Who is Jensen Barnes?
I’m a designer from California currently based in Tokyo. My work explores the area where business, design, art and technology merge. I studied music and art in college, received my MFA from Yale and taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate design courses at some great schools to some even greater students before moving to Japan in 2012 to work on Microsoft for Wunderman.
What have you been working on lately?
I’m formerly creative director for the design agency in Harajuku called UltraSuperNew where in 2015, together with my rad colleagues, we won the international AIGA Cased Award. That same year, we designed the international show titled “Inside Photoshop” for Adobe System’s 25th Anniversary of Photoshop, and its creator, Thomas Knoll. I am now chief creative officer and co-founder of AIR, an artificial intelligence and advanced tech product development incubator at en-japan inc. In 2016, I invented the concept which initiated development of Vibe, the first morale meter using natural language processing for the messaging app, Slack.
What’s it like to live and work in the context of Tokyo?
It’s strange. There are times when it’s a complete mind fuck and others where I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Luckily, I have felt more of the latter. Tokyo is more about design and technology than art. There’s a small gallery scene. Yet, how artists creep into commissioned design work is interesting because it happens a lot. My experience has been clients will present a problem and evaluate how it's solved by either their own personal aesthetic or a very specific company value. An idea is not always pressed up against marketability, for example like in the US. And I think the design of the city itself comes into play too, as if you’ve experienced Tokyo before, it takes awhile for your senses to adjust to the pace and density. So, in order to even compete, you need to give consumers a little kick in the ass with both strategy and execution. Maybe it’s part of reason why design here has a higher potential to be good.
How do you get inspiration?
It starts with an interaction I’ll have or experience with a person, place or thing. So, if you’re naturally shy, it’s incredibly important, for the sake of having material, to get out into the world and spend time bumping into stuff within the city or the place you live. In Tokyo that’s easy, because there are lots of things to bump into. Whatever happens next, who knows. Something will hit me and create a feeling, and if it’s good, I’ll remember it. I do my best to save something if I can, to retrigger, but capturing these things is the real hurdle, because you need find a way to jump out of the reality to take something from it. Then when I have an idea or problem to solve, I’ll do a recall. At first, I try not to think how others might have done it, or who the target audience might be. Instead I’ll play with it, mess it up by stapling random things to it that might change or alter meaning. There are all sorts of techniques, especially when working with groups, but I’ve found this to be useful in preventing myself from falling into a loop.
What do you do outside of work these days?
I like to be outdoors. There’s really nothing like snowboarding in Hokkaido.