Incom ist die Kommunikations-Plattform der Fachhochschule Potsdam

In seiner Funktionalität auf die Lehre in gestalterischen Studiengängen zugeschnitten... Schnittstelle für die moderne Lehre

Incom ist die Kommunikations-Plattform der Fachhochschule Potsdam mehr erfahren

Redaktionelle Gestaltung 02: 組子文様 KUMIKO-MONYŌ (Japanese Traditional Woodworking Patterns)

Redaktionelle Gestaltung 02: 組子文様 KUMIKO-MONYŌ (Japanese Traditional Woodworking Patterns)

In the seminar Redaktionelle Gestaltung „Redaktionelle Gestaltung 02 – Wieso? Weshalb? Warum?“, Prof. Franziska Morlok taught us the principles of layout design. By carefully looking at existing publications, we analyzed various fundamental aspects such as format, medium, grid systems, the relationship between text and images, font choice and mixing, layout conception and storytelling. The aim of this class was to get a proper grasp on these design essentials which were to be implemented in the production of our very own publication on a topic of our choosing.


As someone who is quite interested in the Japanese culture, I had always wanted to challenge myself with creating design that incorporates Japanese typography which is very distinct in its sophisticated appearance and portrays a beautiful and balanced play between horizontal, vertical and curved lines. The Japanese language is context-based and minimalist in nature, each character harbors a multitude of meanings which change depending on how they are used. This rich and diverse possibility in creating meaning is further emphasized visually through the use of three different writing systems, i.e. Kanji (漢字, ideographic symbols based on Chinese characters) as well as the two phonetic alphabets Hiragana (ひらがな) and Katakana (カタカナ) which could be written both horizontally and vertically. Occasionally, the Japanese language would also employ the use of the Latin script (also known asローマ字, rōmaji) which highlights even more the flexibility of the language. With that in mind, I wanted to showcase this unique blend of different writing systems by creating a bilingual publication about the traditional woodworking craft, „Kumiko“.


Kumiko (組子) is an ancient woodworking technique, which has been developed in Japan in the Asuka Era (600–700 AD), describes a delicate and sophisticated assembly of wooden pieces without the use of nails. These thinly slit pieces go through many handmade processes as they are grooved, punched and mortised before fitted individually by using a tools such as planes, saws and chisels to make finer adjustments. It has since been refined and passed down through generations of passionate craftsmen. The resulted shapes are typically based on traditional Japanese patterns (also known as 和柄, wagara) which are ubiquitous in all corners of Japanese culture as they are imbued with auspicious meanings. I decided to create a visual collection of these beautiful Kumiko patterns, accompanied by bilingual text that detail their origins and what their cultural significance. For the title of my publication, I decided to go with 組子文様 / „Kumiko-Monyō“ (meaning „Kumiko patterns“).

Content research

There were two dedicated sources that were most helpful in finding suitable content for my publication on the Kumiko patterns: Tanihata Co. Ltd. and Yoshihara Woodworks Ltd., two of the most established manufacturers of Kumiko ranma (欄間, ranma = pierced or open-work transom panels found in almost all traditional dwellings are a staple of classical Japanese architecture). Fortunately, their sites also provided English translations which was extremely convenient for my plans on making a bilingual publication and I created a separate text script for every pattern I chose. After deciding on a collection of sixteen of the most popular Kumiko pattern, I had to gather all the visuals that would showcase the intricacies of each traditional design. This proved to be a very tricky process because as traditional as Kumiko is in Japan, it is also fairly niche. Surprisingly, there were not many suitable photographs that were both interesting and in high-resolution so my options were limited.

Color scheme

Every culture has its own perception of color, each of denoting some sort of symbolic meaning. From prehistoric times to the present day, the Japanese have developed their own collection of traditional colors. While researching for visual inspirations, blue seemed to have a very strong foundation in Japanese culture. In fact, according to the earliest written historical documents of Japan, blue (青, ao) is mentioned as one of the oldest colors, alongside red (赤, aka), black (黒, kuro) and white (白, shiro). In Japan, blue has always been a popular choice for ceramics, porcelain and fine art throughout history. It also formed the basis for the indigo dyeing industry that flourished during the Edo period (1603–1868).

My intent was to use blue to anchor the publication in a more traditional color setting. This is contrasted by an earthy shade of gold, which represents the handcrafted wooden Kumiko panels and provides a noble and elegant finish. And finally, white is used to counterbalance these elaborate intersections of geometric shapes, giving it space to breathe and to be fully appreciated.

Font mixing

Regarding the type, I was confronted with the challenge of choosing typefaces for two very different languages while maintaining a visual resemblance between the two on top of contrasting different text hierarchies within one language. Using the Noto Serif and Noto Sans typefaces as my starting point for the Japanese language, I decided that the Noe Text and the Akkurat typeface were suitable candidates for their English counterpart.

Asset creation

Contrasting to the images, I recreated each pattern in Illustrator so that the reader would get a technical understanding of how the different wood pieces intersect with each other as a whole. Most of these patterns employ 30° or 60° angled lines and use a square, diamond or hexagonal base which are able to produce a myriad of different variants in varying levels of complexity. In fact, there exist several hundreds of different Kumiko patterns, each requiring their own technique of assembly.

Binding type

For the size, I originally intended the dimensions to be 200mm x 250mm, so just below DIN A4. It needed to be a size that is easy and convenient to hold while providing enough space for the patterns to achieve their best possible impression. However, at this stage I was still unsure about the binding type, a decision I held off until after I had already finished my layout design. Due to the fact that I did not want a typical perfect binding/softcover binding, I opted for something that was thematically more relevant and my attention was pushed towards the Japanese-style bookbinding (和綴じ, watoji). It is also known as Japanese stab binding. Japanese side sewn binding or simply Japanese side stitch. This type of traditional bookbinding is a simple non-adhesive binding which is widely practiced not only in Japan but also in China and Korea. Single sheets of paper are stacked and bound to create simple and elegant binding. As thread and paper are the only materials you need, it has the advantage of being extremely cheap. The most common stitches are the „Four Hole stitch“ (四つ目綴じ, yotsumetoji), the „Noble stitch“ (康熙綴じ, kōkitoji), the „Hemp leaf stitch“ (麻の葉綴じ, asanohatoji) and the „Tortoise Shell stitch“ (亀甲綴じ, kikkōtoji). Since the hemp leaf pattern or Asanoha pattern (麻の葉, asanoha) is the most popular Kumiko pattern, it seemed like an obvious choice to incorporate the „Hemp leaf stitch“, making it a fitting way to add synergy between the visual presentation and theme of the publication. To accommodate this specific type of bookbinding with my existing layout, I had to increase the width of the book size which resulted in more square-ish dimensions (225mm x 250mm).

Layout design

As far as the construction of the layout is concerned, it was a surprisingly smooth process as I was fairly confident in how I wanted to place the different elements on the pages. Akin to the modular aspect of the Kumiko assembly process, the overall placement of components throughout the publication had to be of consistent yet flexible character, in order to combat a monotone design layout overall. The grid system I used here is a 15-column grid with a gutter of 5mm. As previously mentioned, the sewing stations as well as the stitching structure are also indicated alongside the spine to aid with the bookbinding process.


For my publication, I chose digital printing on 120g/m² Munken Lynx paper, which has an uncoated smooth surface that provides a seemingly exclusive and yet very true natural paper feel. After cutting out each single page from the print sheets (which felt like an eternity), it was now time for the bookbinding process, something I had never done before, not to mention a Japanese-style bookbinding. I bought a standard bookbinding kit off the internet and watched a few bookbinding tutorials on the „Hemp Leaf stitch“, expecting a rather complicated and tedious process. To my surprise, it was a quite straightforward and simple to follow and I had no real problems with it. I needed a few attempts to get the thread length right and also had to widen up the holes a bit (I realized it would get pretty difficult to go through the same hole again because it was too tight). The cover, which was printed on a 300g/m² Munken Lynx paper, also had to be redone because the spine was just a bit too narrow for my text block. All in all, I enjoyed this process the most because I learned something new and it was easier (and went quicker) than I initially thought.

Final result


I have to say, out of every class that I attended in this semester, this one was by far the most structured one (despite the unusual online setting due to the current events) with an incredibly comfortable atmosphere. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Prof. Franziska Morlok for her extremely professional and constructive way of conducting her class. I was impressed how easy it was to talk to her and my fellow students about design and I enjoyed the collective spirit immensely. I was a big fan of the collective feedback rounds with the other students and looking at each and everyone's design work. This really gave me an appreciation of how far everyone has come over the course of this semester. As for my own publication, I am mostly satisfied with the outcome (especially with the bookbinding part) but obviously, there is always room for more improvement and I would like to make more experimental and bold design decisions in my next publication.

While most things that were taught this course were not necessarily new to me (due to my previous education in design school), it did give me a chance to refresh my design fundamentals. In fact, Prof. Franziska Morlok also graciously provided me with the (very spontaneous) opportunity to give an InDesign tutorial to a handful of people in the class over two sessions. I am very grateful because it helped me strengthen my understanding about essential design aspects, as well as getting a first taste of how to teach multiple people. Going back to the basics every once in a while is vital for every designer in order to become more mindful about the process and to really grasp the core of your concept in a more fundamental way. Otherwise, you might get trapped in your tunnel vision and lose yourself in details and completely miss out on the big picture. Finally, I also want to thank my fellow students for being a pleasant bunch, it was really fun learning and working together ;)

Ein Projekt von



Art des Projekts

Studienarbeit im Grundstudium


Prof. Franziska Morlok

Zugehöriger Workspace

Redaktionelle Gestaltung 02 – Wieso? Weshalb? Warum?


Sommersemester 2020