Lais
Ikoma

Lais is a Brazilian graphic designer and creative director. She co-founded and runs Polar, Ltda., a design studio based in São Paulo, in which she and her teammates work on projects that present a multidisciplinary approach towards design.

São Paulo, Brazil • October 28, 2022

What led you into design?

A group of events led me into design. But as long as I can remember, I was attracted by visual creations and was always doing craft activities myself.

My grandfather was a Japanese immigrant in Brazil and worked painting the neighbourhood's houses. When he was about 50 years old, he started to paint artistically. Although I had a short time with him during his life, his paintings were probably the first thing to form my visual vocabulary and inspired me every day as I saw them hanging on the house I grew up in.

When I was a teenager, I was surrounded by my father's CDs and book collections, and I caught myself wondering how the covers were made, and I was specially attracted by typography and printing methods.

So I would say my interest in design started very analogically, even though I was born in the 90s, and we had a computer at home since I was very young. Thinking about that now, I believe it says a lot about my work.

Nowadays, I run Polar, Ltda. which is the design studio I co-founded with other four amazing partners. I love to be surrounded by all that, I feel privileged to do what I do every day.

What does a typical day look like?

I like to say that the day starts by the time I go to bed at the night before, with a good night’s sleep. Ideally, I go to bed at 11pm at the latest. Typically, I wake up some time between 6–7am. São Paulo is a very busy city, so I like waking up early, before all the craziness starts and the city is still silent.

The first thing I do to start my day is going out for a walk with my dog. Sometimes we walk around the neighbourhood, sometimes we go to a park, or we just walk a few blocks down to the street market.

Back home, I make breakfast and then sit at my desk around 9:30 am – I usually do home office, otherwise we take the car and go to work at Polar's studio. Once at my desk, I check Notion and prepare my schedule to what I hope to get done for the day. I split my time between creating, checking if the team is OK, meeting with clients, answering emails and taking care of other studio's needs.

After I finished working, it varies a lot, but I'll probably be doing some workout, cooking, preparing a home drink, having dinner with friends, watching a movie, playing with my dog, studying whatever I'm interested in at the moment, or just going to bed early. Every day is a little different, but maintaining a routine makes me happy.

What's your workstation setup?

Mostly I do home office, but at least once a week I'm at Polar's studio with my partners. At my desks, there are always some printed proof or prototypes, and some random tennis ball hanging around.

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Where do you go to get inspired?

Everywhere, and my interests are constantly shifting. But mostly I get inspired when I'm off-screen.

On a design level, I really enjoy keeping up with Japanese graphic design. I also look a lot at ephemera, historic packagings, posters, magazines, and advertising pieces. I see them as eye-catching things that I can learn from.

And there's also those kinds of inspirations we carry somewhere in our brains from things that took place in our lives: my grandfather's paintings that I mentioned earlier, for example. In my childhood, as a Brazilian kid in the 90s, I was also very influenced by sports, specially soccer and F1. Besides the matches and races, I was equally drawn by the showcase of colours, logos, and textures that come with these sports. I believe these are the most special inspirations, because they are the ones you don't seek, they are already somewhere inside you.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

As someone who’s passionate about both dogs and design, I really like to get to know well-made products in this area. There are two products that I really like.

The first one is from a Brazilian brand called Zee Dog, that makes great products for pets, in terms of materials, functionality, and technology. I’ve been using for a while now the Hands-Free Leash, which has a slider mechanism to adjust the leash’s length. It can be rearranged to be worn around the shoulder or waist or just the regular way; it has a safety hook to lock it to a harness or collar, and it has a type of buckle to tie the leash on other things. The materials are great, and the colour options are beautiful. Since I got it, this has been the official leash we use.

The other products are from Carhartt’s dog gear line. Carhartt is an American apparel brand known for their work clothing. They also launched some products for dogs, which the highlights for me are that they are made of a durable water-repellent canvas and reflective stitching for low-light visibility, among other features.

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What pieces of work are you most proud of?

As a Japanese descendant, probably the project I'm most proud of is Nikkei Maru, a typographic project made in collaboration with Caio Kondo from the foundry Inari Type and Satsuki Arakaki. 'Nikkei' is the term used to refer to Japanese people and its descendants living outside Japan, and Brazil is the country in the world where most of the Nikkei live and were born in. The main goal was to study the immigration to the American continent and create a font from what we learned.

At first, we got inspired by typefaces seen on the ship's caskets that brought Japanese people to the American continent and also by the shimbuns, the communities’ newspapers. Besides the letterform characters, the font features some dingbats – inspired by the history of the immigrants living in the new continent – with pattern functionalities called monyos, that look like the visuals commonly seen on kimonos and Japanese cloths. For those who'd like to know more, the font was released with a full research that can be found here.

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Another project that I love is the 20/20 Calendar. At Polar, each year we challenge ourselves to create a non-traditional calendar. The calendar from the year 2020 was inspired by the 20/20 visual acuity test, also called Snellen Chart (which is that test we do at the ophthalmologist). In this calendar, we wanted to explore the relation between typographic scale, distance, and time. And we also don't miss the opportunity to explore printing with beautiful Pantone combinations.

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What design challenges do you face at your company?

Besides designing and directing, at Polar I take care of the team management. So one of my biggest challenges daily is to plan ahead an overview of each person's schedule, to assign the projects to the designers accordingly to their skills and interests, and to assure there's enough time for them to dedicate to the projects and to perform tasks, while exchanging information with my other partners that take care of finances and new business matters, to make sure everything is doing well with the company.

It's a lot to keep track of, but I enjoy organizing the studio and looking out for the team. I believe planning makes people feel more confident to do their work. At Polar, we believe good work is made through an environment where people can feel confident and through positive reinforcement with our teammates.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

• Be passionate. Get to know what brings you joy.

• Don’t limit your interests to just designing.

• And care. Care about you and others, and care about the work you’re doing. When you care, you are probably more responsible and make better decisions.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

We are starting a store at Polar! So if you’d like to check it out: shop.polar.ltda

Also, all the Calendars we make annually can be found there.

Polar's Website (polar.ltda) and Instagram (@polar.ltda)

My own Instagram @laisikoma

Nikkei Maru trial font and full research: https://nikkeimaru-en.inaritype.com/

interview