In this project, we are interviewing artists and creators from around the world to showcase the inspiration behind S/PARK, Shiseido's Global Innovation Center. Amid S/PARK's Golden Prize at Kukan Design Award – the most significant and prominent Spatial Design Award in Japan – we are featuring Philip Linnemannmann, designer and Executive Creative Director at Kontrapunkt. We asked him about Kontrapunkt, what inspires him and his experiences working on the extensive signage system, wordmark, bespoke typeface, pictograms and art direction for the Innovation Center.

――First of all, how did Kontrapunkt become involved in this project with S/PARK?

We received a phone call from Shiseido, they liked our work and wanted to know if we would collaborate on a project for the Shiseido Global Innovation Center. We were, of course, very excited about the assignment – and that pretty much sums up the beginning of the collaboration.

Before kicking off a design process, we always begin with extensive research. We looked into the history and design heritage of Shiseido and instantly fell in love with their old posters. We found the illustrations and combination of colours truly innovative – not just for their time, but also for the present – they are incredibly modern.

Also, we were extremely impressed with the old and beautiful Shiseido typeface. It is not often that we Westerners can distinguish Japanese typefaces from one another. But the Shiseido typeface stands proud on its own and left a strong impression on us. It seemed natural to focus on it in our work, and the first thing we came up with in the project, was the S/PARK logo. We designed the SPARK 'S' curve, based on the shape of the shadows of the original Shiseido 'S'. We then created the other letters based around this design. It is a modern interpretation rooted in the Shiseido type design heritage and history.

You can see the full case study on Kontrapunkt’s website

――Kontrapunkt has done design for many different companies, not only in Denmark but in Japan and around the world. Could you tell us about Kontrapunkt’s policies, or things you watch out for to stay true to what Kontrapunkt is?

In everything we do, we always think holistic. We try to avoid judging something without looking at its context: how is it used, and what are the different elements surrounding it. For example, the first thing we were asked to do, for the S/PARK project, was to create the type design, pictograms, signage, and theme colours. But we had to begin with the logo (described above) – all the elements had to speak the same language. Furthermore, we also needed to ensure the signs we designed, matched the S/PARK interior created by Nendo. This idea, called 'holistic branding', is something we apply to all our projects.

――Do you ever struggle to get clients to understand the concepts behind Kontrapunkt? Is so, what do you do?

Surely, everyone won't understand your thoughts and processes straight away; thus, it takes time to fully understand how we work. That is why we cherish long relationships with our clients. The stronger the bond between the client and us, the better we collaborate as a unit helping each other and not monopolising on ideas.

We believe that a corporate brand – created over half a year, a year or sometimes several years – is an organic process that takes (and needs) time to grow and fully develop.

——Please tell us your impression of Japan.

Kontrapunkt's first encounter with Japan was eighteen years ago, while exhibiting at Ginza Graphic Gallery. My father Bo Linnemann, current manager of Kontrapunkt Japan, fell in love with the Japanese culture, food and people. Since then, one of our missions has been to study the similarities and differences between Japanese and Danish design. The considerable interest in, and love for, Japan is one of the reasons we have built an office in Tokyo. I believe there are many similarities between Japanese and Danish culture. In particular, I think our values can be easily aligned. There is also a similar appreciation for minimalism and craftsmanship. And finally, both Danes and Japanese are very humble people. We often find communicating with the Japanese a very smooth and easy process.

——Not only are the Japanese and Danish similar in terms of character, but their design has a lot in common as well, doesn’t it?

Much of Danish design philosophy is based on old Japanese values. If you look into history, Danish design was developed in the 1920s and 1930s by great designers, architects, and furniture makers such as Arne Jacobsen, Hans J. Wegner, Kaare Klint and Knud V. Engelhardt. Their inspiration came from Bauhaus in Germany, that took their inspiration from Japan. If you research Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who built the famous open Barcelona Pavilion, you will learn that he too was inspired by traditional Japanese architecture, and the Japanese philosophy of incorporating design that connects the inside of a building with the outside.

——What do you feel Japanese companies expect from Kontrapunkt when collaborating?

One of the areas in which Danes exceed, and we see our Japanese clients take an interest in, is sharing ideas and updates. There seems to be a general company interest in Japan to become more open about in-house information and challenging the concept of what used to be defined as company secrets. We want to help this new development, and one of the things Kontrapunkt would like to do more in Japan is collaborate with "competitors". For example: work with other Japanese advertising or design agencies. It is easier said than done and requires a well-thought-out design process and a good understanding of each other. We need tools and references that can help us collaborate, start conversations and build trust. And trust is probably what it all comes down to in the end. Collaborations are easier when trust exists and impossible without.

――Finally, where does your inspiration come from?

Inspiration comes from all places: from chatting with close friends to meeting new people, learning about new cultures, and travelling. At Kontrapunkt, we also get inspiration from our corporate heritage. My inspiration often draws on photography. In Japan, I take a lot of pictures and manly photograph buildings and architecture, including construction sites. I also read a lot of books, and I find it interesting to dive into what inspired and motivated other designers from the past. I also find it interesting to understand different craftsmanships. Just last week, my colleagues and I visited an old kimono factory in Hamamatsu. I was impressed with the cloth wrappings. These kinds of unexpected discoveries and teachings serve as great inspiration and are something I prioritise for inspiration, but also for growth and learning.

Kontrapunkt is a leading Scandinavian brand and design agency. For 35 years, they have worked with clients such as Carlsberg, Noma, DNP, Denso, Novo Nordisk, Glyptoteket, KPMG, Arken, Coca Cola, Experimentarium, DSB, Mitsubishi Motors, Karimoku, Goertek, Tasaki and Asics Tiger. Today, Kontrapunkt has more than 60 employees working in design, strategy and technology at the offices in Copenhagen and Tokyo.