by Beejay on October 21, 2008

HE LEFT JAPAN, LEFT HIS FAMILY, and found himself at a little-known art school in Maine, the coldest place he could ever imagine.

Satoru Nihei, aka Mr. Beautifool, has never followed a traditional path.

His parents are proud teachers—he’s a high-school dropout.

He landed a job with Gento Matsumoto, a legendary designer in Japan—he left the job and moved to the United States.

He went to art school—and found he had a passion for graphic design.

The zigs and zags finally formed a career path, and everything crystallized four years ago when Satoru met 3st’s Rick Valicenti, one of the industry’s most respected designers.

Satoru approached Valicenti at a conference at the Maine College of Art, and they’ve been friends ever since.


“He is my best friend now,” Satoru says. “I just can’t explain how much his presence means to me in my life. I told him over the phone…a few months ago that if he was just one of the great designers, the relationship between us wouldn’t have lasted. He is more than the best designer in my life. He is like a father figure in my life. I have never seen someone who cares about me almost every time and I am not the only person he has to worry about. My relationship I have with him is more than just graphic design—it’s my life now, part of my every day life to be exact. I can tell you more about it, but just so many stories to be told here.”

Satoru now runs his Beautifool studio from New York, and enjoys crafting lettering solutions for himself and clients.

q and a

What’s the background on the name, Beautifool?

I wanted to name my design studio like 4 years ago. That was also when I met Rick. I gave him my ideas, but they were so lame, so Rick e-mailed me back with some names for my design studio, and one of them was Beautifool. My gut told me that I should pick that one…now when I write my journal, I am known as Mr. Beautifool. The name Beautifool is really helping me shape my work as I play that role as a designer who does beautifool work. Beautiful is the word anyone can get, but beautifool is different. Your mom won’t like some of my beautifool work…because it may not quite beautiful…but that’s the beauty of doing beautifool work to me.

How did you end up working with 3st? And what were some of the highlights of that association?

I actually never worked for 3st, though I did some work for them. A year later Rick asked me if I wanted to organize the Playground. I did the font called ComeTogether using condoms and I would say that was one of the highlights, along with the Playground.

How do you typically go about creating your pieces?

I always start by making a lot of sketches to see if I can visualize my ideas on the piece of paper. If I can’t put my thoughts or ideas on the sketches, that means I know that I can’t deliver whatever I was trying to do. I don’t get on the computer right away and that never works for me. The outcomes are usually boring and awful. Then I share that with someone like Rick for honest feedback or criticism.


What did you mean by Fuck the Type Police?

I believe that we should treat Type with care when we design something, and some rules should be respected. But I don’t think someone should be this authority figure who tries to rule out what it can be, or how it can be used. That’s what I am saying in the picture…in the end, who the hell is the Type Police anyway? If I can’t push it, I am out of this profession and will become like a Japanese hardcore rapper.

What kind of stuff does your design studio typically do?

I usually keep smaller clients that I like and do some logo design or web stuff, booklet, posters, etc. You know, business as usual, stuff that pays my bills…I love having small clients who love what I do.

How do you describe your current lettering style and how have you developed it?


A lot of people think that my lettering work was influenced by Marian Bantjes, but actually it was influenced by one of Rick’s work.

Has Rick pushed you to develop the style further?

Yes, I saw some room for me to explore and that’s how it started taking off. When I shared the first lettering work I did with Rick, he told me to keep doing. I share some of my work with him almost every time and he pushes me to go further…Every time he gives me great feedback.

Where to next with your lettering?

That’s a good question. I just keep at it, and then see what happens. As Rick says “expectations deny discoveries.” So I don’t want to expect too much. I just do it and keep at it. It will come to my door before I know it. So I am not in a rush. Also I am getting a lot of e-mails…regarding my lettering, so doing a job with it will help me shape my lettering work.


Did you go to school to design? Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I actually wanted to be a contemporary artist, doing some paintings, etc. I even went to school for that when I was in Japan. But right after I graduated, I was hired by Gento Matsumoto, who influenced the Japanese design scene in the ’90s. He still continues to do so, but that’s how I got into graphic design. Then after working for him less than a year, I came to the states to study Fine Arts. But again, the students in the painting department were doing old-fashioned work and I didn’t see my future there so I decided to take one graphic design class. The professor gave me an A…I thought, I have something here to pursue.

What did you take from the Matsumoto experience?

I was the worst designer there. I only had a painting degree at that time and I didn’t really know anything about graphic design, so in a way Gento introduced me to the graphic design world. He was very patient with me, though I don’t know how many times I was told I’d be fired…I would say he taught me something that you can’t learn or study while you are in college. They never teach you how to work with the work you are about to do, or are doing, in the design studios. You just have to go through so many projects to be able to learn that something I am talking about here. It was very tough and hard to work with him, but I had fun. He is one of my design heroes. Some young Japanese designers have no respect for him these days, but these kids wouldn’t have had the work they are doing right now, if Gento hadn’t done the design he did in the ’90s.


Why did you leave Japan?

I didn’t like some of the way we do things there. I actually tell people that I was too good to be Japanese so they kicked me out and the only country that accepted me was the States.

You’ve mentioned Rick and Gento. Who else inspires you?

Bob Aufuldish, aka font boy, Marian Bantjes, and Elliott Earls.


Where do you find beauty in letters?

That’s a tough question. I would say “in the spaces between the letters”. That is where I find beauty in letters. If you study type design, you can get what I am saying.

What are some things people don’t know about you?

1. I love hip-hop.
2. I speak almost perfect English and broken Japanese.
3. I love cooking.
4. I have a sleeping problem and I write an online journal called “Sleepless Nights of the Beautifool Mind.”


Beautifool Studio

Beautifool Type

Sleepless Nights




{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }


kenneth glenn 10.21.08 at 8:03 am

Thank you lettercult for introducing me to a whole new world of design. Great interview.


Hilda Yan 10.21.08 at 12:40 pm

I’m a huge fan of Satoru’s work. This is a great write up!


John Bielenberg 10.21.08 at 3:24 pm

Go Satoru!


Blake Almstead 10.21.08 at 8:57 pm

Great job Satoru! It’s great to see what you have been working on! Keep up the awesome work!


Satoru Nihei 10.22.08 at 9:17 am

Thanks and you are the sweetest! You have been a big supporter of my work!!!

Thanks again for having me in your community, and GO M GO!

Nice to hear from you!!! Please say hello to Elliott and Lynn for me.

And Kenneth,
Thanks for your post!

Satoru, aka Mr. Beautifool


Jeff Koromi 10.24.08 at 6:53 am

Great interview. A joy to read. Satoru, I love your thoughts on the design police, seems rare that many designers respect the rules by breaking them… most either disregard them or follow them strictly.


Satoru Nihei 10.25.08 at 7:48 am

Hello Jeff,

First of all, thanks for your post. I studied typography and type design under Mark Jamra (check out his Expo Serif Pro) and witnessed how much one type designer puts into his design, personally I can’t carelessly say I break the rules because I respect them. Also I believe that just breaking the rules or following them strictly won’t make my design look any better. Design requires the same balance that life does.

Thank you, Satoru


DangerDom 10.30.08 at 7:45 am

Wow, this is just amazing work. How do you keep your ideas so fresh and unique? I enjoy all of your stuff!


amber 11.01.08 at 8:39 pm

hello satoru, thank you always for being so hard-working & honest about who you are. i like very much reading your mr. beautifool writing whenever i can – especially sleepless nights of the beautifool mind. in your speaking, writing and designing, it is the space between … congratulations. amber

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