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Huh? #18: An interview with The Happening

August 3, 2015

The Happening is a small-scale Los Angeles-based print and digital media design studio that offers creative design and branding solutions. Partners Masato Nakada and Karen To Nakada are a husband-and-wife team that works closely with clients to solve those deeper and more comprehensive problems, both visually and conceptually, that each client is facing. From product packaging to a complete rebranding, and everything in between, The Happening threads strong concepts and ideas across multiple platforms while upholding beauty and craftsmanship. VCFA’s Ian Lynam gets down with Masato and Karen to find out what makes them tick.

We created a custom typeface for Scott Patt’s exhibition, Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.The design is based on his artwork from the show. We also shot a stop-motion video to introduce his making process in the context of his sketchbooks.

“We created a custom typeface for Scott Patt’s exhibition, “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” The design is based on his artwork from the show.”

From The Happening’s bio:
“Unlike other studios, we’re not just the icing on the cake, designing a last minute singular element, but are there for you even before you start mixing the ingredients. And because our studio is small, it gives us the advantage of flexibility in our practice and a quick turnaround while maintaining quality. Clients who have worked with us have seen significant improvements in their businesses because we worked closely with them to develop a concept and found the best design solution.”


A stop-motion video by The Happening that introduces Scott Patt’s making process in the context of his sketchbooks.”

“As a husband and wife duo, we started this studio organically out of our desires to create work for people and companies that we truly care for, where we could be involved in the project at every step. Some might see having a husband and wife dynamic as being a disadvantage, and that little work gets done in our home office. However, we are extremely dedicated to our clients and have a passion for the work that we create. We both have worked in a wide variety of companies and gained many skills along the way. And with The Happening Studio we get to utilize our combined knowledge and experiences, but also connect with our clients on a deeper level, shake their hands, and greet new faces every time we step out the door. Paramount to our work is to be able to create a personal connection with our clients, tailor to their needs, and build their brand to the next level.”

The Happening's installation at LA Design Festival

The Happening’s installation at LA Design Festival

You guys are always crazy-busy with self-initiated projects. Which ones are your favorites?

For this year’s LA Design Festival, we set up a booth in Chinatown for people to play scratch tickets and win our goods. We made various prizes in different materials which allowed us to explore alternative ways to design and print. People played scratch tickets and won something on the spot. Some people won big, some won small prizes. We enjoyed the carnival aspect of it as well as the random/chance operation that became a important running theme for this project.

The Happening's installation at LA Design Festival

The Happening’s installation at LA Design Festival

You operate solo studios, as well as a collaborative studio. When and where do you draw the line?

The Happening is client-based. There is always a clear brief or a goal in mind whenever we funnel projects through this. We focus on the business end of our practice as much as our craftsmanship. Things like, setting up contracts, proposals and invoices, to shaking hands and facilitating relationship with clients, all of these aspects play integral parts to the studio. So to sum it up, The Happening Studio leads a very practical and traditional studio model.

We both have separate solo practices because our interests in design are very different. This is the area where client or money is less of a priority. We have the allowance to pursue purely out of our own interests. We can only pull this off as long as the practical Happening Studio is up and running. In return, what we discover and learn from our solo practices, we feed them right back into The Happening Studio. So it’s quite reciprocal.

Who are your favorite designers working right now, as well as from history?

Here is a list of designers (dead & alive) that we appreciate for different reasons.

Despite both of you being from other places, your work feels distinctly Californian. How is it that you guys came to work in the styles that you do?

We are not afraid to get ombre and sprinkle some marijuana leaves!! Just kidding, just kidding… It’s probably because our clients are mostly from Los Angeles so the content itself is very Californian. Karen’s use of color is vibrant so that might play a role. Masato is color-illiterate but his form is quite heavy-handed so that could also factor in.

Masato’s solo work above: Type Snap. A website that takes a stab at the future of web typography.

Masato’s solo work above: Type Snap. A website that takes a stab at the future of web typography.

What are some dream projects that you guys would like to work on?

We would love to illustrate a children’s book. It would also be amazing to work on a city-scale project. We would love to work with architects and city planners to construct a site-specific experience for a short-term event.

Karen’s work above: Design frame for NatGeo.

Karen’s work above: Design frame for NatGeo.

What are some projects that you would never want to work on?

Projects that bring no creativity, no money and no respect. We would simply say “NO” to a client if two of these conditions are true.

Understood! We will be sure and provide you with none of the above!

Thanks so much for your time, Karen and Masato!

And with that, dear readers, stay tuned for the next installment of “Huh?”, coming soon!