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Influx interview-designer series-verena dauerer-editor-pingmag japan

February 5, 2008

Verena Dauerer is the only foreign journalist working at PingMag, the inspirational and influential Japanese art/culture/design website.

Here’s an interview I did with her recently where we talked about PingMag, it’s unique ownership, design and Japanese design.

1. Can you briefly describe your background and explain how you ended up at PingMag?

I’ve been working as a journalist for ten years now, the recent years I was freelancing in Berlin. Apart from that I have been doing production for short films for a while, briefly Lingo programming in the 90s, and eventually started giving lectures about VJ culture at design schools and festivals and organized a VJ festival with two friends there in 2006.

At one point, I got bored a bit of myself being in the city and decided to work abroad for a couple of months. I liked Ping, sent these lovely people an e-mail – and came to Japan to work as editor of PingMag in November 2006. Originally I wanted to stay for three months only, but they provided me with a contract and a working visa. Tempting! And I stayed…

2. Tell us a little about PingMag (its ownership, editorial policy, etc)?

In terms of our structure, we are 3 editors in total: My 2 lovely Japanese colleagues
care about the Japanese homepage, and I run the English site alone.

Each of us contributes with our own topics, and I handle most of the freelancers and possible pieces.

Regarding these: Anything can be interesting depending on the approach. I’d say our trait is being hysterically fond of anything that is special to us. There really are no limits, be it from the field of art, design, technology, architecture, fashion, crafts, etc. It doesn’t even have to be Japan related, but it has to be done with a great love for detail.

Of course, each piece is decorated in the cheerful PingMag style since translation usually requires adaptation.

In terms of ownership, PingMag is part of Yes Communications!, our parent and run by our producer Tom Vincent. Financially we are in this very lucky and even rarer position that at the moment we are sponsored by a Japanese investment bank called RISA Partners. I know that this makes us kind of unique, as content wise we
are totally independent and far from being a corporate blog.

Also, we just got a little sister one month ago: PingMag MAKE is done by another colleague, a Japanese editor that reports once a week from regional Japan about traditional craftsmen, and small businesses.

3. What do you think is happening with the world of design? Are developed nations over-designed?

Over-designed? If the natural development of a civilization is its aesthetic refinement,
cutting back would be a step backwards or a possible indication of decay. There is no end to this refinement, as you can surely see in Japan… Provided that environmental factors are included.

4. How would you describe the current state of Japanese design and where do you believe it is heading?

Huh, I can maybe enlighten you with some aspects of its structure that might help you
understand its output: On one side, there are the star designers that design practically
everything from mobiles to furniture to any other gadget you can imagine with utmost

Think of Naoto Fukasawa or Iwai Toshio (who just developed the Tenori-on.) As Sensei, they have an army of designers working for them – and this system is strictly hierarchical and as solid as the tough structure within the mainstream design establishment.

On the other side, design events like the annual DesignTide  try since a couple of years to promote the young upcoming ones.

Then I have the feeling that some designers aren’t interested at all in a wider exposure outside of Japan, others would like to but they don’t speak any English.

Where it might all be heading could also depend on how far people keep perceiving the country as an isolated island and themselves as a closed community in the future.

5. What developments are important and interesting to look at in Japan- is tradition and history now more important that the thrill of the future?

I’m interested in Japanese society and its rapid (or not) changes.

So in this very special case, tradition is the overall tie that firmly grips everything quite rigidly.

Compared to Western countries this is a by far stronger driving force that keeps
preventing changes – of the attitude, of the approach to design, or work methods. And
since this applies to any nation with a long tradition, of course, everything is
connected with the past and will surely affect the future.

Every part of Japanese society is based on the collective and this hasn’t changed a bit.

Combined with the way the corporations still work, their internal octopus-like structure that provides everything for their workers, this seems to be a kind of capitalism done the communist way.

And it works because of the concept of the collective. It’s interesting to see what will happen in the next years, like how far will this be softened, and on the other side how far tradition could loosen its tight grip a bit.

6. Where do you find your inspiration?

I’m an info junkie thanks to rss feeds. The rest is journalistic handcraft:observing.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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