2018Director perspective & Design stories for our times
Shunsuke Ishikawa
Director’s message

Technology that empowers us to act on questions and empathy


An era when we should question basic assumptions

One senses that in this era, companies or organizations attempting to create new value should begin by asking questions. Imagine the process of designing an office. Logical approaches—such as quantifying productivity based on the minimum space per person—often only lead to the same kinds of solutions. The office may end up being efficient, but this approach prevents us from offering fresh experiences or creative value. Skilled designers take a different approach. Their thinking begins with questions: What's working all About, anyway? or What latent needs do we have About where we work? This trait of good designers is what society itself needs today.

In creating new value, another consideration also seems essential. As I will explain, it involves what I call "kind technology." Accelerating progress in AI and robotics has led to much speculation About dystopias where these technologies steal our jobs, but is this inevitable?

Technology has also enabled individuals to create goods and services more easily in response to their own questions. Many goods and services are being produced, but to earn people's support, they must be thoughtful. Like the cartoon character Doraemon, they will help and support us when we have problems. The expressions of technology sought in times to come will address our emotional well-being, as things that are not just convenient, but that we can lean on, that sometimes give us spirited encouragement for growth, without leading us astray. As an alternative to dystopia, "kind technology" thinking draws on this Japanese sensibility behind Doraemon to frame our future engagement with technology in a way worth sharing with the world.

Enabling technologies

IT and many other technologies are now available to a broad range of people, which has lowered the barriers to creating new value. This is aptly demonstrated by the Good Design Grand Award winner, Otera oyatsu club. Years ago, it would not have been this easy to make progress in system-building (in this case, for a system to alleviate child poverty), which would have begun by looking for programmers to develop the system. The fact that priests aspired to create a platform uniting temples across Japan shows how technology has become an enabler that makes it easier to pursue solutions for our questions.

Another award winner, "Creccha," is a made-to-order service that creates stuffed toys closely resembling children's drawings. We can readily imagine how thrilled children must be to receive them. The service reminds us that creativity does not necessarily depend on how skilled one is at drawing. In showing the role of IT as an enabler that can inspire confidence and expand potential, this winning entry resembles Otera oyatsu club.

Thought processes as alternative techniques

Of course, there are technologies besides IT. In design, thought processes themselves can also be considered a key technology or technique. Creating new value in the world requires some kind of thought process. Knowledge About applying thought processes should probably be more widespread. The approach taken—how questions are framed, or how dialogue can be arranged for freer exchanges with others, for example—is emphasized in American design education.

In Japan, experience design has probably been fundamental throughout history. Imagine a visit to the Ise Grand Shrine. Any route taken is designed to converge with others at a bridge across the Isuzu River. It is as if the designers have placed us in a story that becomes more exciting as we approach the sanctuary. They seem to have had keen intuition and insight into human nature. In this way, the unwritten thought processes of old Japan were the stuff of legend, and they have created a treasure trove of Japanese heritage. Perhaps designers of today who apply them as a form of Japanese "design thinking" in new creations could make some exciting things.

The award-winning Food Hub Project began with the question of how to take a Japanese approach to sustenance. It stands out admirably for establishing a cycle around this theme (cultivate, create, eat, and nurture) in a rural area and enriching life there. Here, we might describe the thought process itself as a new technique to help people lead happy lives. The same can be said for the award-winning hanare hotel concept. I hope to see these techniques shared effectively across society.

Among the year's award winners, one product that represents a certain view of our engagement with advanced technology is the aibo entertainment robot. Aibo is commendable for how its high-tech features (such as an array of sensors) bring to life the mannerisms of a pet dog. Even more outstanding achievements might be possible if products could somehow come with the context that accompanies real dogs, which we begin caring for while forming bonds of affection. How do we normally meet a new pet—packaged in a box? What if we could choose our new aibo from several, moving around freely? What if each aibo had different spots and coloring? And what kind of story would unfold if we could take home a "stray" aibo? Products developed by exploring these kinds of questions might positively reframe our engagement with technology.

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