If you are looking for a fun gift that would surprise the recipient, we recommend the KUDAMEMO, a fruit-like memo pad. Since its product launch, it has been featured in a number of media outlets, and it is a popular D-BROS product. After “Part 1: The Impetus for its Concept,” today we bring you Part 2, an interview with its designer, Masashi Tentaku. We asked about the story that started with an idea and ended with a finished product, and his own expressive style which he discovered during product development.
>>You can read Part 1 (The Impetus for its Concept) here.

–Was it difficult to actually turn your idea into a finished product and mass-produce it?

Oh my, it was really difficult.
First, during the rough draft phase, using a highlighter, I colored around a book-like prototype while it was closed. Because of the bookbinding technique used, it was laborious to color the fore-edges – you have to color the fore-edges with the pages firmly clamped together. At the time, I thought that if I didn’t do that, colors like red and green wouldn’t look three-dimensional, so at first I thought I’d have to color the fore-edges. At a typical bookbinding company, flat surfaces can be colored but curved surfaces like this cannot be colored.

–You can’t do this using a machine, right?

Yes. If it were to be hand-painted or spray-painted, it would be really laborious. I got worried and when I talked about how expensive it could get, I thought that maybe, maybe it could be colored without coloring the fore-edges so I had a sample made.

–That’s right, if I look at it carefully, the fore-edges aren’t the ones that are colored.

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▲By compiling a lot of pages with colored margins, they look like they are colored, three-dimensional objects.

Yes, only the margins of one side of the pages are colored. Moreover, at first I thought we’d need to color both sides (the front and the back) of each page, because I thought if we didn’t do that, it wouldn’t look as if the color was three-dimensional. But when we decided of just going for it and having a sample made, we consulted with a printing company, and surprisingly it went well even with just one side colored. Or perhaps I should say, coloring one side was even better because it looked more realistic. A real fruit seems to have fur sprouting from its surface that looks a little whitish, so coloring just one side made the product look even more real. It was a case of two birds in one stone – we didn’t have to color the fore-edges, and we only needed to color one side of the margins (laughs).

–And production costs would really go down too.

Yes, it became much easier to make. The process went pretty smoothly up until printing and bookbinding. Then the hardest part was making the product three-dimensional and attaching the stalk. We had to do these processes by hand because they couldn’t be done otherwise. Using our printing company’s connections, we had these processes done by a company that was really good at detailed work.

–It’s really hard to make it three-dimensional in a clean, pretty way, right?

At the beginning there were a lot of bent, distorted, defective memo pads. So we had to prepare an instruction manual for assembly, and we held lectures onsite. When things didn’t go well, we tried again; and I remember going onsite many times to have them learn how to do it properly.

–Because you had that steadfast dedication, you had your product made.

There was also the stalk to consider. I thought about making it using paper or plastic but that would look a little cheap, so I tried looking for a real stalk. But we decided it would be ok just to use something that looks like a stalk, so we chose a vine. Wanting some impact, the packaging at the beginning were real fruit containers, and we arranged the memo pads the way a fruit store would display fruits. There is much demand now for KUDAMEMO as gifts, so we revamped the packaging the year before last with one memo pad in one box, but I think that using the fruit containers was a good way of showcasing the KUDAMEMO for its debut.

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▲This was KUDAMEMO’s packaging in the beginning, with the memo pads looking like real fruit (this type of packaging is currently unavailable).

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▲Beginning 2014, the packaging was revamped with one memo pad in one box.

–Even the cross-section looks like its real.

That was hand-drawn.

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–Hand-drawn?!

I thought that something realistic would be better, but if we used a photo, it would look too real so I wanted some sort of nuance. Because the contrivances of the KUDAMEMO are interesting, I didn’t want to “design” the picture as much, but if there were too little design, it would look too dry so I thought that a hand-drawn illustration would work best. It’s a question of balance.

–What do you think of how your idea became a product in the way that it did?

There were a lot of people who worked with me to turn this into a product – from our team members to the printing company. If those people didn’t help, I don’t think I would have been able to do this. Another thing that I realized is that when you think that you can do something interesting, that something is already there the moment you come up with an idea. That kind of feeling was a first for me.

–Oh, I see. Was the idea like a response or feedback to your thought of doing something interesting?

In design, I think that there are many kinds of ways to do it until it is ready to be incorporated. There are times when you try something, then another, then another until you come up with something good. But there are also times when even though you haven’t made a rough draft, it’s something that doesn’t exist yet, and when it comes to fruition you know it’ll definitely be interesting. But you need to come up with a strong idea first for this kind of design to happen.

–Which kind of designer are you? The first type or the latter type?

I like the latter kind of designing. Ever since I made the KUDAMEMO, I felt that even with that kind of thinking, there is still a way of making something. That kind of thinking became the impetus for something.

–Do you also work this way every time you work with advertisements?

Right now, I try my best to design this way.

–You didn’t design this way before the KUDAMEMO?

That’s right. I used to think that working on something for 200 hours is better than 100 hours; and that 300 or 400 hours is even better. But I realized that surprisingly, you could make something interesting even if you come up with the idea for it in just 1 minute. But I don’t call this an invention, because to go from 0 to 1 is quite difficult for me to do. Maybe it’s a matter of changing how you think, of changing how you look at something that already exists just a bit – I think that this way of coming up with an idea is good.

–Is it something like converting a small idea into something else?

Each designer today has his or her own unique world-view and expression. When I thought of what I possess having made the KUDAMEMO, I think it’s the ability to surprise people and make them happy with just a little contrivance, and this also added to my self-confidence. Just like in Booooon!, more than its design, I think that the contrivance of tearing the paper on top to see the color of the paper underneath was an interesting idea.

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▲Pulling the tab tears the paper and opens the envelope, leaving a “vapor trail” similar to what an airplane leaves behind.

–That was also a fun idea!

Up to this day, I’m still thinking whether it could be used in things other than an envelope. So I think that my specialty or distinctive characteristic is making something easily understandable at a glance in terms of graphic design, but also thinking of some sort of mechanism or contrivance – I think that this is also a good thing.

–Do you mean you’ve found your own style?

Yes, I think I’ve found my preference, or what you can call my specialty.

–I see. Letting graphic design students know that there is also your way of designing – I think your way could also be a point of reference for them.

I think so too. That’s why when I look at young, more junior designers than myself, I think that when they are told to design something by clients, there is a part of a more junior designer that he or she doesn’t like designing merely on the surface, but surprisingly graphic designers only tend to design on the surface. I think that I only truly realized how designing on the surface is not the only job of a graphic designer when I was given the chance to work in a good place like D-BROS. I think that knowing exactly what you’re good at and what you like is also for your own good.

–The KUDAMEMO is really popular as a gift. As I thought, you want people to be surprised, don’t you?

The apple and the pear is a beloved motif around the world – it’s like a common language. It’s soothing, isn’t it?

▼You can purchase a KUDAMEMO at the D-BROS WEBSTORE.
D-BROS TOKYO

<Designer’s Profile>

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Masahi Tentaku
Born in 1978 in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. Graduated from the Department of Design, Tokyo University of the Arts. Received a graduate degree from the same university. Joined DRAFT in 2005. Was involved in the development of D-BROS’s popular “KUDAMEMO,” and other products. Member of the Japan Graphic Designers Association (JAGDA). Received an ADC Award from the ADC Tokyo Art Directors Club in 2010. Received a New Designer of the Year Award from JAGDA in 2011.