2018Director perspective & Design stories for our times
Keiji Ashizawa
Director’s message

Creating quality of life


Things that enrich moments of life

The value of everyday life is enriched through the activity of design, and this year's Good Design Award program showed attempts to do this in many different fields. Each year, well over a thousand entries are recognized with an award. All the individual products, buildings, services, arrangements, and other entries represent elements of society as a whole, which gives one the impression that from this undercurrent, our quality of life is being enhanced.

The things that contribute to quality of life are not extravagant. Good examples are the familiar, everyday things we can rely on to make life better. In Sweden, a friendly coffee break called a fika draws people together, even at work, for a chat and a snack. A fika is not fancy, but anyone might enjoy this chance to mingle. Thus, a suitable tray for the sweets can be viewed as emblematic of a good life. Even if these tangibles or intangibles are not so special, they do make life a little better.

In this sense, award-winning TouchFocus glasses seemed quite meaningful to me. As a new form of bifocals, they change strength at the touch of a button on the frame. For those old enough to worry About being farsighted, TouchFocus eliminates the need to switch glasses, and it is appealing that the interface makes them second nature to use, so there is no need to be self-conscious. This regard for users addresses people's resistance to reading glasses by imagining a world where instead of retiring to private pursuits, these older users remain active and engaged with others of all ages. What has set the scene for such products are the longer lifespans and increasing number of seniors in Japan, but more than merely supporting these users, the glasses tap human mannerisms and a sense of fashion to create new value. The approach suggests how society can be more broad-minded and have our quality of life improved by good design, little by little.

Urban development improving quality of life

Another award winner explores this topic on a larger scale, by establishing a temporary neighborhood hub. Design in this program boldly opens up areas usually walled off during the construction of residential complexes and invites the community in. Besides setting up outdoor furniture and equipment for people to use, the developers encouraged participation by a local university, businesses, and other community groups, meeting both "hard" and "soft" needs. The project was planned with input from architects, which probably helped the developers cover all aspects from structures to finer details. Also quite interesting is how a leading general construction company with ample experience in real estate development shared this narrative with the architects. One senses that the project may represent a turning point for our times.

Judging from this project, we can discern how a shift from economic value to quality of life is grounded in real-world considerations not only for users but also for businesses. Beyond seeking taller and more value-added buildings, as Japan's population continues to decline, we should probably be seeking more points of contact with communities. Ideally, those involved should take a stance of using what was developed for the temporary neighborhood hub project at the next site, and applying it in other development.

In other award-winning design—a Kissa Laundry and the hotel concept hanare—we see perfect examples of how quality of life can be created by engaging with communities through architectural approaches. The Kissa Laundry washing machines, a kitchen, and a café area, all devised to enliven this ground-level, neighborhood-accessible space. hanare in Yanaka, Tokyo, provides accommodations by combining multiple sites, as if the entire district were part of the hotel. Both are certainly examples of design intended to create new value in our life by addressing remarkable changes in cities over recent years, as apartment buildings keep popping up and the population swells amid thriving inbound tourism.

These success stories should not be viewed as sudden, random instances. Instead, they should endure, grow, and spread as sustained activities, because both hold potential as exemplary ways for communities to prosper.

Quality of life from public resources

Another memorable arrangement that can improve quality of life is Otera oyatsu club. Though some may be startled by how this Good Design Grand Award winner raises a social issue, I sensed possibilities in how the program has focused on fulfilling a new role through the existing infrastructure of temples across Japan.

From the same perspective, we may find a viable approach to addressing the problem of food waste, for example, through a solution that diverges from the usual business of convenience stores—a form of infrastructure that distributes much food each day. Facilities such as subway stations may also be capable of a variety of additional new roles besides their current ones, in consideration of the locations of this infrastructure, which is so prevalent in cities. In this way, Otera oyatsu club suggests that by reinterpreting familiar situations or facilities in our life as potential public resources, we may discover something that can contribute to improving or ensuring quality of life.

It is worth noting that Otera oyatsu club began with the efforts of a single temple. What started small, as one temple relying on themselves for the initiative, now continues to create broader waves through ties with other supportive temples and local charities, as it reaches people through social media and other means. We have seen that one person's inspiration or vision can, while applying a variety of existing infrastructure, provide a public resource. To me, this is a solid value in our lives today.

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