Hideki Ogino started out as a photographer’s assistant, and three years ago set up creative solutions agency FICC in Tokyo. He tells us about the Japanese design scene, how FICC managed to get its own niche, and why boxers and pâtissiers want to work for them
.net: What made you set up your own agency?
HO: I needed a company that could offer a stable and high-quality design production service to the people around me. All the clients who have been with us in the beginning are still cherished clients of FICC today. It gives me much pride to be chosen and relied on by them.
.net: What does FICC specialise in?
HO: We provide solutions, creative ones. We offer a wide range of creative consulting and production services depending on the business needs of our clients. Most of our work focuses on production of rich and dynamic internet applications or content, but it can vary – from directing fashion shows to even building intranets for hospitals. We love to tackle new problems, so I guess we can say that we specialise in problem solving.
.net: You offer everything from web production via content production to photography. How do you juggle it all?
HO: We focused the first three years of FICC to build a solid production team. To ensure good quality of the production, I needed my staff to be able to cover all of its elements. Photography is one of the key elements in our production and is therefore handled in-house. Each of us is dedicated to one field only: designers design, coders code, and planners plan, and they all take the time to teach and motivate each other.
.net: FICC is only three years old. What have you learned since day one?
HO: People first saw us as a design agency. We only got a small slice of the pie from advertising agencies, which was the design work. As we developed, we came to understand and enjoy the many aspects of web production and decided to take on the whole thing ourselves. We figured out that successful web production was about figuring out how to get people involved, and everything suddenly became more interesting. The hardest thing was becoming accepted and recognised as a serious web production company, rather than just a design agency.
.net: How does designing websites for the Japanese market differ from designing for Europe or the US?
HO: I don’t think it differs fundamentally, but due to the abundance of advertising and technological infrastructure here in Japan, the Japanese public is more immune (or numb) to web advertising. There’s just too much of it for the user to notice anything new. In advertising, I believe it’s important to be new, different and creative, but we at FICC think it’s important to be clear, simple and full of impact.
.net: Why are web surfers in Japan more passive than elsewhere, and how do you deal with it?
HO: I don’t believe all Japanese users are all that passive, though I believe there is much know-how and media concentration in this country to effectively capture such passive users. I believe Japanese users are very active and direct when word of mouth is involved. Social networks and viral marketing is the key to dealing with it. 37 per cent of all blogs in the world are Japanese. We must make good use of that.
.net: Carsten Schneider of Less Rain said that the market in Japan is controlled by the big ad agencies. How does this affect your work and how does it compare to dealing with a client directly?
HO: We rarely deal with advertising agencies any more. We find the job much more interesting when dealing directly with clients and working out clear objectives for the work. Although such agencies control much of the advertising budget and advertising spaces in the traditional media, the internet here remains free and open. We may be quite rare in this sense, but advertising agencies do not affect our work too much.
.net: Your websites seem to follow a unique style. What’s the inspiration behind it?
HO: Thank you. That’s nice to hear. We value the strength and innovative imagery of fashion advertising, and also the eye-catching, bold imagery of traditional consumer advertising. By understanding these two extremes, I believe we can design effective artwork for most high-end brands. We also try our best to keep things simple; not to dilute the message with unnecessary design. No inspiration needed for that, just logic.
.net: What project have you been most proud of and why?
HO: Another Bookmark was an online bookmark-sharing tool for our staff which turned into a pretty successful website, now with approximately 5,000 visitors daily. It enabled us to make many new friends in the industry, and understand the values of an advertising medium. We’re hoping to pull off a renewal by this autumn to further enhance the interaction between Japanese web designers.
.net: What are your favourite tools and techniques?
HO: I would say Blogtools for now. It’s one of the most successful promotion tools for the Japanese market. Expression-wise, I would have to say the bitmap class, and Papervision3D is expanding our possibilities in Flash.