Takenobu Igarashi

I chose Takenobu Igarashi as my designer for Who’s Who Designer project. Takenobu Igarashi’s career lasted for almost five decades as a designer and a sculptor. His representative works were in the collections in more than thirty museums throughout the world.  Takenobu Igarashi focused on hand-drawn and three-dimensional typographical drawing, and later, he started to do three-dimensional sculpture as well. Takenobu Igarashi started his career as a designer only working with letterforms, but he gradually moved toward doing sculpture. Later in his career, he began using terracotta and wood as his materials to do sculptures(ideasondesign). He has a firm idea about what he wants his work to present. He once said, “My approach to design and sculpture has always wavered between my wish to do something useful for society, and my desire to create something beautiful with my own hands. In my opinion, there are three essential things in work: passion, challenge, and discovery. Without that, work gets boring; with that, work is enjoyable. And enjoyable artwork also results in success(TypeRoom).” 

Takenobu Igarashi was a Japanese designer who was born in 1944 in Hokkaido, Japan. He graduated from Tama Art University in 1968 and went to the University of California Los Angeles for postgraduate studies in 1969. Then he started his career as a graphic and product designer. In his early career, he spent more time on the elements of communication and the simplicity of letterforms. Graphic design historian Steve Heller points out how “Takenobu Igarashi monumentalized type and typography when most of us were still living in Gutenberg’s shadow. With his unprecedented 3D type, Takenobu created an even larger shadow that brought the old world together with the future one”(It’s Nice That) 

In the mid-1700s, Igarashi started his exploration in three-dimensional typography. He first tested his ideas on papers, magazines, and posters. His posters got him a lot of international awards and recognitions. He also designed posters for UCLA, TCP Corp Jazz Festival, and Zen Environmental Design(Smithsonian Design Museum). Not only did he design posters, but he also designed trademarks for several American and Japanese companies such as Meiji Milk Products Co. Ltd., Suntory Holdings Ltd., Mitsui Bank Ltd., Tama Art University, Oji Paper Co. Ltd., and UHAG(Smithsonian Design Museum). Not only he designed for the companies, but he also created for some international publications such as IDEA Magazine, Graphic Designers on the West Coast, and three volumes of World Trademarks and Logotypes(Smithsonian Design Museum). In 1979, GRAPHIS, a leading Swiss design magazine, introduced and featured his work, followed by four more issues, the last one in 1998(Profile).

In the 1700s, a publishing platform Volume published the first book on Igarashi’s work, which looks into the designer’s three-dimensional types in forensic detail. The book’s title is Takenobu Igarashi: A to Z. It is the first significant publication on the particulars of Takenobu Igarashi’s career. The authors worked closely with Igarashi and interacted with him to learn about his archives and his works in great detail. The book also talks about how Igarashi would mix landmark designs with previously unseen works. According to Volume, they commented Igarashi in this way, “Timeless, arresting, and technically dazzling, Igarashi’s signature style demonstrates a mastery of three-dimensional type and perspective draftsmanship, refined long before the introduction of computers into the design industry. (Volume)”


In the 1980s, Igarashi began to collaborate with other influential graphic designers, including Massimo Vignelli on the OUN logo and Pentagram on posters for Polaroid(Smithsonian Design Museum). It was around the same time; he gradually started to advance to the field of product design and started to make alphabetic sculptures later(Profile). He once said, “I’ve been greatly influenced by Swiss artists who explored grid systems and mathematical order. I’ve also been influenced by Japanese architecture, which relies a great deal on unit systems(TypeRoom).” Therefore, he started to try different styles and arts. His style sometimes is delicate and sometimes is grounded. He created so many varied designs. Igarashi also began to utilize his three-dimensional typography skills to produce a series of graphic and product designs for the Museum of Modern Arts. One of these designs was a calendar. The calendar with three-dimensional numerals, which he designed for eight consecutive years for the Museum of Modern Art, is one of his masterpieces (TypeRoom). In the late 1980s, Igarashi began exploring the long history of Japanese crafts and started to work with local manufacturers to create manifold products, such as clocks, telephones, lamps, ceramics, etc., as well as sculptural work exploring organic forms through stone, metal, and wood(Smithsonian Design Museum). During this time, he developed a YMD series of products that were sold in a lot of American and European museum stores. 

Igarashi was a member of Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) since 1980, and he later served as the board member of AGI from 1983 to 1989 (Profile). Not only was he active in his field, but he also devoted himself to teaching the next generations. Igarashi taught at Chiba University in Japan and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in America. He collaborated in the foundation of the Faculty of Design at Tama Art University (Kaminoge Campus) to set up the first computerized design education in Japan. He was the first Head of the Design Department(Profile).

In 1994, he finished his 25 years as a designer, and he later moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming a sculptor. Therefore, he started to combine his understanding of three-dimensional typography into sculptures. After he had been working with marble, he discovered terracotta and wood as his material (TypeRoom).

In 2004, he returned to Japan and started to produce sculptures for various public spaces throughout Japan. Therefore [He] has resumed his design activity from another viewpoint as an artist (Profile). For Takenobu’s contribution to design, he has received the Commendation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Katsumi Masaru Award, the Mainichi Design Award, the IF Design Award and the Good Design Award(Ideasondesign).


Work Cited:

“A To Z.” Volume, vol.co/product/a-to-z/.

“Profile: Takenobu Igarashi.” Profile | Takenobu Igarashi, www.takenobuigarashi.jp/en/profile/.

“Takenobu Igarashi.” Ideasondesign, ideasondesign.net/speakers/speakers/takenobu-igarashi/.

“Takenobu Igarashi.” Takenobu Igarashi | Biography | People | Collection of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, collection.cooperhewitt.org/people/18042747/bio.

TypeRoom. “East Meets West in the Stunning Typography of Takenobu Igarashi.” TypeRoom, www.typeroom.eu/article/east-meets-west-stunning-typography-takenobu-igarashi.

“Volume Presents a Long-Overdue Monograph on Japanese Type Master Takenobu Igarashi.” It’s Nice That, www.itsnicethat.com/articles/takenobu-igarashi-a-to-z-graphic-design-sponsored-content-021018.