The Future of Sound Design with Yuri Suzuki
This episode features Yuri Suzuki, a sound artist, designer, electronic musician, and partner at Pentagram. We cover topics such as the importance of business skills, the value of mentors and being open to asking for advice, career tips for designers in any field, the intersection of art and commerce, the importance and opportunities of sound design in the years to come, how he became a partner at Pentagram and much more.
Yuri Suzuki is a sound artist, designer and electronic musician. His practice explores the realms of sound through designed pieces that examine the relationship between people and their environments – questioning how both music and sound evolve to create personal experiences.
Central to Suzuki’s practice is collaboration. He has worked with various musicians, including will.i.am and Jeff Mills, and commercial clients such as BBC, Disney, Audi, Facebook, Korg, Teenage Engineering, Moog, Red Bull, and Google, with whom he developed a unique AR Music Kit.
"Sound design is not about aesthetics. It’s about the context, and it should be based on psychological research. All sounds should have a reason."
His work can be seen in several international museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He had both solo and group exhibitions at the Tate Britain London, Mudam Luxembourg, MoMA and the Museum of Modern Art Tokyo. In 2016, he received the designer of the Future award at Design Miami.
In 2018 Suzuki was appointed a partner at Pentagram, the world’s largest independently-owned design studio. Based out of their London headquarters, Suzuki and his team continue to work internationally, pushing the boundaries between art, design, technology and sound, crossing the fields of both low and high technology.
- Introduction [00:00:00]
- The Mindful Creative Year [00:01:02]
- Episode Introduction [00:05:35]
- Career Advice and Tips for Young Designers [00:08:17]
- Work Routines of a Sound Designer at Pentagram [00:26:12]
- On the Importance of Business Skills and Having Mentors [00:33:59]
- The Intersection of Art and Commerce [00:42:07]
- Short Episode Break – Support the Podcast [00:47:16]
- On Becoming a Pentagram Partner [00:47:59]
- The Future of Sound Design [00:52:14]
- How to Be a Better Creative Professional [01:07:35]
- Episode Outro [01:10:51]
Yuri: What sound design should be? It’s not about aesthetic. It should be a context and based on the psychological research as well. So all sounds should have reason.
This is the Creative Voyage podcast, a long-form interview show with the mission to help creative professionals to level up. I’m your host, Mario Depicolzuane. I’m a creative professional myself, active in the fields of art direction, graphic design, and consulting. This podcast features insightful conversations with some of the world’s most inspiring creatives. Reveals the stories that shape their lives and careers, and offers actionable strategies to help you take your mindset and skills to the next level. I invite you to join me on this journey.
Mario: We’ll be back in a second to talk about all things sound design. But first, a quick message about our upcoming online workshop.
“Before the workshop, I used to get very stressed with projects. And then I kind of understood that in order for me to enjoy, like doing the work that I do, I need to be willing to work on those things as well. And little by little, I think that I’ve built a routine and a lifestyle that keeps me a little bit away of those things that I think that keep me back like comparing myself, or thinking that I’m not ambitious enough, or that sort of things that we often find on social media.”
“I started like to work as an independent designer. I had lots of things on my mind. I didn’t know how to start. And the workshop really helped me to have clear objectives of what I wanted to achieve. It made me realize like many things I wanted, not only for the business, but in many aspects of my life. So it made me see like what I really wanted in each area and make it clear.”
I’m excited to share that The Mindful Creative Year Workshop is back. This online course and community will provide insights into a sustainable and personalized planning system designed to align your inner compass and actions, met out respirations, and achieve fulfilling, professional and personal year.
“Even though you have a lot of things that you want to do, you can do only certain things in one day or one week. Definitely like trying to prioritize what needs to be done and how I can help others. At the same time, me being sort of a recent graduate and more of a newcomer into the design industry, it’s been sort of hard trying to learn and then also do some my own practice at the same time. So having that schedule and a set of goals did help a lot. Sort of consistency was what I needed.”
“Everybody who was there, or at least I speak for myself, but I feel that everybody else was there because we already wanted to change something about the way we work. And it was just like a guide to start that journey of what steps to take first to start changing the way we work. And I started organizing my personal life and my work life.”
“And also, I think that I’ve become a little bit more intentional with what I do. I used to take just projects that came to me. And right now, I’m trying to focus more on just doing whatever I want to do just to grow and to see where it takes me to at least have a healthy mindset to keep growing.”
As ambitious creative professionals, we know that work and life can often seem overwhelming, dealing with clients, crazy deadlines, tight budgets, managing our team ourselves, and having a fulfilling and healthy personal life on top of that is a constant struggle. And we can easily find ourselves with another year behind us and we still haven’t worked on that big dream, new business, a side or a passion project, or that persistent personal challenge. We all dream of living our best creative lives. But it’s unlikely that will happen by pure chance. It will take vision, work, dedication, strategy and appropriate tactics.
In this coming workshop, I’ll share the core principles that I’ve learned over the years. I’ll show you my yearly planning system and the mindsets behind it. It can be a seemingly straightforward process, but the challenge is to do it. And this workshop provides that setup and accountability. Most importantly, we’ll all share our experiences.
“Besides my own personal analysis of things, I think that it was really, really inspiring and motivating to listen to everyone in the workshop. That really gave me the chance to be a little bit more flexible even with myself. In the beginning, it sounds very ambitious to have this different set of goals. But with time, they start to develop and you start to understand them and really take them with you.”
There’s work ahead, it’s worthwhile, and it should be directed well. Would you let another year pass without intentionally approaching your ambitions in work and life? I hope you’ll consider joining us. Visit creative.voyage/newyear To find out more.
In this episode, I talk to a sound designer and sound artist.
Yuri: My name is Yuri Suzuki. I’m a sound artist and sound designer. And I’m living in London and also like seaside town called Margate. And normally what I do is one section I go with you doing a lot of work sound, basic experience, base installations, and product, some like 3D base experiential project. But more based on the sound, always. At the same time, I’m doing sound design as well. I’m making music at the same time. So sound is the kind of center of my practice, but the kind of form expression or the output is always different.
Yuri Suzuki is a sound artist, designer, and electronic musician. His practice explores the realms of sound through design pieces that examined the relationship between people and their environment. Questioning how both music and sound evolve to create personal experiences. Central to Suzuki’s practice is collaboration. He has worked with various musicians, including Will.i.am and Jeff Mills, and commercial clients such as BBC, Disney, Audi, Facebook, Corg, Teenage Engineering, Moog, Red Bull and Google with whom he developed a unique air music it. His work can be seen in several international museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He has had both solo and group exhibitions at the Tate Britain London, Mudam, Luxembourg, MoMA and the Museum of Modern Art Tokyo. In 2016, he received Designer of the Future Award at Design Miami. In 2018, Suzuki was appointed a partner at Pentagram, the world’s largest independently-owned design studio. Based out of their London headquarters, Suzuki and his team continued to work internationally pushing the boundaries of art, design, technology and sound, crossing the fields of both low and high-technology. In this episode, we’re going to listen to the highlights of the conversation I have with Yuri in June 2020. We cover topics such as the importance of business skills, the value of mentors, and being open to asking for advice, career tips for designers in any field, the intersection of art and commerce, the importance and opportunities of sound design in the years to come, how he became a partner at Pentagram, and much more.
Suzuki was born in Tokyo in 1980. After studying industrial design, he worked with Maywa Denki, the Japanese electronic art unit. During this period, Yuri began exploring the relationship between music and technology. In 2005, he moved to London to study product design at Royal College of Art, where he further developed his interest in the crossover between art, design and music, using both analog and digital technologies to explore it.
I’ve started my conversation with Yuri asking him about the advice he would give his younger self during those early days of his career as suggestions for designers beginning their professional journeys today.
Yuri: Really, in the beginning, like I wish I can be a musician. And then like I used to study piano. And also I used to play trombone as well. And my biggest difficulty is like my background is dyslexic. So I couldn’t read any musical score. So that’s one of the biggest difficulty being a musician. And then I’d also currently like structure for the music is very mathematical in the way. And then that is really hard for me to understand for the logic.
I didn’t give up, but it was super hard to understand. So I probably might know rich for the whole record musical record logic stick no rich. It’s quite limited I think to compare with professional musician. And I find that I cannot be a proper musician to playing piano or trombone at all because I’m not digested to understand, and I can read musical score as well. So I kind of gave back to be a musician. And after that, I’m more into electronic music. Because first time I discovered music in general, which doesn’t require any proper like musical logic, and also you don’t have to read any musical score to composing music. So I’m more talking about dance music, like techno and house, that kind of music became interested because kind of occur. There’s no logic behind me about kind of creating music, which is provoking people to like a dancing or like excitement.
Then I became a DJ when I was like 20 or something. So I hope I can be like a professional DJ as well. But however, a good DJ is really difficult kind of profession to be as well. And also like a lot of negativity about drugs and so on. So I’m not really into that. So I decided not to be DJ that time. And also a kind of in a dance music producer.
Then I study design and product design in London called Royal College or Arts. But that time it’s abroad a lot, he was a head of the department. So he gave me so much freedom to explore the field or observe between design and the sound. So I spent two years about looking for localization between design and the sound. I didn’t really create any particular work or anything more, but experiment I did all time. But that lead to think about the kind of identity for the sound design and sound artists that were highly useful.
And after graduation, I had kind of a job offer from a couple of Japanese companies to work out – Some of them got quite exciting musical instrument designer, but some of them did not really related what I do. But that time was kind of huge credit crunch was happening. So that was 2008. That could be much of what’s happened in that time. So I lost over a job that time. But that was probably good thing happen to me because I’m kind of had to be independent for a while and then the kind of slowly building like my career as more, but kind of doing art installation because a lot of like exhibition of I’ve got that time and so start museum commission. I never belong to any gallery until now. I wish I can belong to the gallery, but I’m directly talking with museum about creating large scale installation and so on. So I’m start working that kind of project quite a lot for some time on parallel. And doing next some product. And also started designing sound as well.
So that was past 10 years I have been developing. So I will say that’s kind of really semi-professional way to start building carrier. It’s slowly making carrier in the way. And then 2018 I joined Pentagram as well. So actually, I’m not really changing what I’ve done before and the what I’m working on the Pentagram, but doing more one side of the kind of practice like sound design, sound identity, that actually more deeply managed to investigate and also develop more now. So that’s more like we feel like one side doing a lot to like art abstract, quite exciting project. Same time, we have a lot abstract concerning about what sound design is going to be and working with company to creating identity as well. So it is really great to have two strong practice I’m running. So that’s how I develop my practice, I think
Mario: I’m curious, at that time when you started your career, like those early days, if you could go back and give yourself at that time like a piece of advice or something that you wish you knew at the time, what would that be?
Yuri: Yeah, it’s hard. But I think more practical side because I had a lot of luck and fortunate for the in terms of working with wrong royal and wrong accountant before. Because like English is my not first language. And yeah, English not my first language. And also I’m dyslexic as well. So I kind of too much trusted with people that such as people called royal, like people could accountant. And I had a huge problem after that kind I lost so much money because they didn’t do any job and they did really, really horribly done quite rough job or something. So I was in trouble before and it does almost crashing my business. But I will say all responsibility coming to you even you hiring just lawyers or accountants, they charge a lot of money. But nothing protects it and nothing really to any job.
So I think it’s very hard to find a food to trust. And also especially you cannot really check contract or details that accounting and tax law yourself sometimes. So it’s like a probably it’s hard to possibly it’s kind of better to check yourself but it’s not excused but I have what can districts background others have difficulty understanding English sometimes. So that is quite hard, but it’s really tough to trust under some of it kind of food trust as well.
So that time I had awful lawyer and awful accountant, but now I have a look quite good lawyer and very good accountant now. That’s kind of meeting right people and feel you can trust. And so you have to have responsibility, but do you sign on to what do you do. It’s quite important, I think.
Mario: Yeah, I think that really goes into that professional side of the career.
Yuri: Absolutely. Yeah.
Mario: Often, when we’re young, I mean, I had similar experience. And sometimes you’re not even like aware that like that’s also part of your job. If you’re like a graphic designer or a sound artist, you’re like, “Okay, I need to do how to make a logo and play with typograhy or do different things.” But you don’t think that much about also finding the good accountant is also part of my job, especially at the beginning, where maybe I don’t have a team.
Yuri: Absolutely. So I think if you’re working for company, you probably don’t worry too much about it. But if you have a responsibility and you are running your own company that you cannot ignore that can topic. So it cannot be excused neither. You just say to government, “I didn’t know that doesn’t really work.” What you sign isn’t really responsive coming to you even tax or some obligation on the contract, which is really crushing business. Actually, in fact, back seven years ago, or six years ago, I had a huge problem and almost bankrupt my business once.
Mario: Okay, well, so let’s follow this thread about people who are starting out as creative professionals. And I assume that you’re in this point in your career where you also have like a team or you also probably have like younger professionals who join you, maybe even like interns, or you also like lectured and you’re interviewed on podcasts. So I think there are people who look up to you also like young professionals. So I’m curious, what would be some advice that you will give to like a young person who is entering into creative profession. It can be either just in general, like in design. Or more in particular, like if somebody is becoming like a sound designer.
Yuri: Yeah, it’s a hot topic. Because like now, if you want to do sound design, actually like software – A lot of software can make amazing sound quality now. So like such as logic as a software. So basically, you can make in digital audio workstation. Logic is cheap, but sound is amazing. And also, I’m personally I’m using a lot Ableton Live and has got a lot of flexibility. And just like infinity possibility of the kind of competition, and the sound of grit is incredible.
And of course, like Pro Tools, like has got a really amazing sound quality as well. But these two software is not expensive at all. So even professional people using this software, but anyone starting sound design or accomplishment music tomorrow can be the same platform. So I would say more. But the idea is more important. Because I think I strongly think I’m came from really old school, electronic music backgrounds. I always started for analog synthesizer practice in a way. So I know synthesizer is like basically kind of like a structures. I know Synthesis, it’s created by Dr. Moog, and all company following his method. But if you know like that basis, you can do anything. So I would say to Ableton Live, there is no particular sensor that you have to buy anything to running it because it’s all the same logic and methodology to creating. So that kind of basic structure for making an audio synthesis kind of starting for record, low-frequency oscillation, and the voltage control oscillator, and the voltage control filter and the voltage control amplifier and also envelope generator. That’s everything. So anything inside the content that element.
And also quite luckily, because when I was a teenager, most of the equipment quite expensive, like Roland used to produce amazing synthesizers. And I always buying a can secondhand price. But still like that time, 400 pound is quite high price. But now you can get like 150 pound for the cheap synthesizers now. And it’s all rather going to sound the quality incredible. That’s such an amazing time. If any young people want to start tech sound design, because equipment is really cheap, including software. And they used to be like buying digital workstation software like cost like 500 pound or 600 pound. That’s really expensive. But now Logic is 100 pound or I could more or less. It’s incredible time.
So I personally recommend like any low price synthesizers such as company like Arturia, they are creating a tiny synthesizer Microbrute, which is really great for learning the basis. And also Roland, creating a series called Boutique. It has got kind of a modification, or inspired from old, I could say past huge synthesizer into small format. You can buy on like 250 pound or something. And you can do amazing sound. In fact, I’m using it from like that kind of format as well. So I think these kinds of equipment really helps.
Mario: Yeah. Obviously, the software and the hardware is becoming more accessible and more amazing. But that in one sense also kind of leveled the playing field a lot, which is nice. It’s a part of this overall democratization of a lot of things. So I’m curious, what are some of those things which are then like a differentiating factor. Let’s say, like a young sound designer wants to do an internship at your studio and you have like five sound designers to choose from, what do you look for? How do you choose one over the other? What do you like prefer, or like for them to know, or have?
Yuri: Yeah, actually, I want to give as much as possible in the way kind of hope or some creativity, freedom in the way. But same time, as I’m learning business, because in the Pentagram, we pay least a minimum wage of salary, even internship, because we are not people to work in for free. So that actually – It’s experience, but same time that is actual work as well same time. So for me, it’s really – First of all, most important, if you had dedication, many people has got a lot of creative amazing ideas kind of like I want to export more. But most importantly, one things to finish properly and also think about this writing so not. That’s really important, I think for me, people have got the dedication and also with trustable good humanity just most important. And secondary, more technical in the way.
And unfortunately, I cannot afford in the way growing up somewhere from scratch to teaching everything. That’s quite difficult, because we pay for that. Even people [inaudible 00:23:19] minimum which is not really enough, but we still pay for the work in the way. So we want to have some skill already people have, like such as like [inaudible 00:23:31] music logic. Unfortunately, I’m not fully 100% understand yet, but people want to have proper training for music, that’s very important. And also sound the design part. Like I have to know like minimum knowledge how to play like a synthesizer, but more about the diversity of syncing. How sound is going to explored. And then also professional fabricates sound. That’s quite important. But some part cannot cover it. Of course we’re going to in helping for that to make things happen. But sometimes at least knowledge how to do it is quite important, I think.
And so I think that’s the primary first step. And also of course idea what kind of creative idea people have. But I think sometimes people have confidence in the way like a musician can do this, this, this. But sometimes musician, also like I would say like a diversity in the way. Because if you’re that kind of making identity for the music, that is all about focus on one aesthetic or a goal. What is you express yourself? So it’s going to be that not wide? I think should we go and focus on one direction, but the sound design some desperate opposite, so you had to be to a diversity because when you are designing for many different occasion you have to think about what other people think as well.
I think for me, it’s like I’m listing a lot of portfolios and a lot of talent in there. But unfortunately, most of time, I can’t hire most of them. Because of like a fastball, I can really afford many designer. And the secondary, they should be musician, not sound designer. So I think some people should it be focused on what they do. And like sound design and also recommend making music totally define things. So sometimes quite difficult to have a strong sense and strong direction. Some people’s quite confident to do it. But actually, in fact, if you have got brief, you might be quite confused in the way.
So for me, selection is really tough. There’s so much great talent in there, but fit into the my practice is really difficult. But I’m not criticizing at all. They have their own style as well. But our team has got particular people we want to have as team. But of course, all of my member is more talented than me, I would say. They’re really incredibly talented people. Has an amazing dedication.
Yuri Suzuki design consultancy is run by a small and dedicated team, which you redirects together with Gabriel Veraga II, their Lead Team Manager and Designer. They also frequently collaborate with diverse creatives and specialists. Here, I was curious to hear about their studio’s organization and Yuri’s work routines.
Yuri: Before joining Pentagram, my studio structure is me and one lead designer, and one studio manager, and one technologist, and me. Four people. So I have been used to working in a small team for a long time. And then since I moved to Pentagram, I do have one – Lead to design have been working with me called Gabriel. He’s incredible designer. And he can do over a 2D to 3D incredibly efficient, and also incredibly creative in the way. So I’m 100% trust how he does.
My team is have to have two roles all the time. So like one has to go to the creative side and management same time. Because just now as a kind of project manager and can cover what we do, because it’s nice to have creative knowledge to managing things as well. So Gabriel, he’s a good lead designer. And as we’re the history management as well, because management should require knowledge for management. That’s one member we’re working. And another sound designer, we have as at the moment more of an external contract base, but he’s doing sound design for some time, like more [inaudible 00:27:55] management side for creating kind of documents and so on.
And then I do have one more member, she’s background is more architecture background, but she started doing more about the business side. That’s the thing. Then I’m so lucky to have finally found a great collaborator. We are not in same team. But we are quite close to external consultancy company. It’s called Some Fish and fish fabrication. He’s doing a lot of sculpture for artists and the public sculpture and it’s incredibly efficient and finishes beautiful. And we’ve been working for many, many project in the past. So we always have someone I can trust 100%. I’m lucky to find that kind of person then.
And also another company called Counterpoint. They are mobile technology consultancy. They’re doing a lot of programming. So they’re based in Finland, and also Portugal. But we’re closely working most of the projects with this team. I feel like they’re almost like a part of my team. But at the same time, they have independence as well. But we are really close and we trust each other. And any project coming in, really 80% working with them.
Mario: Yeah. It sounds like you’ve developed like a good relationship and a partnership with them.
Yuri: I’m so lucky to finally find someone who can really trust and working without any stress and respect each other.
Mario: And I think it also talks to one of those positive sides or Internet as well that you can I guess collaborate on a daily basis with people who are not based in London who are more distributed, which is also –
Yuri: Absolutely yeah.
Mario: Also, nice.
Yuri: Yeah. So as you can see, my team will never be big. We never hiring so much people because, first of all, kind of our you know, trustable member is efficiency and the secondary that we need to just particular knowledge. And we can digest by ourselves.
Mario: Yeah. Yeah. So I’m always curious about the day-to-day or like a week-to-week life of other creatives. I mean, I’m a creative professional myself. But I do mostly graphic design in our direction. And I’m aware that there’s not one formula or one way to do things. I think that that’s actually one of the nice things about creative industry, because people can really try to find their way of doing things if it works for them and before in the market. So I’m curious if you could talk or give us like an insight into maybe like a week in the life of Yuri Suzuki. So just give us like an overview of what is like your role as the leader of your studio as well entail and kind of how that plays into your week, or even in your day?
Yuri: Yeah. Like I used to crafting a lot like in terms of the making 3D side or kind of building something or handling many things. But we do have a lot of projects. So I cannot really do everything now. So that’s why people helping me to the areas in projects such as the Gabriel. In general, he’s helping me to do most of the design work on strategic work sometimes. So we catch up always kind of Monday morning what’s happening for this week, then what’s going to be happening the entire one week to what to do develop. And also, we have like at least 7 to 10 project learning. Some of them super active, but some of them quite quiet. But we always like running many projects in parallel all the time. So I think we just touch point for different project and switch myself to a different kind of project. Then if we have like a strong deadline and something we had to finish, like we really have to concentrate to finish projects such as deadline. We had a huge deadline yesterday. And we were the past three days we concentrate on that kind of work. But on parallel, we’re in touch with other projects as well.
So it really depends, but I think that just learning structures more but kind of directing it, for example, in terms of sound design. Currently, we’re working for so the identity or the company sound, which is like I have to think about the kind of background of the company and the history, what to require, and have to have suggestion for the how to analyzing sound, how to make composition. So just make it basic composition and asking for more arrangement after. So there’s many, many different things to directing about. So yeah, so that’s basically what I do. So some of them are very initial touch and the initial concept and also all ball direction I do all point. And also, sometimes I had to do fabrications where but it really depends on the project, I think. So that’s kind of things, I think.
Mario: Yeah. And how do you – If you would like kind of think about how much do you manage or lead versus create currently? What’s that ratio for you?
Yuri: It’s hard to tell what ratio actually, because since Gabriel, our data designer and lead manager, he joined six years ago, I think. And it’s dramatically reducing my part of the management. He has been helping a logistics much, much better than me. So I kind of a cost now to focus on more but creative side, like what can direction. Because otherwise, it’s just quite hard to – Because if you can imagine like 10 project learning parallel, just sometimes not much time for management.
Mario: Yeah, yeah. You just need to like execute.
Yuri: Yeah. But still, I had to do so the proportion area code management part as well at some project. So out of 10 project, I probably do management two or three project.
At this point in our conversation, I wanted to hear if Yuri has experienced any significant professional challenges during his career. Here, we discuss the importance of learning about business side of our creative practice and the invaluable impact that generous mentors can have on our professional journeys.
Yuri: I think creativity, I luckily never struggling until now. Because I think a lot of the kind of idea keep coming in. And I always have both ambition what I’m going to do. However, I think more importantly, because one time I don’t know that some people want to be professional independent professional, you need to have sense for learning as a company running a business, which is when I was in college, nobody taught me. So it was quite difficult how to run myself. Like such as back to the topic for understanding basic law tax, that kind of thing is really struggling a lot. Just probably learning most painful way. I think that’s my struggling.
And then in terms of the kind of binder, you had to worry about sort of a cash flow, what’s it kind of know – What the new account? What kind of project is coming in next couple months. And you had to forecast sometimes to learning your own business. Because especially you’re hiring someone you have responsibility for people you’re hiring with. So that’s actually really another level. To be fair, like I think some people like want to focus on creativity. Hopefully, I could just focus on creatives. But this world is not as simple as, because I always wishing to find a great business partner, but it’s very hard to find that kind of people. So I earned myself.
Mario: Yeah. So you mentioned earlier that at one point, due to some of those early mistakes with taxes and stuff, you also almost went bankrupt. At that time, how did you like feel about it? And also, how did you then kind of went through it, because one thing is like to experience setbacks, but then other thing is to resolve that and then come back to even better place.
Yuri: Well, there’s not much difficulties overdoing things that’s happened. So have to just – Actually, really lost a lot of money, obviously, and almost like a super difficult running a company. But something have to do is really have to find a more job. And the sad thing. But that time, many, many people actually gave me advice. That was really valuable time for me, like how to learn in business, giving advice or creative side. Including [inaudible 00:36:43] he actually made time for me to talking through what I’m doing. But I really appreciate for that.
And also another friend Jack Shorts, he’s running a company called [inaudible 00:36:54]. And he was dignitary meeting me and the kind of book mentoring me widely. That’s incredible. So I really thanks for it for the people gave me a lot of advice. And including also like Daniel Vile, who is a partner at Pentagram. So he also like meet me sometimes and talking about what you should do, what can see.
So I think some key people, and it has got already in a success in the business, and they never hesitate about giving advice or sharing their resources. That’s incredible things happen to me. So Rom, Jack Shorts, Daniel Vile, those three people actually helping me a lot.
Mario: Yeah. And did you ask them for advice? Or were you like kind of push to the wall – Or do they kind of see what was going on or –
Yuri: Because at that time, I was really desperate. I really need any advice on how to run in creative business. And I’ve just contacted them and they didn’t hesitate to sharing anything under their mentoring me quite well.
Mario: Yeah, that’s amazing.
Yuri: Yeah. So I was really lucky because that kind of people you can’t really find much so –
Mario: Yeah. It’s true that you have access to some amazing creative professionals. But it also talks about the power of, in a way, just asking for help, which can sometimes be hard, or you can feel kind of like – For me, personally, it can be something it’s hard to be asking for advice or help, because it’s kind of you want to do everything yourself.
Yuri: Yah. And also I forgot one more person who gave me a lot advice for like a different matter I made for the company Structure Matter. So a person Jesper Kouthoofd from Teenage Engineering. He also gave me a lot of advice for how to make a business. And I made failure for like making one company’s business for the structure. And he gave me a lot of advice too. So just, yeah, people in the success in the business, in the creative business. They probably learned quite painful way to learning it neither.
Mario: One thing which is interesting, which is that it sounds like you had a really strong network or like some people around you that you could go to. So I’m curious how did that happen?
Yuri: I feel really lucky to find incredible people like them. So my lifetime has got always incredibly mentor. Like my kind of my style in a way like people can teach me different things like such as, well, as in Japan, I worked for people called Maywa Denki. I’m not sure you know him or not, but he’s an artist. So I have been working for him for five years. And I learned a lot from him how to do production and many things. And I’m still in touch with him. I’m still like do something together with him.
And since I moved to London, I studied to RCA and wrong a lot was there at the same time Darrow Bishop and another maestro taught me a lot about the interaction design. The relationship between objects or human that I learned a lot from him. And then I work for Teenage Engineering after graduate. So I worked for Teenage Engineering short time. And he, again, taught me a lot about what design. Like more finalizing beautiful design. And as well as after I quit Teenage Engineering, he keeps giving me advice if I need to. It’s more about I think like not coincidence finding it. It’s all about like where you study and where you work.
Mario: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Environment means a lot.
Yuri: Exactly. So I think I was extremely lucky to meet right people in right timing to absorbing a lot from there. Such as like also like Jack and also Daniel Vibe. Introduction coming from Sam Hecht actually. I used to study on Sam Hecht industrial facility used to study on Daniel Vibe. And he’s really my inspiration for long time as an art works. And it was really great to meet him that time and our kind of deviation start from there. That was maybe nine years ago, I guess.
So he often give me advice, and we slowly learning from him, then now we are in same company. He picked me up to the company now. So that’s really lucky to have an incredible talent and quite generous. And also they have already success in the business has got so much salt behind. So it’s very hard to say that it happened naturally. I’m not eager to find that kind of mentor or anything. It just naturally happened somewhere I can really respect. I can really trust that many way. So I think it just thinks coming naturally. And if you work for company, if you study in karate, I’m sure you can find someone.
Mario: Yeah, yeah. It talks to the there is value in choosing where you go, the city where you going to live, the college that you want to maybe study.
I believe Yuri is one of those great examples of designers who are confidently in the commercial and art sectors. I was curious to hear how he navigates the sometimes challenging intersection of the two.
Yuri: For me, there’s no kind of diversity clear line between a commercial project or art project at all, because I prefer a commercial company asking me work as project is not wrecking my capacity or my ability. They never asked me to do it anyway. So most of the project for me is really purely work, like brand new artwork, or brand new design work. It’s just no difference to think about art project or crime project at all, for me.
So I have been lucky to do any like experimental project always company or a museum organization supporting me to make it happen. So that’s the thing. So of course, I would say like difference between a commercial company and also culture organization, but fundamentally they are the same. They sometimes want to have like specific outcome and based on some sort behind, and then asking me to deflecting that brief. So for me, it’s no change.
And sometimes like a company, like if we categorize a super commercial company, there’s so openly accept any idea sometimes. And on the other hand, the cultural organization, there’s something extra and conservative as well. So for me is really no difference. Like all time is just purely for about work and purely about brief. And it’s really lucky to have some people say probably say like I do understand what you’re asking about because some people say you’re working on an auto commercial project and we want to do this kind of art project.
But for me, it’s never worked that way. All projects really same for me art for me, art form or it’s coming out a museum or gallery form or coming out from some commercial project could probably as output the idea and also priority same really.
Mario: Yeah. But maybe it also plays into that very early on you started like doing both or started doing a lot of those things which could be more considered on the art side, because there is this saying that usually you would get hired by things that you have in your portfolio.
Yuri: I think what I created for graduation project was kind of very border between I think some people say like art and some people say that’s a product, that kind of very weird kind of balance of the project I’ve done when I graduate from RCA. And that can lead to like a really no boundary between art and design at all. So since I graduate, I’m just keep pushing on what came to me. At that time, I think probably 70% is art museum project and 30% are sometimes productive development or installation.
Mario: Yeah. And then with those art projects, like gallery or museum commission, would you get like a grant or like –
Yuri: Yeah. They must have budget rewriting this project because I can’t do without anybody you know that this smaller big. But it’s all about either what I can do with the cost anyway and then because I think sometimes I’m quite efficient in way in terms of the kind of to linearizing project to be happen because my carrier started from the economic depression and it’s really all about efficiency and we try to make it fast because it doesn’t matter. Once the starting production we had to be very fast anyway and also cost efficient as possible and we know the kind of price for material and we know how to reduce the price.
So some museum quite surprised actually because we did one super large scale installation within three months. So museum was shocked to, “What? It’s going to be two-year project that almost for us.” But just know my team is really efficient and also when a clear outcome already so I’m not like stretching infinity in the way. Just like me if it’s can only three months, we can make it happen in three months. So that kind of way so next some project of course like taking time to need asking for stakeholders opinion on everything we doing it. So one project actually we are working for the permanent public sculpture we are working now entire project can only take three years and that’s also no problem for us and we were enjoying that progress to. But some larger scaling station you’re going to finish by that next month, we can do it as well. So we’ll make all projects is more about efficiency. And also like it’s nothing about like reducing creativity or quality at all. We’re always delivering high quality things, because I’m working with the right team such as making sculpture with fish fabrication. You’re always making beautiful, quality permanent quality work on a very short timeframe sometimes.
Hey, friends, we’re in the middle of this episode. So it’s time for a short break. If you like this podcast, I’m confident you’re going to enjoy the Creative Voyage Monthly Edit. Every month, we ask a new creative professional to curate 10 brief recommendations, including books, articles, products, videos and podcasts, which serve to inform and inspire and we deliver them exclusively to your inbox. It’s a newsletter curated by creatives for creatives. To sign up, visit creative.voyage/newsletter. Thanks everyone. Let’s get back to the show.
Yuri Suzuki became a partner at Pentagram, the world’s largest independently-owned design studio, in 2018. In their announcement, Pentagram partner Daniel Weil said, “I have admired Yuri’s design and artistic practice for a long time. His work points to a future where design connects to all aspects of how we experience the world around us.” I’ve asked Yuri about his experience of joining this prestigious design collective if it has changed his practice in any way and how we got that opportunity in the first place.
Yuri: So like Daniel Weil longtime mentoring me for while other he know my progress, what I’ve done, and progression over the 10 years my carrier before. And then that time, basically Daniel invite me, do I be interested in part of the Pentagram? And that’s all started.
Mario: Yeah. And how was the process? I mean, it sounds that it’s a bit more like informal in a way because you’re in this same or similar network? But then how did that process played out since he like asked you and then you joined?
Yuri: Yeah, that’s probably answering questions on the, I think, interview a couple of times. Like I’m just joking about that time like a bit like Masons kind of abstract. Pentagram is unique, because really largest company, and the really big. Like one of the largest independent design consultancy in this world. But towards the end, that is such a big company. I think overall employs 400 people working for a company. But down the end, yes, 25 partners personality in there in the company, including me. So that was no standard where the hiring – It’s really about talking with each partner. So before joining, I had, I don’t know meeting individual partner talking what I want to do in the Pentagram to get approval.
Mario: So with everyone.
Yuri: Everyone, no exception. Everyone. I talked with everyone. Because if any partner feel like I’m not the right person, I couldn’t join Pentagram. So it’s really about human his name because the company really like sounds like a large corporation company, but it’s really down to the human-based company. Yeah.
Mario: And has anything changed? Or did you need to adjust anything from like what you were doing before to what you were doing like –
Yuri: Not at all. No. No.
Mario: Okay. That’s interesting. That’s really cool.
Yuri: Because I think, first of all, Pentagram is not the price to compress yourself. It’s all about kind of a part of expansion for your creativity, I think. That’s I believe about, yeah.
Mario: And what are some of the positive things about it?
Yuri: I think positive things because I’m learning my own business like past 10 years. But problem is just I don’t have fair roads in the way because I’m running company. I’m kind of a manager, like presentations a company and the people working with me like Gabriel or manager the time, or like a creative technologist person. But we never be – Not same role as me, isn’t it? In the kind of what kind of crime we can get or what kind of cash flow in the coming in the future, that kind of thing. But now we can share with my partners what’s happening to me. So it’s more about finding [inaudible 00:51:34] talk about same difficulty and same topic. That’s positive side with Pentagram, I think. And the partnership is working together for some projects that are extremely variable for me to learning from other partners.
Mario: Yeah, that’s really cool.
Yuri: Yeah, so it’s my learning and that’s a good thing again feeling like a back to school kind of feeling. Like you have good classmates and some senior partner telling me about more, but almost like tutor telling about what should do the kind of back to learning again. That’s really incredible opportunity, I say.
According to Wikipedia, sound design is the art and practice of creating soundtracks for a variety of needs. It involves specifying, acquiring, or creating auditory elements, using audio production techniques, and tools. It is employed in a variety of disciplines, including filmmaking, television production, video game development, theater, sound recording and reproduction, musical instrument development, life performance, sound art, post-production, radio, and new media. Yuri is a remarkable sound designer and sound artist. So I was curious to hear his thoughts on the discipline, its challenges, or opportunities, and his opinion on the future of sound design.
Yuri: First work, I will say like sound design, it hasn’t been really not investigated enough in the design field, I would say. So, for example, human has got five different senses, sight, smell, tasting, and also hearing, and also feeling in the way. But most of your kind of graphic design has been most significant to develop in many, many years. And then tasting and smelling, like food design, has been really popular topic for past couple of decades, isn’t it? Last couple of decades. And those haptics design that has been dramatically improved also like past couple of decades too. So this topic has been really popular. And so many designers investigated and also attempt to change quite a while.
But however, I just really don’t see much sound design has been investigated for a long time in my opinion. And some company, of course, concerning for sound design carefully how to think about sound design. But however, problem is just asking some quite famous musician to creating sound. Of course, I’m not criticizing about musicians at all, but it doesn’t need kind of sought for like what sound design should be. It’s not about the aesthetic. It should be a context and based on that psychological research as well. So all sounds should have reason, like hearing, yeah.
Mario: Yeah. And so, when there are things which are not explored enough, there also lies a lot of potential or a lot of opportunities, which are not leveraged. So I’m curious, what are some of those opportunities you see in a field, which didn’t get proper attention?
Yuri: Yes. So I think sound getting more importance in the world because, first of all, our life like losing a lot of physicality these days, because mostly like a good example is electronic car. So used to be like a car have got two really huge engine motor inside and basically drive by fuels. And when you can accelerate, like motor has got a lot of noise and vibration from there. But the electric car doesn’t have haptics or sound at all, like just really quiet and just no vibration or anything. And a human being has been used to sound, the vibration, which is really linked to the part of the interface in a way. Like you can feel like accelerating speed up car, and you can actually hear the sound of the motor sound accelerated. So always sound the link to the action in the any machine behavior in the way. Because initially, like a car is not intended in making sound at all. Ty to make it quite possible. But in history, when car was created, humans has been used to its kind of noises, right? Now is the time, because of the so many object surrounding us, especially for machines losing a lot of sound, not only car. It could be more but kind of inside of house as well, that kind of Iot devices that used to have this domestic ambient sound for domestic sound inside the house. But they noticed became everything losing sound in the way.
So now like we had to put a new identity in each machine sound or a kind of car, many things too. We had to lead designing it. So that’s actually really, really interesting opportunity now, I feel, because we are now have to standing for brand new sound identity. And probably like a car sound in the past, it’s probably not the right sound because just too noisy. Not very present, maybe. So then, what kind of sound could it be fitting to new life? So like just like now is a stage to the consider soundscape, I think. So that’s why I quite exciting time and quite important topic now.
Mario: Yeah, so let’s try to play a bit with like an example. Let’s say there’s like a household device, like a light switcher, or like something. It could be something very simple, but it’s a new, almost like a touchscreen, there’s no buttons, there’s no sounds. And now you are briefed to make a sound or like a concept for it. How would you like approach that kind of task? And maybe you can like pick like an example. Maybe you have a specific example from your practice? Or just like a thought exercise, but like, how would you then be like –
Mario: Yeah. What’s the approach and considerations you would take to be like, “Okay, I’m rethinking a light switch or the sound of a car or –”
Yuri: Yeah, I think it does need to have like how sound psychologically affected human behavior. That’s most important. And also, we had to consider for what present sound, because hearing is a one was the most strongest sense to compare with five senses actually. It’s more close to the brain. I think smearing and also hearing it through really, really powerful way reception to the brain, I think.
So first of all, like one topic, I’m just talking about one example. The human itself doesn’t like reputation over the same sound. So that’s actually proved. Because if you listening for sound torture, which is actually aggressive music, but it’s a repeating same phrase again, and again, again, which is actually it could it be became torture as well. So that humans, like not used to listening same phrases or same sound again, again, again. So I will say that approach in the way that there’s a lot of touch point to hearing one particular sound, I wouldn’t consider to repeating same sound. The same esthetical sound, person but slightly changing pattern. That could be one of my direction. So that’s like one example actually. So there’s no particular example for like switch or anything, but really based on what human praised about, what human cannot accept from sound. Because, again, to compare with many as a sense, like such a haptics or visual, actually human is more sensitive of sounds.
So we have to carefully design. It’s not about aesthetic. I think it’s all about what makes sense to fit in a sound. That’s proper I’m more careful about that. Like instead of go for melody or to instead go for content of the sound. It’s more about one touch point we have to hearing the sound and also carefully designing based on the technique. So to able to do this one, like not only making one particular sound. Probably you had to use different tools such as artificial intelligence, like machine learning kind of technique. There’re so many different tools to think about that.
Mario: Yeah. Because the sound designers, even like as a field is not that explored. So there are a lot of opportunities. And at the same time, technology, and hardware, and software is becoming more accessible. So those are some of, I guess, good are positive developments, because there’s a lot of opportunities. And there’s tools to do that. But I’m also curious, a lot of these things always have like other side of the coin in a sense. So I’m curious, what are maybe some of the challenges you’ll see today or in a close future for sound designers?
Yuri: It’s hard to tell. For me, it’s like sound designs really incredible field for me, because still fresh, still developing that I can see more possibility in the future. And also, I don’t have any disadvantage for the equipment we have now. I think that’s incredible things happening. Because I remember one day ago, I started to compose music on the computer – Sorry, like not computer. So even like hardware equipment, like creating sort of electronic music when I was a teenager, when I started making it, that actually was really difficult. Because, first of all, you had to get so analog synthesizer, and that’s quite expensive, and a unit mixer, and a speaker. And to able to do like a good sound unit effect as well as the unit sequencer, the drum machine, and that’s so expensive. Then once you check two in together never sounds good neither because to get the rich and great sound, sometimes you need a lot of equipment. But also like idea to know like downgrading size, and you can find the identity from there. But if you want to like – I want to make like Hollywood quality sound, that’s impossible, I will say from electronic musical instruments.
So you need to have properly have to hire orchestra, or like incredibly expensive hardware, like something like that. But now, everything is possible. Great things happening. And it’s all about the idea. What kind of idea you require. And also probably the only things that kind of you don’t experience frustrating time or how to making great sound from synthesizer, primitive equipment. That’s actually could it be the chance to expand your possibility. Yes. That’s the only shame. But probably it’s not unnecessary frustration maybe. So for me, I can really see much disadvantage for sound design, because first of all, not much investigated, and the equipment is great, cheap price, but you can get incredible sound from there.
Mario: Yeah. Do you think like maybe one of the disadvantages could be that it is a such a new field that I think I would assume that like a lot of people or companies, not like companies like Google or Nike, but like more mainstream companies wouldn’t even kind of consider sound design as something they need for their brand. How do you like go about showing value of that?
Yuri: Since joining Pentagram, working with along with the graphic design partners, and which are partners helping for like a sound side of the identity and the combination with two sense that are making a huge emphasis such as visual design, plus sound coming in, and making sort of animation for the kind of logo it’s required to have that kind of conceptual animation over time to demonstrating it. Actually giving materiality or giving more force into understanding our company culture.
Though, that actually dramatical working well, I will say. I’m really happy to – Because that’s a complete coincidence, because I didn’t thought about it working with other partner to work this way. But the natural form this way to actually as a client, I think feel like working well and sometimes it will miss working with visual partners. Quite surprisingly, communications much more deeper and richer, presenting with the kind of visual aspect with sound. So that’s really, really a good discovery actually.
Mario: I’ve seen you’ve been working with both AI and like machine learning and with augmented reality, or probably also not a trivial so like just virtual reality. Are there any other like those like newer technologies that you’ll be like working with?
Yuri: well, I think I’m kind of person that could not interested in new technology kind of new things, because I do. In fact, I’m using quite a lot. But I’m kind of far from jump on the new technology kind of things, because I’m more primitive in the web. But I’m really interested in machine running. Because when we started a project called Raymond Scott project, that was first time to meet to be – No. Before that, actually, we did already actually. So I think if you think that scenario, just one example I’m just thinking is one project called The Welcome Chorus in Margate. Like we did the installation. So my idea – Broad ideas actually try to make co-creative platform that people based in a market or can’t sell themselves and people contribute to some lyrics, and a melody to composing one specific music. And then to think about that scenario, that’s almost like a dream scenario. But I have no idea how to make that brief to be happen.
Then immediate result, then machine learning could able to do that, because machine learning is all about learning about all pattern and creating music based on what we are feeling about. So for example, we have got kind of thousand, kind of million different words we feed into the machine kind of algorithm to learning about it. Then generated brand new text based on like the algorithm runs. That’s how machine learning works, isn’t it?
So as a concept theorizing it, actually AI is appropriate tools. That’s why we use AI. But if you can find a more like as a technique or more different methodology, we are happy to go other way too. But that’s a moment like such as avoiding limitation for one particular music. Because what machine learning can do is what the human like almost impossible task to do. Like what if one brief, like you cannot do repeating similar phrase, but each time you play back, you cannot have like same phrase before. The human can do. It’s impossible, but machine learning can do. So I think, really, I’m using technology in the right spot, like right role in the way. But I’m kind of tend to not do the way this tickler is so cool. I got to do something. I never do that way. Yeah, either coming first.
We’ve come to the last topic I’ve discussed with Yuri. As usual, have asked him to highlight a few closing pieces of advice based on what he learned so far on his professional journey. Here’s what he shared with me.
Yuri: Yeah, I think different is you will have someone you really respect in the world and in as a top planer designer, such as work people including everyone I mentioned like Maywa Denki, Darrow Bishop, Daniel Weir, Ron Arad, Jesper Kouthoofd, Jack Shorts. Like everyone is really forward-thinking and they already creating the way for creative business, or the creative passage already. And you always inspired from that kind of people. And someone that you really respect and you just amaze all time that actually quite nice things to have, I think. Because each time you see like what’s creating that just kind of, “Wow! That’s incredible. I never think about that.” That kind of a people – It’s lucky to have that kind of people first.
And second, I think more confidence in the way that something you really feel, because we’re actually working for some describe something museum, and they pay you, pay me to do that project and just pure to show like my creativity sometimes. And actually, we have to have confident for any outcome. Otherwise, we can wait to catch any money or anything. That’s quite important. And to be able to do this, you might have to go at a very hard passage like having a really difficult time to sink I’m struggling sometimes. And that’s actually, for me, it’s kind of during the time of the Royal College. But I was quite struggling a lot and thinking so much different passage about an idea. Probably going to create the kind of work you might have to have that kind of time maybe sooner or later. So that one thing’s probably to say.
Then another thing is just you work someone you respect maybe as a team, I think. Again, I’m actually lucky to have someone I really respect working with me now at the team. That’s the extent consultancy as well. So that’s very such a fortunate thing. So that actually – I mean, at the end, this is all about kind of a human, isn’t it? It’s not about only about kind of – Not about money, not about job. It’s all about yourself, I think.
Mario: Yeah, yeah. And the people you have around yourself.
Yuri: And also respect as well to the people.
Mario: Yeah. Is there maybe anything else that you would like to discuss or mention?
Yuri: We have been quite difficult time anyway. And also, I think, yeah, it has been a really tough time and can increasing stress and anger, the state sound, it’s could work really positive way or it could work super negative way as well. So just nice to think about the importance of sound and music, I think.
Hey, everyone. That’s it for this episode. I hope you find it useful. And if you liked this podcast, tell a friend. I want to thank Yuri for coming to the show. I love his remarkable work, the playful, experiential quality behind it. And I’m grateful for all the insights he shared. Links to Yuri’s projects and some other things mentioned during the conversation can be found in the show notes at creative.voyage/podcast.
On another note, I’m excited to share that The Mindful Creative Year Workshop is back. This online course and community will provide insights into a sustainable and personalized planning system designed to align your inner compass and actions, map out your aspirations and achieve a fulfilling professional and personal year. You can think of it as New Year’s resolutions that actually work. Most people overestimate what they can do in a day or a week and underestimate what they can achieve in a year. Will you let another year pass without intentionally approaching your ambitions and work in life? Find out more at creative.voyage/newyear. Lastly, if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe.
Until next time, my friends. Enjoy the journey.
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