017 The power of words

This is an extraordinary environment we find ourselves in, where proliferation of new information takes place every second, even at this very moment. It is the destiny for the ones who were born into these times, and I know I must accept the terms whether I like it or not. Yet I have been feeling stifled; I didn’t like being dominated by information; I wanted to resist it. That is why I blocked it off, so that I would not be touched by the deluge of unwanted information. I went about it in a passive way: I do not turn on the television, I use the internet only when I have to, and I barely look at informational magazines. I rely on reference books to gain special knowledge that I need. For years I did not even have a regular newspaper subscription; I would take out a short term subscription to read a specific newspaper, on a need basis. And when I found something on the internet that caught my attention, I would go out and purchase several newspapers to follow the news article. As for my active approaches: regarding the internet media, I limit myself to releasing the minimum information related to the organizations I belong to. Until I launched this blog, I was not connected to social networks and maintained a careful distance. By actively blocking the to and fro of information, I think I was able to maintain a spiritual equilibrium, allowing myself to concentrate on my work, one at a time.

There was a reason why I refrained from releasing information. Through my work as a designer I am fully aware of mass media and its power of influence. When I am developing a design I am deeply committed to the duty of confidentiality; from the viewpoint of protecting the anonymity of design, and to ensure that there will be no self-promotion or promoting of my company. Once there is even a slight shift in the objective of releasing information that adds an unwanted layer of image to the client. I believed it was good manners to keep that from happening. I knew that if something was truly necessary it would find its own way and get connected. I believed that the emphasis should be on the quality of information rather than the quantity. And in reality, though I was at pains to shut off the stream of information, I still managed to get in touch with everything I needed in a timely way and manner. I never felt I was at a disadvantage—I never felt I was missing anything from my daily activities, developing new methods for communication design and conducting my research. However, this dispute over the Olympic emblem made me realize that this passive stance may not have been the right way. I found out that unless I spoke out using this blog as a platform, I had no way to tell the truth about what I experienced as a judge on the emblem selection panel.

So many people from all walks of life—artists, scientists, academics, homemakers, a secondhand bookstore owner, people working in architecture, graphic designers across the nation, web designers, product designers, editors, directors of fashion brands, buyers, university staff—some signing their names and others anonymous, have taken their time to read my humble words as a fledgling writer. They have written comments and have given their opinions. As I look at the responses, with every precious word, I gain more strength. I feel a ray of light piercing the stagnant air filled with silence, saving me from loneliness and despair. I sometimes encounter harsh words of criticism, penned in an emotional way. But considering how much energy is required to read through an article written by someone with a completely different set of values, and then taking the extra step to respond to it—I am obliged to feel thankful. I know this is pretty late in the day, but I am experiencing the interactive property of the internet for the very first time; I am truly feeling “the power of words” and its great potential; I am feeling the sensation, the dynamism of interactive communication offered by the new medium, as we speak.

Through the experience regarding the Olympic logo, I came to have doubts about my passive stance of blocking information. I have given various ideological reasons and logics to back up my choice to block the influx of information, but now I feel that maybe, the crux of the matter was, I simply lacked the courage to set sail into the great sea of information. I was stricken by the thought of stepping into uncharted territory. That is why I hung back from navigating the sea of information. But then, I was forced to set sail, by this so-called pressure from outside, which turned out to be an opportunity in disguise. Now I find myself looking at a whole new landscape that would not have been possible in my lifetime.

Until now, I maintained my spiritual equilibrium by actively protecting myself from domination by information and devoted myself to developing designs. But I realize that my personal lifestyle was actually the cause of the pitfall—hurting me in my role as a member of the selection panel for the Olympic emblems. I was painfully lacking information and knowledge regarding modern graphic design. Of the 104 entries that were submitted for the competition I could not figure out the creators for most of them. Even for the first place winner, I could not place the artist—thus was unable to assess the work based on the characteristics of the designer nor from the originality viewpoint. Furthermore, I had not seen the “Jan Tschichold” exhibition that was instrumental in triggering the ultimate withdrawal of the Olympic logo. Therefore I was unable to detect any resemblance with the art-direction of the exhibition fliers, which became one of the disabling problems of the first place plan. Though I do not specialize in typography, the fact that I did not have sufficient knowledge about Jan Tschichold was another problem in itself. The very fact that I did not detect any similarity between the first place design and that of Jan Tschichold demonstrated my lack of ability to sit on the panel as a judge to select the Olympic emblem. As a judge, I blame myself for this great blunder. I feel greatly responsible and deep remorse for not being able to make the appropriate decision. I did not have the knowledge nor sufficient information. 

I started this blog with the simple intention of offering an account of my failed attempt so that it could serve as a lesson for the next round of logo selection. But as I began writing my posts, I made some other discoveries. In cases like this, where multiple people are involved and linked in a composite way, the period of contact may be short, but nevertheless, information grows exponentially, ending in a tremendous heap. Thus I am facing another kind of problem—I need the technology and ability to translate the information into a sensible code of words. The television series “24” produced by the Fox network in the U.S.A. featured a real-time method of expressing events taking place at a dazzling pace. That compressed image may be close to what I am trying to relate here—my experience that mushroomed into an incredible heap of information. 

The blog structure is two-dimensional; words are laid out and stocked in chronological order. In order to keep a record of an experiential piece of information, which is a three dimensional formation, information that is varied and multifaceted, I believe I must patiently study each component, however small and seemingly trivial. If I am able to pick up each piece, study ith and stack it properly, I will eventually capture the essence. With that purpose in mind, I am doing my best to refrain from using words that demonstrate any commentary or feelings. I am trying to stick to details based on facts. The ability to create order in information and process information is not part of the aesthetic and sensitive aspects of design—it is an indispensable ability, part of the functional aspect. So it must be one of those innate abilities required of designers. But it is also something that can be learned and trained to make it work for you. I am constantly working on attaining a higher level of accuracy in handling information for this blog, through the process of trial and error. 

While I am on the topic of “the power of words” I would like to give thought to the word “disclosure”. In some of the responses from the readers, I spot the word “disclosure” and “accusation”. The methodology used in my bog is simply a stacking up of facts and evidence. It is a recording of things that I experienced, matters that have no reason to be kept secret. And I am offering my reflections on these facts. Maybe the words such as disclosure, with a definitely negative shading, are being used in contrast with the people who are trying to cover things up. While I have chosen this method, an open and rational style of discussion that comes with a chronological timeline, when I encounter the word “disclosure” and see it spelled out, I cannot help being taken aback—momentarily struck by a false illusion that maybe I am the one involved in something shady. “The power of words” has many facets. The cosmos of words is infinite and deep.

I carefully considered the background as to why the word “disclosure” is used in these comments. A part of me grudgingly agrees with the choice. We are stuck in an unhealthy situation where all people involved are maintaining a stolid silence. The Olympic Games in Tokyo is bogged down by a stifling cloud. I must repeat myself that what I am posting here in my blog is only a record of what the members of the judging panel and other people who were involved actually experienced and went through. There are documents and emails, plenty of physical records and information. I am simply stacking up facts and reviewing them. But I do wonder about this silence—everyone is keeping mum. Where does this air of oppression come from? In regards to this problem of the Olympic emblem, the Organizing Committee, experts brought in from outside, major advertisement agencies, panel judges, the entrants, guest artists, related design organizations, universities and companies—in short, the major players and all involved belonging to the graphic design and advertising industry are maintaining their silence. The reality we face is a silent one, where there is no discussion. It is a strange situation indeed when a whole industry shuts down. I am continuing to write, hoping to ignite a discussion, however slight. 

When we are confronted by a problem like this, in order to prevent it from happening again, I believe we must stack up facts and keep things recorded. When the “STAP cell” issue broke, I felt the way the matter was put to an end was unsatisfactory—I was sure that the same sort of thing would be repeated again. I felt it was a great opportunity for reflection and improvement and yet, the Japanese scientific society let it slip away. As a private citizen, I keenly felt the pain of lost opportunity. I still remember the indignation I felt at the time. Taken as a social phenomenon, I feel that both the “STAP cell” and the “Olympic emblem” issues are extremely similar in essence and structure. Therefore I feel, as a person involved and committed, I must continue with my review of events.

If we are to find a basic solution to the issue, we need to see healthy discussions taking place in various places, words and opinions need to be exchanged. That is what I believe. If people who were involved choose not to open their mouths, maintain their silence, and decide to quietly sit it out—such organizations, universities, companies and industries will be surely be acknowledged as anti-social cults that have forfeit their responsibilities. 

Thanks to my current and very real experience with social media, I have come to believe in the possibilities of “the power of words” more than ever. I have found a shining light in this simple two-dimensional format, which is interactive and set in a chronological timeline—it is the embodiment of “the power of words” that exists in the linguistic space offered by the internet.

Keiko Hirano

Keiko Hirano:
Designer/Visioner, Executive Director of Communication Design Laboratory
Hirano served on the panel that chose the official emblem for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which was ultimately withdrawn.