in a completely fresh direction. Also, London is always a source of inspiration. The music that I love comes from this city, for instance Daniel Miller who created MUTE Records is from London, his track ‘Warm Leatherette’ from the record ‘The Normal’ continues to be one of my biggest influences. Delia Derbyshire from the BBC Radio Phonic Workshop was the pioneer of electronic music. All the music from Rephlex Records, which is extremely experimental, is also an influence from London. There really isn’t enough space to mention my influences from this city.

Regarding the design process, I really respect Rei Kawakubo from Comme des Garçons. Her work is about creating a philosophy. That is probably hardest part of creation however she creates direction in each collection. She is still challenging, and fighting for her work for more than 40 years.

How would you describe your approach to design?

I think my projects are all about sharing a story or an idea through experimentation and objects. As someone with Dyslexia, I try to avoid creating work that relies on explanation through words. So the objects or installations that I design are intended to be self-explanatory.

How important is process in the making of your work?

I am not a designer who can give a straight answer to a problem. My process involves trying out materials and methods, as well as talking through the idea with people to find out the key point. Translating this thought is most frustrating and painful part. However this is also most important part to get right.

How important is the story behind the work?

Without a story I probably wouldn’t be able to make anything. Constructing a story for my work is part of my approach and is the initial part of the design process. After establishing the story, the process that follows is about getting people to understand the story.

Which of your early projects was most important in defining your approach to work?

My graduation work at the RCA “The Physical Value of Sound? was a defining project for me, as it was my first natural expression toward to design. The project was primarily a question about whether to keep music in an analogue or digital format. This resulted in a series of toy-like objects, however each is part of the larger story of physicality of sound. This was first time where I made use of music or sound as material for my work.

How did your project for Designers in Residence develop?

I struggled to some extent to think about how to communicate the design part of this project, especially considering the importance of the structure and how this can help people understand electric currents. The work developed with a lot of communication with an engineer as well as trialling several materials. It also took time to find out what I wanted to present based on my initial concept.

How do see your practice developing following the residency? What are your goals as a designer?

It is quite good question, to be honest I’m not sure. I have always found myself floating between the areas of product design, installation, sound, music and art. After graduation from the RCA in 2008, I didn’t really care so much what I was doing, until now I just grabbed any project in front of me.

Actually I hope this residency will be a tuning point to define myself to a more specific direction.

Where do you see your work fitting with other designers / design movements / broader design discourse?

I get the sense my work doesn’t fit into any design movements. Futhermore, I am not really sure if I’m a designer or not. This identity has given me some freedom, as I don’t feel a need to define myself as product designer, musician, interaction artist or film director. Having experience in all of these areas has allowed me to cross borders for clients who asked me to create projects for them. Some of these works include a one day exhibiting installation in Mexican contemporary art museum, making a music video for a Japanese band, and working with great product/industrial design consultancies like IDEO and Teenage Engineering,

But at the same time this has made me extremely tough. Whenever I take on a new project I really need to find out rules or structure from the beginning. Overall, the four years of experience after graduating from the RCA has been really valuable for me and I am probably nearing the stage of deciding a new direction or discourse for myself.

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