From NY to Tokyo, Mr. Brian Design has been “keepin’ it creative” for a minute with original videos, music production, illustrations and more. An OG toy maker having created cult classics such as the infamous Biz Markie doll, Brian switched things up when he decided to move to Japan and focus on the world of children’s education. Here is a brief interview revealing what’s up with Mr. Brian Design.
How did you get into toy design? I’ve always been fascinated with the look and feel of preschool and baby toys. They are minimal, happy, and cute but they are also serious, exacted, and indestructible. During my first year of art school at Pratt, I was planning on going into the industrial design program there but something told me that was not the correct answer.
When I heard about the Toy Design Department at F.I.T. (Fashion Institute of Technology), I knew that was the move. While in the Toy Design program, I interned for Hasbro on the TONKA brand. Upon graduation I took a staff designer position at a Chinese toy company for a couple years designing hardgoods (plastic). They had an office in the former toy building on 5th Ave in New York. It was a fun job. That led to lots of insights and hook-ups for producing my own items (figures) overseas. I’m one of the first designers in America to have produced limited edition vinyl figures. I met up with DJ DB of Breakbeat Science on the Lower East Side and we produced the Tech Headz in 2001, I worked under the name Bufalo Club at that time.
How did you make the transition to educational material? I moved to Tokyo in 2005 and worked at Bandai for a year and then another toy company called Cube Works. They were both dull to work for, the deals weren’t that sweet either. Once my wife and I had started a family, I began working as an English teacher for kids, which I still do. Most of the English materials created for Japanese kids are produced domestically and are not very fun or cool. The general climate of English in Japan is kind of lame, but people really want to learn. It’s a ripe area of business. Most English teachers and English teaching companies really don’t get it, they are (looting) so to speak, just gettin’ paid. I hesitated to work in that field at first but I was lucky and got to work at a really prestigious kindergarten in Tokyo for a couple of years. It was a model school. The place was used as a location for filming kid’s shows there. They taught me how to step up to the plate and become a real educator.
How did the collaboration with Mammoth School come about and what have you been doing with them? I cold called actually. I just kept bugging Lucas B.B, the founder of Mammoth School and Knee High Media, quite simply. I have been a fan of Mammoth since it was first introduced in the early 2000s. The Mammoth clothing brand is connected to SHIPS, and it was one of the first children’s brands that I considered to be really (with-it). When I saw an issue of Mammoth magazine about international kindergartens in Japan, it left a real impression on me. I’d been making coloring zines and worksheets for my daughter and my students, but at that point I knew wanted to keep pursuing that area further and it was clear to me that I wanted to work with Mammoth School.
Are there any particular television cartoons or comic books that influence your style?
Never got into comics. I grew up in the early eighties and watched a lot of TV. The old Sesame Street and the Electric Company episodes have probably influenced my current work more than anything else. There were also some great Public Service Announcements running on TV during that era, i.e., Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, McGruff, Etc., those stand out as well.
What application or design program do you rely on the most? Why? Photoshop without a doubt, because in the end I am a visual artist. Any touch up on a hand drawn work, picture that I share, last minute revision, color adjustment, product rendering, etc. will go through Photoshop. Been using PS for about 13 years. Graphics are done in Illustrator, but even much of that gets pasted into Photoshop. Anything hand-drawn and scanned gets cleaned up there first. I also get my money’s worth on Audacity, After Effects, Final Cut Pro, and Garage Band.
Who would be your dream artist to work with? Why? Working with another visual artist or creator doesn’t interest me at all. I don’t like working with other people in that sense. Recording artists on the other hand are another story all together. I would love to work with Kraftwerk. Most of my projects are for kids, more specifically the kids of parents who grew up on street culture. Kraftwerk has a really timeless (futuristic albeit) sound that is kid- friendly. They are the original electro band, their contribution to dance music and Hip hop is so important. I’ve used (We Are the Robots) as a warm-up in so many kindergarten English lessons it isn’t even funny.
What/who is on your radar right now? Stussy Kids. Stussy is one of my favorite fashion brands, they are making some cool kids gear now. I’m down with that. It shows that the current generation of parents isn’t (completely) wack. Parents need to keep it funky and fun. I’m really into SoundCloud lately. SoundCloud is cool because it’s getting people open to try new stuff and broadcast it. (Shout to asklionheart, h.u.e a.r.t , Monk One, Frankie’s Apartment ). Whenever I hear somebody use a different format or do something out of the box (spoken word, praying, studying, storytelling, recording life experiences, etc.) I get psyched. Sometimes I need to create simple audio tracks for media projects and SoundCloud is a real good place to check stuff out. It’s good for the free flow of ideas. It gives me courage. I don’t care for the complacency of Facebook so I fulfill my social networking needs on more constructive websites. Flickr is another site that suits me (big-ups to Abe Lincoln Jr., a-small-lab, nontam).
What is an inspirational quote or lyric you want to leave off with? This expression has a lot of meaning to me. It’s all about faith, faith in yourself and the things you do. Knowing what you want in life and going for it. Most people go through life knowing only what they don’t want, so that is what they end up with, more of (want they don’t want). When you know what you want, it’s relatively easy to get it. That’s how I’m living.
“Leap and the Net will Appear” – John Burroughs -
DOWNLOAD THIS MR. BRIAN DESIGN “ASSIGNMENT” – find all 26 letters in the alphabet and break out your crayons!
We’ve highlighted a brief sampling of his work here, but for the motherload, check out his site at mrbriandesign.com.