Bringing Sanrio Puroland to life with Adobe Illustrator on the iPad

Hello Kitty drawing on an iPad.

Image credit: Sanrio

by Gianfranco Chicco

Posted on 10-16-2020

Sanrio characters such as Hello Kitty are perhaps the most iconic global champions of kawaii culture. Kawaii (pronounced “kah-wah-eeeh”) is difficult to explain, but you know it when you see it. Although it’s often translated as “cuteness,” kawaii means so much more than that. As Tokyo-based writer Matt Alt puts it in his recent book Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World, kawaii “has evolved into a hyperbolic, all-purpose superlative for the young and young at heart, for all ages and genders and orientations: a Platonic ideal of the concepts of innocence and positivity.”

Hello Kitty and many others all come to life at the company’s indoor theme park in Tokyo, Sanrio Puroland, and it’s there that the team is making innovative use of Adobe Illustrator on the iPad. Earlier this year we met with Keito Kojima and Hirotaka Sakai, members of Sanrio Entertainment’s in-house design team, to learn how they’re using Adobe Illustrator on the iPad and Adobe Creative Cloud to innovate at the legendary brand.

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Designing for kawaii

The main challenge for Kojima and Sakai is to make sure that their creations express kawaii in its very different forms. Sanrio Puroland, also known as Hello Kitty Land, is in constant evolution following seasonal events and special occasions, in person and online. For example, for Halloween, the designers have to create three-dimensional decorations, seasonal characters, costumes, installations, as well as digital materials to keep the website fresh and up to date.

Pull Quote

“This may be a little too pragmatic, but I feel like kawaii is the sense of a desire building in you to buy that thing or to have it around you. When creating products, my aim is to have a design that people will want to have for their own.”

Keito Kojima, designer in the Content Design Section at Sanrio Entertainment Co. Ltd.

“My personal feeling is that the word kawaii has a sort of helplessness built into it,” says Hirotaka Sakai, producer in the Entertainment Planning Group at Sanrio Entertainment Co. Ltd. “Imagine a character with very short arms and legs that struggles to move. Even though they can’t reach something, they’re trying hard to get it, and that’s really kawaii.”

Image credit: Sanrio

Designing on location

One of the biggest impacts of using Illustrator on the iPad at Sanrio Puroland is that Kojima and Sakai can now take their designs out of the office and right into the theme park. Since they are constantly drawing and designing new content, for things like seasonal events, seeing how an installation or a piece of signage sits in its environment makes it easier and faster to try different things or move them around until they feel just right.

“I can now create my rough sketches and designs in the exact place where they will be used, which lets me compare them with the actual atmosphere around them.” - Keito Kojima

As an added bonus, this flexibility allowed Kojima to keep on working when the COVID-19 pandemic started: “I can now easily use my iPad to work on my designs on the train, during meetings inside and outside the company, or from home.”

Closeup shot of a drawing of Hello Kitty on an iPad.

Image credit: Sanrio

Better drawing and design workflows

Illustrator on the iPad has also improved workflows at Puroland. For example, when creating new interior decorations for the park, Kojima and Sakai traditionally start by taking measurements, photos, or by simply sketching their ideas on paper. Then, they were adding these elements together on the desktop version of Illustrator and designing from there, with a constant back and forth between the office and the park to check and recheck that they were on the right track. With Illustrator on the iPad, they are now able to take pictures from many different angles and draw and design on them in real time, all without having to return to the office.

Pull Quote

“In the past, we usually used paper sketches as a starting point, and I would digitize everything by taking photos with my smartphone or scanning them. But now, I can take pictures with Illustrator as-is, and sketch right there without any interruptions. Not only can I sketch, but I can also trace, which has made things extremely convenient. Since I can also undo as much as I want, I feel like organizing the sections using the history panel has made things a lot easier, too.”

Hirotaka Sakai, producer in the Entertainment Planning Group at Sanrio Entertainment Co. Ltd.

Show and tell at Sanrio

Using an iPad in this drawing and design workflow also makes it easier to walk into a meeting and share your actual designs, showing how things could look like by overlaying sketches on top of photos of the space. This makes the process more efficient by showing your colleagues exactly what you have in mind, and reworking designs together while walking around Sanrio Puroland.

“When I want to put something in a specific spot, I just go there to make the materials, and I can have a quick meeting right there,” Sakai says. “By opening Illustrator on the iPad and sharing my concept directly, I’ve cut down the time needed probably by one third since we don’t have to have two, three, or a dozen meetings; we just all get together to take a look and discuss.”

Easy access and perfect balance

The flexibility of using the iPad as a central part of their drawing and design workflows, and having all assets linked through Creative Cloud Libraries, has further reduced Kojima and Sakai’s time requirements to create content; it’s also made cooperation with other teams throughout the company seamless. The designers are now creating sketches and capturing raw data on location on the iPad, then opening those sketches in Illustrator on the desktop to create cleaner, more detailed documents. These are then sent to external vendors that will build the installations that bring those designs into the real world.

New features in Illustrator, such as radial, symmetrical, and grid repeats, have also opened up new forms of creativity. Many of the original products sold at Sanrio Puroland, like paper card holders, postcards, and stationery, use lots of patterns, which can be easily created using the Repeat Radial and Repeat Grid functions.

“Saving to Adobe Creative Cloud lets me use that data both on the desktop and iPad versions, and I can share it with other accounts too, which is useful for job handoffs and tasks where we’re working together as a team,” Kojima says. “I can create a gradient on the desktop and later use it on the iPad to set up more complex object gradations. Another useful feature is that, since it’s linked with the Adobe libraries and Adobe Fonts, I can take an Adobe font created in Illustrator on the iPad and convert it to the desktop version as-is.”

With the addition of Adobe Illustrator for iPad to their workflow, Kojima and Sakai have not only improved their productivity, but also created an environment that fosters better collaboration between colleagues and teams. This has unleashed their creative thinking beyond the physical barriers of the office. Their relentless search for kawaii is now, quite literally, boundless.

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