Unraveling the Genius of Yoshihiro Yagi

Yoshihiro Yagi, Dentsu, Inc. Tokyo Group Creative Director, embodies genuine passion for synergy and social responsibility.

In 16 years at Dentsu, Inc. Tokyo, Yoshihiro Yagi has become one of Japan’s most acclaimed creative directors. Yagi won the Design Grand Prix at Cannes for his 2014 Panasonic campaign Life is electric, a visual attempt  to emphasize the importance of electricity, and has received global acclaim since.

As a GCD, Yagi reflects on the agency’s creative capabilities and how to enhance them in terms of design. His body of work extends to book designs and ambient advertising; clients include the East Japan Railway, Rohto Pharmaceutical, Panasonic, Mitsubishi Estate, and Menicon.

Awards create these various feelings inside us, don’t they?” Yagi muses, “I think this gives rise to the next advances in quality.

How does one become the most-awarded creative in Japan and possibly Asia?  Yagi grew up exposed to visuals and design at a young age: several family members work in architecture, and his own father was a cameraman. He started his own career at a small design studio in his hometown of Kyoto, before joining Dentsu Kyoto as a temporary employee. From there he was under contract at Dentsu Kansai, before transferring full-time to the Tokyo head office.

When asked about his favorite work, Yagi fondly recalled his work for East Japan Railway Company, Get Back, Tohoku, a campaign promoting the Northern part of Japan that he has worked on for five years now.

To invite tourists back to the region devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Yagi and the Dentsu team created Get Back, Tohoku, hailing the local trains as heroes. Their portrayal of an ordinary day turned extraordinary just by using public transport sparked a celebration among tourists, restoring inspiration to the ravaged nation. “With this campaign, I am able to receive direct reaction from people,” Yagi explains, “It’s almost like having a dialogue with the viewers and myself.”

While Get Back is a personal favorite, Yagi deems the Panasonic work his career high point, both as a creative and a professional, Yagi deems his work with Panasonic and his having won the Design Grand Prix at Cannes possibly the apogee of his flourishing career. The success, Yagi however notes, “was not the award itself – although [Cannes] is a contest decided instantly, it is the pursuit of brand essence, [the] proper execution of the process [our team] has established and the fulfillment of the role of all staff members that was successful.”

Innovation occurs in precisely those areas where people believe design is unnecessary,” Yagi remarks, “But for me, design makes everything possible.

While quite an overwhelming notion, Yagi feels immensely about being praised on the world stage. “Awards create these various feelings inside us, don’t they?” Yagi muses, “I think this gives rise to the next advances in quality.” He should know. Besides the 2014 Grand Prix, Yagi has also won 9 Gold, 11 Silver, and 15 Bronze Lions at Cannes; One Best of Design, 10 Gold, 12 Silver, and 15 Bronze Awards at One Show Design; Four Yellow Pencil at D&AD; Two Grande, 7 Gold, 7 Silver, and 4 Bronze Lotuses at ADFEST, and has served as a jury member at all those as well as at the Clio Awards and Spikes Asia.

Collaboration is his favorite part: “I think teamwork breeds the next level of quality,” [Echoes the earlier statement about awards only a few lines above. Either blend them or delete.] he remarks, “Resolving issues with colleagues and clients is hard work, but usually, if we work together as a team, the job ends well.”  For Yagi, the joy of a shared accomplishment is among the best parts of his work, as is the chance to interact with people outside the profession.

What’s next? Yagi believes there is still much yet to be done in terms of design, and seeks to “expand the limits of what is possible in [his] areas of expertise.” More people, he notes, should appreciate and enjoy design, as its proliferation even in the littlest things proves that it transcends even advertising. “Innovation occurs in precisely those areas where people believe design is unnecessary,” Yagi remarks, “But for me, design makes everything possible.”