Mitsuo Katsui

Japanese graphic designer, Mitsuo Katsui, is exceptional to say the least. Widely unknown with little information to be found about him, Katsui carved paths in Japanese design and pushed the limits of what design means. The style in which this designer creates is profoundly unique and not only visually stimulating but also very meaningful with his beliefs on what life means and how he sees the world. He has achieved many things in his life including winning multiple awards as well as working with and designing for important and highly named companies. This post dives into his life and explains why more people should know his name.

Born in Tokyo in 1931, Katsui studied in education at Tokyo University and graduated in 1955 later returning to school to take postgraduate courses in design and photography. He began his career in Ajinomoto and became a freelancer in which he founded Katsui Design Office in 1961. Driving graphic design in Japan for more than half a century, Katsui achieved many things in his life. According to Readymag Stories he was an art director for the Japan World Exhibition in Osaka, Okinawa Ocean Expo, Kodansha Encyclopedia series, and the International Science and Technology Exhibition in Tsukuba from 1970 through 1985. He also held many exhibitions as well as “participated in the production of the design manual for the Tokyo Olympic Games” (Page 10). Thinkingform states that Katsui was a JAGDA director, and member of the Tokyo, AGI and New York Art Directors Clubs. It also says, “He received numerous awards including AAC Award, the Mainichi Industrial Design Award, the Kodansha Cultural Publishing Prize, the Minister of Education Prize for the Arts, a Purple Ribbon Medal, as well as numerous gold prizes from international organizations and events such as Brno Book, the Warsaw, Lahti, and Mexico Poster Biennials, and the NY ADC” (Thinking Mitsuo Katsui). Later he became a head Professor at Musashino Art University where he taught visual design communication (W.S./Rectures). He retired in 2002. Today, it is unsure if he is dead or alive due to there being so little information on him.

So what makes this designer interesting? Katsui’s designs are very unique. In an interview, he explains that, “Light has always been a perpetual theme for me… Light is translated into colors and things are seen through light” (Thinking Mitsuo Katsui). His abstract designs focus around vibrant pops of color that create a visual language with each other. When Katsui was studying photography he learned about light and how light affects everything he sees. He says, “I became crazy about cameras in my school days. I learned color contrast and gradation, and I was interested in the high contrast of light and shade in monochrome photographs” (NPO Corporate). When digital design became relevant with the foundation of Macintosh, Katsui was able to explore new ways of designing and playing with light and texture. 

Katsui is best known for his style of abstraction within the map designs, diagrams, calendars, posters, books, and more that he created. He was a major vehicle of the graphic design world in Japan for over half a century, driving design through the digital age and “carving out new realms” (Page 10). Readymag Stories describes Katsui as “an alien” claiming that his work “resides in a higher place, glittering like a halo, lighting our path” (Page 10). They explain that his work is so above and beyond what anyone has ever done before that it seems otherworldly. His designs seem to also represent halos and paths of light such as the Zero poster, 1985, and the Ginza Graphic Gallery poster, 1993. 

Zero poster 1985


Ginza Graphic Gallery poster 1993


Why should more people know about Katsui? This designer is unknown to most people as he keeps a low profile, but Mitsuo katsui is definitely one who should be more known by others and the world. Not only are his designs so visually aesthetic, but he also shares an interesting perspective about design and nature with the world. When Katsui was a professor, he lectured on his third day of class about the relationship between design and perception and the environment (W.S./Rectures). He says, “In my opinion the essence of design is to reveal this interactive relationship between nature and our self from a totally innovative viewpoint or location; in other words, to exhibit a form that conveys surprise… The universe, man, nature, life—everything blends and reverberates” (Page 10). Katsui strongly believes in the connection between these things and goes on to explain how everything in our lives is the product of light, such as communication. He describes that even just after birth, we create relationships with nature as our eyes develop and we begin to see our environment (W.S./Rectures). His ideas clearly translate into his designs and everything he does comes straight from these which is not that common among graphic designers as they tend to be more technical with their designs. His unique approach is something to be admired in the graphic design world and even just in general. 

Mitsuo Katsui not only lives a very full life with multiple achievements to show for it, but he also helped influence design in Japan. He unfortunately is not well known, however he should be, not just as a designer, but also as a wise teacher who has important things to say through his interesting perspectives on the world. Hopefully one day he will receive the attention he deserves.



“NPO Corporate Thinking Platform PLAT: Mitsuo Katsui.” Plat

“Page 10.” Readymag Stories : Mitsuo Katsui,

Rettig, Patricia. “Search for Artists.” Mitsuo Katsui | Search for Artists | The International 

       Poster Collection | Libraries | Colorado State University

“Thinking Mitsuo Katsui. 09 06 1931.” THINKINGFORM,