2016Nine essential GDA perspectives on design trends
Kenta Nakamura
Director’s message

Less work to be done, but new roles to fulfill


It is interesting to imagine what proportion of people worked in primary industries a century ago. That proportion is probably smaller today, worldwide, but not because these people have lost their job - in fact, new jobs have been created. What will happen, though, if technological advances eliminate more and more jobs? Some people predict that jobs will be lost to robots, and others believe we will continue to create new jobs. Although I, too, expect to see new jobs, entries in this year's award program suggest that the nature of these jobs is changing significantly.

For example, robots are a relevant topic, but they carry quite a range of implications. Industrial robots can perform an array of tasks, depending on attachments. To work more quickly, they are carefully engineered in various ways. Robots run the gamut from familiar robotic vacuum cleaners to the Segment-Handling Robot for Thirty Meter Telescoep, such as replacing massive mirror segments at a huge telescope facility.

Labor-saving innovation does not always take the form of robots. AQUA CERAMIC toilets are the first made with a stain-resistant ceramic that addresses the four main factors of staining (scuffs and scratches, bacterial residue, waste residue, and hard water deposits), using only the power of water to keep toilets clean. This may one day eliminate the need to clean toilets. Another SMART NAIRAN enables prospective buyers or renters to tour properties unescorted. Showing properties usually requires a fair amount of labor by realtors, but this can be reduced by authorizing clients to lock and unlock smart locks with their phone from a dedicated website. This seems especially helpful in areas not served by regular realtors.

Innovations such as these mainly do the physical work for us, but increasingly, other innovations are also doing the thinking for us. One example is the Discharge from hospital assisted navigation. In Japan, this service is generally handled by medical social workers who must call each office to make arrangements. This app streamlines the task and makes it easier to meet specific needs. OMOTENASHI GUIDE at airports, bus or train stations, and at shopping or sightseeing areas for non-Japanese speakers and hearing-impaired users. Public announcements, such as in emergencies, can also be understood. In this way, the app makes spoken information more universally accessible. The app can also be used offline, because announcements themselves include the signals needed for processing.

As we have seen, people are designing more and more labor-saving devices, and even solutions that acquire knowledge and think for us. Will this threaten jobs? While it may feel threatening, I still believe there will be more jobs. As long as people are people, we will always need some roles to be fulfilled.

Morioka Shoten is a bookstore that stocks only a single title at a time. Now that online merchants carry such an immense inventory, we are tempted to think that local bookstores fill a smaller niche. To buy a book from a bookstore, for example, you must go to the store, but when buying from an online merchant, the book is delivered to you. And although some bookstores carry an interesting selection of books, AI can read far more books than we can, so as our algorithms improve, an AI-generated selection may be more useful than a human-curated one. At Morioka Shoten, with their changing selection of a single title, this is not the point. Precisely because only one title is offered, it encourages visitors to mingle. Bookstores with crowded shelves serve customers with diverse interests. But customers browsing at a bookstore with only one title have something to share. It sets the scene to bring people together.

When I visited, it seemed easier for the owner to talk to customers, and for customers to talk to each other. After all, everyone was there for the sake of a single book.

If I may point out, this resembles a series of work-related social events that I organize. Speakers from a variety of backgrounds and professions are invited to serve as "bartender" for an evening. But instead of mixing drinks, they might enjoy a few themselves, as they chat with our guests. In this way, a unique individual "tends bar" for an evening, just as one title fills the shelves at Morioka Shoten at any given time. And, as at the bookstore, people start mingling naturally, without any mediation by our speaker. This interaction arises more easily where people gather for a shared interest.

TOKO KITCHEN is another example of design that brings people together. Offered by Toko Jutakusha - a real estate firm that manages 1,600 rental units - TOKO KITCHEN is a private cafeteria accessed with the resident's card key. Neighbors might find themselves mingling here. Perhaps they will meet a neighbor who provides the cafeteria with tomatoes from their garden. At other cafeterias, interaction of this kind seems unlikely.

As long as people are people, we will always need roles. Whatever design emerges to do physical or mental work for us, people will always create roles for themselves. Among the jobs that exist today, those related to interpersonal ties will be the most resilient in their current form.

Over time, will people gradually use their body and mind less? Probably not. Physically and mentally, we will still play and enjoy ourselves. Some will still want to dig in the dirt and grow their own vegetables, and even in game-like situations, we will still exercise our minds. KOOV may demonstrate this. With this kit to learn About robots and programming, you are free to assemble the blocks as you wish. Then, through programming, you bring your robot to life in various ways. Rather than reducing labor, this robot actually increases it. But we willingly do it, for fun.

As some jobs continue to decline, disrupted by design or technology, people will surely create new ones. And as we do, we may be subtly redefining the nature of work. No doubt many people will consider jobs as something done on their own time, but that is a topic for another day.

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