Dialogue 01

Takram’s Tagawa and the developer of Breakfast, Kano, had a discussion: “If you can share your vision through a presentation, everyone starts to move positively.”

Kinya Tagawa

(Head of Takram)

The dialogue was about giving presentations and about “Breakfast,” a presentation tool currently being developed by WOW. Takram’s Kinya Tagawa and Breakfast’s developer Mamoru Kano had a discussion at Takram’s office in Omotesando. During the discussion, WOW’s President Hiroshi Takahashi came to join, and the three of them discussed various topics.

Kinya Tagawa (Head of Takram)
Mamoru Kano (Professor at Miyagi University/advisor/consultant to WOW/developer of the presentation tool Breakfast)
Hiroshi Takahashi (Head of WOW inc.)

Photographs: Nanako Ono, Edit/Writing: Junya Hirokawa

Tools for thinking and tools for communicating are detached

Kano: Right now, WOW is releasing a Beta version of the presentation tool “Breakfast,” and we are gathering opinions from many people heading for the official release. I feel again that presentation is essential for such purposes as getting approval inside a company before prototyping or summarizing opinions and communicating internally. First, I would like to ask about Tagawa-san’s perspectives on presentations.

Tagawa: After Kano-san contacted me, I downloaded the demo version of Breakfast. I think Kano-san said he has been making presentation tools from quite some time ago. Looking at Breakfast’s website, it indicates what motivated Kano-san to develop it. The part that I identified the most was, “the time it takes to make presentation materials is getting longer when the purpose is to give a presentation.” Tools for thinking and tools for communication are separate, and one wonders if it’s possible to make presentation materials the way you imagine. I think many people feel this way.

Kano: At Takram, what kind of thinking/presentation tools do you use in day to day operations?

Tagawa: The main presentation tools we use are “Keynote” and “Google Slide.” We make presentation outlines using Keynote and focus on the details of pages one page by one. In Keynote, you have to close your topic every page. It’s convenient, but pages don’t shrink or expand, so sometimes we get pages that are full of so many letters. We use these tools 24/7 so what tool to use, how to approach, and how to make the team drastically affect the speed and quality.

Now, all the documents are on “Notion”

Kano: What do you use now?

Tagawa: About once a year, there’s a period when a new tool is in trend at our company. A few years ago, we used what’s known now as “Google Meet” to eliminate internal emails. After that, we started using “Slack.” After we started using Slack, our internal culture and productivity changed. For a long time, we used Google Docs as the main documentation tool, but recently, we adopted “Notion.” Keynote persistently remains but Notion is easy in the sense that it does not have any concept of files. Now, there’s a vast number of documents on Notion. Recently we started bringing it to meetings with clients. We are using it quite a lot as a company.

Kano: So, there’s a shift from Keynote to Notion.

Tagawa: Sometimes, we have clients enter Notion as guests. Sometimes we fix the layout to give nice presentations, but there are times when we share information from earlier stages so that all kinds of people write into the idea list page whenever people like so that we can use those in meetings on the monitor screen.

Kano: In a sense, that usage style is like Slack.

Tagawa: On Slack, information flows chronologically, but Notion stocks information. Using Breakfast this time, I felt that the concept was maybe somewhere in between Notion and Keynote.

Kano: I agree that’s how it is currently.

Breakfast focuses on storytelling

Kano: I also use Notion mainly for stocking information I research. However, the file hierarchy tends to be deep, so I’m not able to use it for discussion and presentations. I use tools in combination, understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each tool. However, there was a time when I thought I should make something perfect for myself. Although it is like taking a great detour… when you make a tool, you need to understand the subject overlooking at it so I thought it would be a good opportunity to recapture the concept of presentations. I call this approach, “Instrumentation thinking.”

Tagawa: Why did you name it, “breakfast”?

Kano: The sense of putting initial inspiration into shape quickly and the morning image overlapped. I imagined it to be the initial stage of ideas, beginning of a project, and a place where you make these initial impulses into shapes. That’s why I think it’s breakfast rather than dinner. I also made icon motifs of a sunnyside up and a lightbulb. My view is that there are three types of presentations. The first is special presentations formally made for clients or external agents. The second is storytelling style presentations for sharing information between staff or university lectures. The flow of the presentation is important. The third is for hands-on workshops and training that specializes in random access. Stock type tools are best for random access styles and include database types like Notion and WordPress. The concept of Breakfast focuses on storytelling type presentations and also does not make users work on the presentation layout. Sometimes, you want a presentation with a good layout but can’t spend much time on it, or if you have time to spend on the layout, you want to focus on generating ideas.

Tagawa: I see.

Kano: Studying the history of presentation tools, I think the roots were when the “hornbooks” that were being used around the 15th Century turned into blackboards around the 18th Century. Around the 1950s, OHPs and slides came about bringing a style that’s close to modern class styles. Whiteboards were made in the 1970s, so they are quite recent. Then, in 1987, “PowerPoint1.0” gets released.

Tagawa: The person who came up with PowerPoint is a genius. The screen structure has barely changed.

Kano: Keynote was released in 2013. After that, there were “Prezi” and “Dropbox.” I started to need to make presentations for work from around 2011. My work started to shift from making videos based on requests to proposing concepts and ideas more. That elevated the importance of presentations in my work. From that time, I felt that presentations could be more powerful than videos, and by explaining the story through presentations, I could increase the value of the product I delivered.
On the other hand, while we basically use Keynote at WOW, we relied on but had complaints about existing slide-style presentation tools. The advantage is that the screen is stable, and it is easy to explain with it, and it’s easy to distribute PDFs. The disadvantage was that information got cut after every page, and there tended to be lots of information stuffed into a page, and it does not match the online culture at all. If there are no presentation tools suited for storytelling type presentations, I was going to make one. That was the beginning of Breakfast.

Tagawa: That’s very much like you, Kano-san.

Making presentations into installations and media art

Kano: I started to make a prototype in 2012 as a Web application and started using it for university lectures. After, I changed the development environment to Swift. When it started to become practical, I got a WOW staff to take a look at it, and the development officially began as a WOW project. I wanted three things in a presentation tool: “Manage multiple files in a single slide,” No deep file hierarchy for management,” and “A structure that lets you communicate a story in a simple manner.” After trial and error, we made the display to be a vertical scroll. I contemplated until the very end to come up with a more novel idea, but for now, I think vertical scrolling is the best way.

Tagawa: You plan on improving this demo version even more.

Kano: Breakfast is finally at a stage for usage, but there are still many things I want to do for the official release. I’m considering making the UI sophisticated, making it easy to use for beginners, and preparing themes. If people can use the graphical expressions of WOW more easily, they can turn presentations into installations and media art and that would expand the possibilities of presentations. That is something neither Keynote or PowerPoint can do. While you can’t draw/insert figures in Breakfast at this point, I want infographics for business purposes, Venn diagram creation functions, doing an AB test in presentations, taking a questionnaire, and other uses for communication and idea organization even though it is a presentation tool. We still haven’t started making data from other tools compatible with it, but the HTML export test version is already installed. It’s a format where you include images in the HTML itself, so it the HTML file alone can be shared like PDF files. This is a new way to utilize HTML that is hard to think someone else hasn’t tried. It can be pasted on Notion as it is so the compatibility is good.

Tagawa: Interesting. Recently, there are services where you can make websites easily, and it could be used like that, Simple websites like campaign websites could be enough with just Breakfast.

Kano: Keeping these additional possibilities in mind, for the official release, I’m thinking now where I should focus on. Also, for a system to vitalize lectures and workshops, these are currently work in progress, but there are timers for workshops, random accessing from a list of participating members, cameras for showing materials, and interactive functions like that.

Tagawa: Make quick scribble of inline comments, group images, adjust slide timing, and make a website-like layout. For me, just these for my presentation makes me very happy to use this presentation tool.

Kano: Right now, there are still no shortcuts in place at all, but making use of the style from before and creating a smooth maneuver is really difficult. That difficulty is the key to keep my thought process going, though. In the current version, there are still parts that are not so easy to use and is not very general, but some people who we call early adopters are interested in it. Qosmo’s Tokui-san seems to be using it also. He is using layout themes that were not in the initial version and he is also making his lecture materials public on the website.

Suddenly do something I think up of during the night

Takahashi: Tagawa-san, you give lectures in many places. With that much output, you also need information input as well. I wonder if you have any stress. I talk in front of others, too, and I want people who come to listen to me to feel satisfied when they go home. Still, some people must go home dissatisfied. I wonder how Tagawa-san deals with situations like that.

Tagawa: Well, I try hard at night, maybe from around 1:00 a.m., after the kids fall asleep. There is this time when I suddenly try to make sense of what I’m unclearly thinking about in trial and error. That’s when I use Keynote to make something personal memos every day. For example, what would happen if I divide an illustration into four patterns where ways to approach design thinking are utilized and not utilized. They are something like personal memos but many of them are aged like wine, and when they are aged well, they reach a level that I can show to people.

Takahashi: How long does it take to age?

Tagawa: About half a year.

Takahashi: I see.

Tagawa: As Takahashi-san said before, you need to put in a lot of hard work to turn the input you get into a level you can talk about with others. I write something a little, fix it, then leave it. I repeat that process.

Kano: These are all being aged? There are so many of them. They are sophisticated and look like some serious writing instead of memos.

Tagawa: I actually didn’t have a good tool, so I use Keynote and others to work on it daily.

Takahashi: Tagawa-san, you are extremely logical. From the initial start-up, I’ve seen Tagawa-san stumble many times, but I think it’s interesting. You are a genius, but never give up when you stumble. That develops some rapport with me.

Tagawa: I have a fully prototype mindset. A creator sometimes has to be insensitive to things to survive. In this illustration, I divided three types of insensitivities I’ve witnessed and expressed them like Avengers (laughs). The first is Mr. Astron, or in other words, a thick-skinned person who has an iron skin. He doesn’t let any harsh comments get under his skin. Mr. Invisible is transparent and harsh comments go through him. Mr. Rubber-man accepts words that problematize and criticize once and returns them at the same velocity. If you ask him to prove good or bad, he will tell you to do it. When I organize things like this, things get clear so I like making stuff like this.

Kano: You always draw illustrations so you can see the structure.

Tagawa: I write one down, then I move on to check it. It’s a hobby. It’s my lifework.

Kano: Does everyone at Takram do things like this?

Tagawa: I think it’s just me. Recently, I write on Google Drive, and members know it’s there, so my thoughts are gradually being shared with everyone.

Takahashi: That’s how you use it as an internal communication tool. Going back to the topic of the presentation, when you give presentations in rural areas, you get different vibes. What do you do when that happens?

Tagawa: Of course, I add and remove materials to match the audience. Sometimes episodes are easier to understand, and people in the same industry want to know the processes and know-how rather than the end-product so that kind of talks excites people in the same industry. The more people are from different backgrounds, the more I talk about easy to understand work, results, and end products.

Kano: You talk about the content if the audience has similar occupations. There must be many people who haven’t learned design who want to listen to Tagawa-san talk. I read Tagawa-san’s “Innovation Skill Set,” and I thought you pay close attention to the words you use, like considering how to get people from business backgrounds to understand design. You gave that example of shoes to make a point about design. That was really like you, Tagawa-san. Sometimes, I’m in charge of workshops for non-designers, and I feel more people are interested in the mindsets and methods associated with design in general, and there are more areas.

“It’s not enough yet.” Then, “Let’s put in everything we got until the end.”

Takahashi: Regarding Breakfast, Kano says, “it’s not enough yet,” which is unlike him. I’ve known him for several decades, and he usually loses interest quickly and wants to try something new. That’s why I said, “let’s put in everything we got until the end.” If this presentation tool makes visual expressions richer, maybe it will come back to haunt us. Still, no matter how many karaoke boxes there are, the number of professionals who make a living from singing doesn’t change. In the same way, we will continue to be professional, and we will continue to make brand expressions through special orders.

Tagawa: That doesn’t change at all. Right now, we are developing a service that doesn’t require any data scientist, and we are working with a data scientist in making that. That service may get rid of a data scientist’s job. However, this data scientist felt that he wanted to try something more challenging, but there were many jobs that he had to do that other people could also do and that this was time-consuming and troublesome. It’s similar to that. The literacy goes up, and people going up to the next phases come to us. Kano-san, you must have seen some awful presentations in the past.

Kano: That’s right. I feel so strongly that they should improve their presentations in certain ways.

Tagawa: When we get people like that to use Breakfast, people will start to expect more from presentations. It’s an interesting human nature that they start wanting to go up to another level. That’s why a bottom-up is necessary. We need to broaden our perspectives to get to the top of the peak. Are you planning to launch Breakfast as an online service?

Kano: Making it into an online service did become an issue of discussion initially. To adapt to presentations for business and research, we try to make it compatible with data and large size movie data that are difficult to put on the cloud, so we are considering a native application at the initial stage. Tagawa-san’s book also mentions that design exists to apply ideas and technology in society, and Breakfast will also enter a phase to make a design for a societal application. Recently we have been researching digital tools and expressive tools like game engines are evolving at a tremendous speed. WOW feels that we should not only make full use of these tools, but we should be in a position where we make these tools ourselves. We have a sense of crisis in this aspect. Actually, at WOW, we have a tool design project called WOWTools in progress.

Takahashi: Finally, Tagawa-san, what are some areas you value when you do presentations?

Tagawa: Getting the audience to understand. There are three levels of understanding: the first two are “thinking you understand” and “actually understanding.” The third level is “understanding and taking action.” In my presentations, people thinking they understand is the minimum level, and people understanding my presentation and taking action is the highest level. Even if you think you understand the presentation, you might forget and wonder what you heard the next day. You need to think about the audience’s experience and background or it is really difficult to get them to understand.

Kano: Visualization is the same thing, and it’s not complete when you just visualize something. It needs to resonate with something or lead society in certain ways. It’s meaningless otherwise.

Tagawa: Why are you communicating in the first place? Maybe it is the case with WOW and us too but we have a belief that the world that changes its current form for the better, and we are trying to make that happen through creativity. When we show something pretty, and we say, “oh, that’s pretty,” and go home but nothing happens, that kind of way of doing work is not enough as value generation. Even if it seems a bit out of place or people don’t understand it fully, talks that make people who listen and see the presentation want to do something or launch a product next year are more powerful. Some charismatic people do that in non-creative ways so there are many ways to do this. Among them, presentation and creative communication are one of the few ways that make people act positively by sharing a vision without using any politics or coercion.

 

Kinya Tagawa
He holds a BEng from the University of Tokyo and an MA from the Royal College of Art in the UK. He was assigned as a visiting professor the Royal College of Art, from 2015 to 2018. With his contribution to the RCA, he was awarded as an Honorary Fellow, RCA, from 2018.
Mamoru Kano
He is a professor at the Department of Project Design at Miyagi University. He is a WOW consultant/advisor. As one of the founding members, he participated in the initial start-up of the visual design studio WOW in 1998. Between April 2013 to March 2017, he was an associate professor at the Faculty of Life Design, Tohoku Institute of Technology. From April 2017, he is a professor at Miyagi University.
Hiroshi Takahashi
He is the president of WOW inc. He grew up in a house of a swordsmith that continued generation by generation from the 1700s, surrounded by traditional crafts and old artworks. In 1997, he established a company in Sendai and expanded to Tokyo in 2000, London in 2007, and San Francisco in 2018. Other than video production, he published the visual book, “WOW Visual Design,” and an art book, “WOW10.” He was in charge of the overall production of the Japanese katana “aikuchi,” designed by Marc Newson in 2015. He also works to spread Japanese tradition and beauty in modern Japan.
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