Tadanori Yokoo Influence Project

My take on Tadanori Yokoo's early design style

My take on Tadanori Yokoo’s early (1960s) design style. Click to see full size.

Tadanori Yokoo's "The Dream Merchant Fairies" (1965)

“The Dream Merchant Fairies” (1965)

Tadanori Yokoo's "Koshimaki-Osen" (1966)

“Koshimaki-Osen” (1966)










My initial kneejerk choice for this project was Milton Glaser, but when I saw that previous classes had chosen him, and that other people in the class were also looking his direction, I decided to choose a different route. I knew that I still wanted some kind of psychedelic designer though, so that is how I began my search. I went through a few before stumbling across Tadanori Yokoo’s beautifully bizarre imagery, and felt almost immediately that this is what I was meant to do for the assignment. I checked a few more designers to be safe, but none struck me the way he did.

Tadanori Yokoo was born in Nishiwaki, Hyogo, Japan in 1936, and adopted by the owners of a kimono fabric making company. After high school he started work at printing company, then at the Kobe Shimbun newspaper, and at an advertising agency before entering the world of visual artistry at an avant garde theater in Tokyo as a stage designer. He moved into graphic design after entering some pieces in contests and gaining a reputation that way. After traveling through India, he was influenced by mysticism and psychedelia, which would impact much of his design throughout the 1960s. Other influences include Milton Glaser (which seems a fitting transition from my perspective in this project) and filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, who was known for employing lesser used techniques like axial cuts and wipes. Yokoo’s work was in direct contrast to the prevailing modernist movement of the time, with its emphasis on simplicity and function. His designs were also deeply autobiographical, with his text reflecting the kimono labels he remembered from his childhood, and many graphics being reminiscent of pre WWII card games. In 1981, he decided to switch from graphic design work to painting, although not totally abandoning design work.
In order to identify what form his influence would take, I looked over about 20 of his posters and noted which characteristics seemed to unify his work. Things I found and decided to incorporate into my own design were:

• Rising sun, flags, mouth, and repeated silhouette motifs
• Recolored photographs worked into the illustrations like a collage
• Many colors- mostly flat, occasional gradients, thin black outline around all drawn objects
• Aspects of Japanese woodcut/texture
• Decorative borders
• 3-D comic book like headline text
• Randomly placed text and text boxes, Japanese language
• General asymmetry and psychedelic oddity

My border was meant to instill a sense of motion, as if the lines were chasing each other around the edge, similar to a race track. Aside from the need to be colorful, I don’t have a good reason as to why each specific element is the color that it is (other than the skin tone, which I sampled from one of his posters to make sure it matched). I generally just went with what felt right, in the spirit of psychedelic “letting go,” starting with the blues and yellows in the eyes and silhouettes, and then worked from there, deciding that green made sense for the bike and background, being the combination of these colors, and to symbolize the outdoor nature of the race.

I would say that, all said, I was able to channel my influence pretty well. It helped that he had a number of elements that often surface through his designs, so I could identify what features were most reflective of his style. I impressed myself with the main face, because I’ve never really considered myself to be great at illustrating, but I was able to mimic the way he would draw the features, especially the nose and mouth, pretty closely. I also enjoyed the way the biker silhouette turned out. I really think that it is the texture that pulls it all together however, and so I’m glad I found a way to represent it effectively.