Shigeo Fukuda

Known best for his sharp-witted posters promoting environmentalism and pacifism, Shigeo Fukuda was an artist who combined his appreciation for minimal Swiss design with his love for traditional Japanese art forms. Fukuda constantly toyed with visual illusion in his pieces, bringing a cheeky personality to his work that made it instantly recognizable. “Fukuda is not a communicator who conforms to the principles of accessibility,” said fellow designer Seymour Chwast, “with few exceptions, his purpose is to mystify.” 

His upbringing in a family with a large toy production business is said to have infused Fukuda with the whimsical, creative spirit he was known for. So much so that there was even an entire show centered on his love of the wacky titled, “Visual Prankster: Shigeo Fukuda.” He once told Idea, “I believe that in design, 30 percent dignity, 20 percent beauty, and 50 percent absurdity are necessary.” A known prankster, Fukuda dedicated his life to minimal designs riddled with tongue-in-cheek humor across a multitude of digital and physical mediums. Fukuda’s love of the unusual even extended to his home where he delighted in puzzling his guests with trick doors and optical illusions.

Fukuda began his affair with illusionism in the 60s. On the topic, he wrote a visual magic-focused column in the Ashai Newspaper and ran the bi-monthly visual illusion magazine, Visual Circus. He believed that illusions allow viewers to feel “satisfied by their own superiority” because they are trapped by visual illusions and not catered to with designs made to appeal to the general public. It was because of this that Fukuda strongly believed that visual illusion was a powerful method for advancing design. 

Fukuda had his first major success at a 1966 Czechoslovakian graphic design competition and the next year brought a boom in his career that led to his relationship with Paul Rand. Known best for the design of the IBM logo, Rand was a powerhouse in US graphic design and a strong connection for Fukuda. After seeing Fukuda’s work featured in Japanese Graphic Design Magazine, Rand helped him put his work in front of a US audience. Rand’s influence led to Fukuda’s first exhibition at the New York City IBM Gallery as well as a national interview highlighting Fukuda’s work. 

This 1967 IBM Gallery exhibition was Fukuda’s first time exhibiting in the US but wouldn’t be his last. In 1989, Fukuda was featured in a MOMA collection along with his Japanese contemporaries who also applied modern techniques to the woodblock print, one of the oldest traditional art forms. He had some notable commercial work but was known best for his social and cultural poster designs, most famously those in his Victory series and Happy Earth Day series. These posters served as a vehicle for advocacy through the popular Japanese design philosophy of never stating what can be implied. These designs used more indirect and abstract forms of expression to promote social and cultural changes. 

Fukuda was a visiting professor of design at Yale where he enacted his passion for teaching art and design in an enjoyable, relaxed manner. He believed that a strict, regimented curriculum keeps students from developing a personal sense of aesthetics that “should otherwise flow freely from within.” Because of his pioneering spirit and involvement with arts education, Fukuda was the first Japanese designer to be inducted into the New York Art Directors Club hall of fame who dubbed him “Japan’s consummate visual communicator.”

 

Heller, S. (2009, January 19). Shigeo Fukuda, Graphic Designer, Dies at 76. The New York Times: Art & Design. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/arts/design/20fukuda.html?_r=1 Shigeo Fukuda. (n.d.). ADC Global. http://adcglobal.org/hall-of-fame/shigeo-fukuda/

Shigeo Fukuda. (n.d.). Ideas on Design. http://ideasondesign.net/speakers/speakers/shigeo-fukuda/ 

Shigeo Fukuda. (n.d.). MoMA. https://www.moma.org/artists/2026?locale=en 

Penney, M. (2017, March 23). Designer Focus: Shigeo Fukuda. Notes On Design Features. https://www.sessions.edu/notes-on-design/designer-focus-shigeo-fukuda/ 

Shigeo Fukuda. (n.d.). Famous Graphic Designers. https://www.famousgraphicdesigners.org/shigeo-fukuda