10 Years of Design Writing

After a run of 10 years, my final “On: Design” column for The Japan Times was published today (Saturday, March 7).

10 years. Wow.

I don’t think there’s anything in my life that I’ve done for that long a period of time, and so it does indeed feel like a milestone, saying goodbye to it. When I started working full time for PechaKucha, I gradually stopped doing freelance working projects except for this column, which I continued to do because I liked that I had this one thing that had this relatively long history.

The very first edition was published on September 27, 2005 – you can read it here. At the time, Mark Thompson – still with the Japan Times – was looking to start a regular column about design, and thought that I would be a good person to do it. I was still getting started in my freelance writing career. It did mostly start because for years I was known as a blogger here in Tokyo, covering art, design, and gaming, but probably mostly design. My first paid work (I think) was writing a couple of monthly columns for a site about Tokyo culture that was called Tokyo Q, one of them was about anime and one was on design.

I still remember going over to the Japan Times offices, meeting with Mark in the lobby on the ground floor as he pitched me his idea. I was of course incredibly happy to be invited to do something like this, not just because it was in print media, but also because it was for a Japan institution like the Japan Times.

Over the years, the format has pretty much stayed the same, with me recommending 5 products that I like. I have never been asked to cover something, and so these really have always been personal recommendations. I’ve always made a point of only covering Japanese design, whether it was made by a Japanese designer (meaning, it could be manufactured by a company outside of Japan) or by foreigners who were producing/designing while based here. I think that over the years there’s only been 1 or 2 exceptions.

Around 10 years, with 12 editions a year, and usually covering 5 products a month (plus the products I would contribute to the annual Christmas gift guide), that means I’ve covered close to 600 items over all this time. 

That’s a lot of stuff.

It was also a great feeling to see “On: Design” act as a template for a lot of other monthly columns that eventually were launched at the Japan Times, not just in terms of covering 5 items, but else with the naming (“On: XXX”). I think it’s a sign that we did something right, and that the fact that it lasted so long meant it worked.

As I prepare to leave Japan, and I put an end to a lot of the things I’ve been doing here, this is yet another one of those things that to me, really does feel like the end of an era. I’m incredibly thankful to all of the editors I’ve had over the years, following Mark – Donald Eubank, Leeroy Betti, and then Mio Yamada, who has been editing me these last few years.

What happens to the column now? It will continue under the same name, but as a shorter version (covering 3 items) from next month, with Mio taking the helm. Based on the comments I’ve received from her over the years when I file the column, I’m sure she’ll continue to highlight things that I myself would have selected as well.

OK, so now time to start thinking about doing something that will last the next 10 years – any offers?

(Kidding. Sorta.)