Designer of the Week: Mitsuko Sato
Call for entries: The HOW International Design Awards closes the evening of Monday, Sept. 11.
Ever since she redesigned the logo of the NBA Toronto Raptors at the age of 22, Designer of the Week Mitsuko Sato has lived what she calls a “nomadic creative lifestyle. Currently residing in Copenhagen after spending time in Montreal, San Francisco and Tokyo, she is the design lead at creative bureau Barkas. Here, she shares the encouraging story of her favorite project to date, the one thing she does when a project is going “too well,” and her best advice for fellow designers.
Name: Mitsuko Sato
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Design school attended: Dawson College, Montreal QC
How would you describe your work?
I kind of have a split personality when it comes to design. I alternate between being quirky, fun and playful to somewhat obsessive and overly critical. Luckily it usually goes in that order. This process allows me to explore extensively before I end up with what I set out for.
Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere—you just have to look for it. Inspiration hides in the oddest nooks and crannies. Sometimes finding it is quite the hunt! I don’t think I go searching in a specific place. Generally looking elsewhere than only online is a great place to start.
Who are some of your favorite designers or artists?
I really enjoy designers/artists who play with unconventional ideas of beauty. A new favorite of mine is Bráulio Amado. I just can’t stop looking at his work. Besides him, I can’t not mention Stefan Sagmeister. His work and the ways it influenced me played a tremendous role in my becoming a designer. I originally set out to finish my bachelor’s degree in psychology, until I saw the opening credits of The Happy Film six years ago. It was playful, the topic was meaningful, it was well executed and unusual. I was converted.
Do you have a favorite among all the projects you’ve worked on?
I do, and it makes for an encouraging story for all those who are just getting started out there.
My favorite project was designing the logo for the NBA team, Toronto Raptors. The brief was given to the entire office as it was a pitch, and we were all very excited about it. Everyone took it very seriously and drafted a seemingly endless number of logos. We spent multiple evenings and late nights in the office working away. Finally after a few sleepless nights, we all brought in our final versions to the table. Flavio Carvalho, the senior designer at the time, stood by the table and pointed straight at my render, saying, “That’s the one.”
We took it and ran with it. The pitch was a success. But as far as pitches go and major companies work, things took time and anything was evidently subject to be killed along the way. I didn’t think much of it. My contract ended, and I decided to move back to Montreal. A few years went by and there it was, plastered all over the place. Not a single vector point moved. It was my logo! Oh, and did I also mention I was only a junior at the time?
Is there a project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
All projects have their challenges. I think if everything is going too well, I make up for it by exploring more alternatives on the sidelines. Even though I sometimes end up going back to the first one and thinking, “Yup, that was the one.” A challenge that comes to mind was making my own portfolio. It was a real headache. I kept pushing it off and redesigning it until an odd turn of events led me back to Montreal in the middle of winter. Very little sun, freezing cold temperatures and plenty of alone time did the trick for me in that instance.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
That is a very good question. I would love to work more with clients and projects that I truly believe in. Designing is great, but what’s even better is designing for a person/product/cause that can make a small or big difference in this world of ours.
Also, to keep being challenged with new tasks and different types of projects. I would like to consider myself a lifelong learner. Always curious about learning how to do that thing I was either really bad at, or never really understood how it worked.
What’s your best advice for designers today?
Everything works out in the end. Just remember to be nice and do what you’ve got to do.
Que sera, sera.