10 Questions for Yuko Yamaguchi

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Jun Takagi for TIME

Hello Kitty designer Yuko Yamaguchi

Did you ever imagine that Hello Kitty would be big worldwide?
Maya Castro, Miami
No, not at all. When I started I didn't even know whether she would sell in Japan. I was told that Hello Kitty was only for children and that Westerners wouldn't carry her around.

Why doesn't Hello Kitty have a mouth?
Sandi Saksena, Dubai
It's so that people who look at her can project their own feelings onto her face, because she has an expressionless face. Kitty looks happy when people are happy. She looks sad when they are sad. For this psychological reason, we thought she shouldn't be tied to any emotion — and that's why she doesn't have a mouth.

Why is Hello Kitty from London and not somewhere in Japan?
Courtney Bower, Des Moines, Iowa
When Hello Kitty was created, many girls in Japan had read Alice in Wonderland and adored Britain. Also, there were other characters [created by my company Sanrio] who were supposed to have been born and raised in the U.S., so Kitty was born in London as a way of differentiating her.

How do you continue to be fresh without losing the essence of Hello Kitty?
Jo-Anne Sears, Yorktown, Va.
Trends are the key — what colors and what motifs are in. If roses are in fashion, then I think of rose designs. I have to be able to predict more or less what is coming.

Why do so many adults love Hello Kitty?
Sarah Dwider, Westfield, N.J.
People around the world often say that when they were children they couldn't afford Hello Kitty, so they started to buy her when they earned money as adults. It's not that they all of a sudden discovered Kitty.

Do you consider a global audience when you're designing?
Ignacio Meza, Los Angeles
In the past, I was designing only for Japanese fans. But lately I've been designing for Kitty fans in general. I don't think so much about where they come from as how delighted they'll be if I do such and such a design.

What's your favorite of all the designs you've done?
Abby Amberson, Madison, Wis.
The [1994-1996] Face series, which generated a real Kitty boom. Until then, Kitty was designed for children and I carried around Hello Kitty merchandise only as samples, because I was the designer. But I actually bought up to 20 pieces from the Face range — five for myself and the rest for my friends — because I knew that from then on nobody would be telling me that Hello Kitty was just for kids.

Is there an item that we will never see Hello Kitty on?
Dorothy Ho, Seattle
Knives. The knife-killing rampage in Tokyo in June made me feel even more certain that we are right about not producing knives.

What will Hello Kitty be doing in 10 years?
Catherine G. Pilie, Covington, La.
In 10 years' time, everybody around the world will know her. Also, the number of male and female fans will be the same. Men who are still reluctant to be seen with Kitty in public today might be wearing Hello Kitty boxers. But they will eventually stop being shy and will show off Kitty proudly.

What advice would you give to young artists?
Phil Fung, Miami
Be interested in different things and see and listen to everything. A person who does not have multiple interests is only drawing, not designing. They become somebody who just draws and gets stuck. To design, you need to be open to all kinds of information and ideas.

Read extra questions for Yuko Yamaguchi here.

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