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IBASHO: Office InterviewThe people are treasure. With an environment and system that’s easy to work in, I want to accelerate expanding globally from here.

Interviewing a featured mid-sized company! 
Kei Narushima of CELSYS, Inc.

How do leaders of rapidly growing mid-sized companies regard work style and offices? This series of articles digs deeper into office strategy and how workplaces continue to take shape.

In this second article, we talked to Kei Narushima, the President of CELSYS, Inc., which offers many services for creators including Clip Studio Paint, the illustration, comic, webtoon, and animation app. 

Kei Narushima / President of CELSYS, Inc.
Worked part-time at CELSYS, Inc. when he was a student. Majored in Product Design in university. 
Graduated university and joined CELSYS, Inc. as a designer in 1997. Was involved in 2D/3D graphic design and web design, as well as software interface design. 
Became the company president in 2016. 

Providing creative experiences to creators

Q: Please tell us about your company. 

Narushima: We are a company that provides a creative app for artists. Although the app is a tool for creation, we strive to give creators a total creative experience beyond providing a tool. 

Q: Are many of your users professionals? 

Narushima: No, more of our users draw as a hobby. Because of this, we want to provide a complete experience from drawing a picture, to showing that picture to friends and others, and getting to share feelings and expression. 

Before, only those who were good with technology could draw on computers, but now digital creation has become common with the spread of computers and the emergence of tablets. Recently, the majority of our users are women in their 20s and 30s. With “Creating a more passionate world” as our mission, we not only provide the app, but also make videos on how to draw and more. 

Celsys’ office and work style

The office is located a stone’s throw away from Shinjuku’s Central Park. There’s a large street in front of the office and lush greenery can be seen from the windows. 

The view from the windows with lush greenery is striking. 

Due to the office building having an atrium, the white walls reflect light and create a bright impression. 

Meeting Space

A key design point is the gradation of the wood tones on the partitions to the meeting spaces arranged by the window. The whiteboards were chosen in a color that matches the wood-grained walls. 

Web meeting spaces with colored names. 

All web meeting spaces come with lights to brighten your face. 

At Celsys, the majority of employees work from home. Depending on the department, there may be a set day of the week to go to the office, but there is no set rule for employees to come to the office or work from home. In order for online communications to maintain the same performance as meeting face to face, online meetings require participants to have their cameras on. The lights are provided to brighten the face and ensure high-quality communication. 

Small meeting spaces for 1 on 1 meetings were recently created.
These small spaces designed for two people serve a dual function as a workspace for one person if it’s not occupied. 

On another floor, there’s even space for filming videos

Provided photo

The cafe space where we held this interview is a spacious and stylish space. Lush greenery can be seen from the windows in the cafe space as well. 

The painting displayed near the entrance of the cafe space 

The booth seats by the windows of the cafe space are also suitable as a meeting space. 

The lights are by Louis Poulsen. Chosen due to being particular about “authenticity”

A bookshelf with comic magazines as well as illustration and design magazines and books. It seems as if there are some rare books among them. 

Narushima’s view of the office: The office is a place similar to a church where the company’s culture and values can be shared. 

The office has a bright and stylish atmosphere, but before the office renovation it apparently was an office from the past generation. We asked Narushima for his thoughts on the office. 

From a cluttered office to a creative office

We were provided with a photo of the office before the renovation. 

Provided photo: The office before renovation

From the photo, it’s clear how the office atmosphere has changed. Reflecting on the old office, Narushima stated, “Because we emphasized on how we were a technology company, I thought it was cool to stoically work in a worn-out office.” 

However, the times have changed, and more feel that “the office for a company that provides creative services should be creative”. Keeping the idea for wanting to renew to a creative office, the renovation was completed around 4 years ago. 

Provided photo: After negotiations, it was decided to remove the ceiling of the cafe space with the promise that it would be restored to its original condition.
The ceiling was apparently a point that Narushima wanted to focus on. 

As few walls as possible for an open office

Before the renovation, there were partitions for each department, so it was hard to see the entire office. During the renovation, it was a point of focus to build as few walls as possible and a space where you can feel the presence of others. The blinds for the windows and open glass are always open except in the morning hours when the light is harsh. 

Narushima: We have rapidly grown from a scale of 20 to 30 people to 150 to 200 people. Although we still do not have the numbers to be called a large corporation, I was afraid that the rapidly increasing numbers would cause the organization to become vertical and we would have the issues that large corporations have. I was conscious of making an office that was open and where it was easy to share information.

The president’s office in the back of the office space is designed to allow a view of the inside

Narushima: It’s a president office that the employees call the fishbowl or lion cage. (laughs)

An office that employees enjoy

Narushima was in charge of the design direction, but instead of deciding everything himself, around 10 volunteers from within the company were recruited. The renovation project members decided on the details while following the direction set by Narushima. 

Narushima: I wanted everyone to become fond of the office. I believed that if there’s fondness for the office, then the way it’s used would naturally change. Even when just opening and closing a door, I think I would subconsciously be more gentle if it was an office I was felt close to.

There’s even an interesting episode when it comes to the office’s desk chairs. 

Narushima: I went to see the chair showroom with the project members. The chair that the team liked was one that tended to be for company presidents, according to the manufacturer. However, engineers with a good chair end up doing good work, so we decided to use this chair for everyone. The total cost just for chairs was quite high. (laughs) 

The office is an idea for recruiting talented people

After the renovation, Narushima says that employees told him that it feels like the company really values its employees. 

Narushima: A company is all about people after all, so it was important for the employees to feel that they were valued by the company. It’s become an office you can proudly show to your family, so I think the sense of belonging has increased.

I feel that there are now more recruitment candidates who say that they want to work here after looking at the office. 

Narushima: The cafe space is especially our company’s best feature. The fridge is full of beer, so it’s fine to talk and have a drink after work here. It feels like there’s been more communication at the office. 

The beer in the company fridge. There’s also employee lunches in the available space. 

The people are treasure. With an environment and system that’s easy to work in, I want to accelerate expanding globally from here

Narushima: There are many engineers who don’t talk very much, and sometimes they come to work and don’t say one word before going home. Either working at the office or working at home is fine, but I want to think more about encouraging communication when employees come to work in the future. Although I still don’t know if that’s structure or mechanism. 

Most Celsys employees have no difficulty with technology, so they can work just fine remotely. With this current situation, Narushima states that the meaning of the office is “the foundation of the company”. 

Narushima: For us, not having an office for a short time is not an issue. Now, most of our employees work from home. So why even have an office? The office is a place to do work, but in the current times when remote work is possible, I believe that it is the center of the company. A company isn’t a religion, but I think that the office is a place that’s similar to a church. 

In other words, it is a place where people who share the same core values, such as the company culture, get together even though they are normally apart. It may sound false for a president to say it, but I believe that the people are a company’s treasure, and that putting in effort into an environment and system in which employees can work comfortably will lead to a company’s growth. Currently, over 80% of our customers are from outside Japan, and just under 20% of our employees are not Japanese. I would like to expand our services even more globally from this office. 

Narushima explained the reasoning for keeping the office in the Shinjuku area as being close to the place where it was originally founded and not to forget its original spirit. While treasuring their original spirit, they will expand the vision of “Creating a more passionate world” outside the borders of Japan from this renovated office that aligns with the company’s current values. 

Note: This article was originally published as a Case Study on IBASHO in September 2023.