Course Correction

Reina Koyano abandoned her dream job and has found success and inspiration in unusual places.

As a child in Tokyo, Japan, Reina Koyano enjoyed making personalized birthday cards for friends and family. The joy she saw on their faces when they realized the effort she put in specifically for them is what made her want to be a designer. While Koyano (’12) was studying visual communications at Truman, she dreamed of living a charmed life in Manhattan working at an ad agency. She eventually got what she considered to be her dream job at an agency in Los Angeles where she worked on projects for major clients like Toyota, AT&T and State Farm. She achieved the success she wanted, and at a fairly young age. So, she quit.

“I did all kinds of things there, from designing print and web ads, to art directing photo shoots, to designing an entire internship program for the company,” she said. “But, I also learned that not everything I did was exactly like what I thought it would be like to work in ad agencies. It was hard to let go. It was a dream job that I had since I was very young.”

Koyano applied for a job at Snapchat, never actually planning to hear back from the social media giant. She did, and she is approaching her fourth year with the company. Her illustrations and filters have earned social media shout outs from celebrities and supermodels, and working with talented designers has reaped other benefits.

“Having this environment has definitely been the fuel for my personal works,” she said. “It’s important to have a great creative career, but it’s equally – or perhaps more – important to own a personal project where you have the complete freedom to express yourself and your creative philosophy.”

For Koyano, that has primarily meant creating her own line of drawings featuring female figures, with the inspiration coming from, of all places, sneakers.

“I see sexiness in sneakers. Maybe it’s the smooth, curving silhouettes, or it could be the way the laces tighten up your feet like a chic corset,” she said. “I view sneakers the way I see sports cars. Their immaculate contours and luminous gloss are undeniably captivating, whether you’re into cars or not.”

Part pin-up art, part superhero drawing, Koyano’s “Sole Fatale” series of strong, female figures now includes more than 30 pieces and has earned her international attention. Her work has been featured in publications in Japan and Australia, and been on display in Portland, London and San Francisco. A video for Champs Sports featuring her has more than 100,000 views on YouTube. In 2016, when Koyano created an illustration inspired by the Nike Air Mag from the film “Back to the Future,” it almost literally blew up her phone.

“My phone shut down because there were too many notifications that I couldn’t turn off,” she said. “I was shocked to see how my little hobby was received, and that only motivated me to draw more and be more adventurous with it.”

The way things have gone so far in her career, it is hard to say what is next for Koyano. She has gained experience in advertising and the tech industry, and she would love to put her skills to use in ways that either help young adults in education or empower women.

“I truly believe that design is not just something we do to make things ‘look pretty.’ Designers are problem solvers that can make things smarter and more efficient,” she said.


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