Miho Aishima talks beer and graphic design for Letterform Live

Miho Aishima is a graphic designer and occasional beer drinker. After more than a decade working for CDT Design, Macmillan Publishers and johnson banks she founded her own studio, Aishima, to help entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes figure out their brands. Ahead of her talk at the next Grafik and Monotype Letterform Live event, we caught up with Miho over a craft beer and a cider at The Beer Shop in South East London.

Theo Inglis: Hello Miho! Can you give us a clue about what you have planned for your talk at the beer themed Letterform Live event this month?

Miho Aishima: So basically I’m conducting an experiment with beer, letterforms and typography. To see what happens when you have a few beers and how the experience of consuming alcohol may effect how you draw.

We need to know more about this beer experiment!

So it’s a little printed kit. What you do is, as a control, you trace the letterform (a bold sans-serif capital B) before having a drink, then you try it again after your first drink. It can be a half pint so that you don’t drink too much! Then you repeat with the second drink, just to see how your line and texture changes and probably the accuracy too. The experiment is taking place here at The Beer Shop in Nunhead, at 6:30 pm on the 10th November. The reason I chose this specific B is because most of the London craft beer brands used this kind of font.

I wonder if anybody will find they get better the more they drink!

It is funny, I’ve been speaking to quite a few people who do seem to think it would somehow free them and make them better.

Are you quite a big believer in this kind of face-to-face research and experimentation in your own design work?

I definitely do a lot of one-to-ones with people. It is mainly for learning about their start-up and social brands, and to discover what sort of issues they are facing so that I can advise them on how to make the most social impact with what they have, and within a budget. They are often start-ups but currently not everyone knows the possibility of branding in a start-up. They can get so obsessed with getting funding that they forget that people need to be able to understand what they do before people can engage with them.

Do you have a favorite beer?

I’m probably not much of a beer drinker compared to hardcore beer enthusiasts. But I do like a beer from time to time, so when I do I’m quite particular! There is one I really like from Beavertown called ‘Heavy Water’, which is very dark. I prefer a good stout over the lighter stuff. I also really like ‘Chocolate & Orange Stout’ by Brew by Numbers and ‘Milk Shake’ which is also a stout, brewed by Wiper and True. Some of the crazy beer flavors that I have come across include Early Grey (By The Horns: Old Smoke), Yuzu (Kent Brewery & Gipsy Hill) and Lemon Meringue Pie (Buxton Brewery). Thinking a bit further afield, when my husband and I travel we have often trekked across islands and towns to seek out amazing breweries and taprooms such as Donkey Beer in Santorini, Mikkeller Bar and Warpigs in Copenhagen and Bell's Brewery and Arcadia Brewing Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Do you have a favorite beer from a purely design perspective?

There is this really beautiful beer, made in the States, somewhere out west. It shows the buildings from the area in an illustrated diagrammatic style. That one is called Fort Point Beer Co. I actually did a bit of research on craft beer around London, I think it is great that all these different beer labels really consider their branding in relation to what they are brewing and creating. A lot of them realize that the connection between the brand and the success of their beer is direct.

Do you think the huge growth in craft beer has been good for graphic design?

Most definitely. There is a synergy between graphic designers and craft beer. It is something more special as an experience, it is more than just a drink. It is about the community and creating something. Sometimes the beer is really good but the design is bad, or the other way round! You need to have both to succeed.

I’ll never be a specialist in healthcare or education or the environment, but through design I can help people in these important fields.

Did you always know you wanted to be a graphic designer?

I actually thought about being an accountant initially as I was nervous about finding a job in the creative industries, but I always wanted to do something creative. I’ve learnt a lot over the 16 years I’ve been in London. Going to St Martins really helped me realize that I definitely wanted to do this, especially as a foreign student. All the different people and experiences that mix there made it a really special place. And also the connections were great, being able to go and work at studios like CDT and johnson banks, and meeting world class designers and learning from them was perfect. My branding specialism came a bit later than my love of graphic design. I think there is something special about creating an identity and building the future of something, obviously it is fun to do posters and books and that sort of thing, but branding is about communicating and creating engagement, into the future, I really like that.

What made you take the leap from working in a studio to starting your own?

I think at some point you just want to develop your own vision. I did some marketing as well in between leaving a studio and starting my own, but I realized that by working with social enterprises and start-ups you can help them envision and create a social impact in so many different areas. I’ll never be a specialist in healthcare or education or the environment, but through design I can help people in these important fields. I like to think of my work as helping plant seeds or helping them grow. I think places like johnson banks are definitely making a difference but its much larger with big clients. I can work with smaller clients with lots of potential to grow. With these type of clients you can really make a difference very quickly and suddenly people understand their message and what they are doing which is great.

Do you have a favorite type of client or project to work on?

The scaling up kind! Clients who have established startups for a year or two, and now are like, “Ok we really need to sort this brand out and make it work. We've got some people engaged but we want to get more people excited”. At that point where they are ready to take off and do something amazing. As they grow, they can see the importance of communicating their vision to engage with other people. I guess for every start-up, but especially for social ones, it is crucial that people understand the vision of what sort of social change they are promoting and see the value of the enterprise to get funding or get people involved. Otherwise, the idea may be great, but if people don’t understand it, it may not get off the ground. It could be a game-changer in eliminating malnutrition or improving education, but if people can’t understand what you are going on about, it is stuck before it has even started.

Miho will be speaking at the ‘Beer’ themed Letterform Live event presented by Grafik, the ISTD and Monotype. This takes place on Wednesday 30th November, 7pm at Protein Studios, New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EY. There will be a chance to win a bag full of prizes, Five Points Brewing Co will be providing the craft beer for the evening, there'll also be some extra bottles up for grabs.

Follow @Monotype and @grafikmag for coverage of the the event. Tickets are available here.