2019Attention to the interplay of design and social issues
Hidenori Kondo Jun’ya Yamaide
Director’s Message

Design of Community Development


The advent of advanced solutions to social issues

KondoWhen we think of designing local communities, rather than imposing things we bring in from outside, it must be a priority to consider how to tap and link local resources. Instead of temporary projects, sustainable design should be sought, incorporating locally distinctive goods and services. And in communication, the focus should be narrowed down somewhat, considering how to convey the message most easily to appeal to people.

YamaideThat is a key quality of our work – whether we can please each individual reached by these activities. Personalized relationships are especially vital in local communities. We view it as our mission to create resilience-enhancing social capital, and we arrange opportunities that bring together the people, tangibles, and intangibles needed for this. To us, that is the essence of design, not only conveying that something is worthwhile but also arranging encounters with things that participants find personally valuable and allowing a variety of possibilities to take off. Bringing projects to life requires the conceptual ability to trace out an ambitious vision, the curatorial ability to gather the issues, and the editorial ability to recompose existing things and present them to society. Among these skills, editing is no doubt increasingly in demand. Tentatively release your work without making it too elaborate, spending much money, or taking much time, and then refine it as people are actually involved with it, as you steadily bring it closer to what is needed. It may therefore be a prototype or a work in progress, but I think that is fine.

KondoI certainly feel the same way About editing, and I think a key point in this role is to establish a cycle. Design that connects the dots and creates a cycle stood out in our screenings this year. Choisoko also represents comprehensive design that applies what is already there – people and local sites – and effectively channels the flow of people and money. Instead of seeking traditional linear growth and development, it is becoming more important to have a steady circulation in local communities or the environment. Choisoko achieves this economically, to make it accessible to all, and not with advanced technologies but by skillfully combining existing technologies, which impressed me.

Linked by horizontal ties

Yamaide In another award winner, we can see the power of curation at work. Viewing community-building as essential in promoting home healthcare, Kagayaki Lodge shares their clinic building with local residents. The Lodge organizes their own regular events here but also hosts projects that participants have been wanting to do. In this way, the place they have made fosters exchanges and builds relationships of trust with and between local residents. And because horizontal ties have always been desirable in comprehensive community healthcare, it seems ideal that instead of following orders from above, the Lodge's home healthcare professionals use their own discretion in applying the information and knowledge they gain in the field.

KondoDesign is often evaluated from a designer's perspective, but I viewed this as a completely bottom-up project. Those working here started by observing the community to determine what local residents truly need. Real community needs formed the basis for how the building was constructed, which led to a community area (consisting of a living room, open kitchen, and other rooms) three times larger than the office. Because the Lodge meets local needs, there is a regular flow of community members of all kinds. Both Kagayaki Lodge and Choisoko seem to reflect some permaculture design principles that I study, which also begin with observation and then focus on designing connections that capitalize on the characteristics of various elements. Negai No Kuruma also responds to needs, and I was impressed by how this program combines and focuses the expertise of various participants on a shared goal.

YamaideFrom the standpoint of continuity, the Negai No Kuruma business model can still be perfected, but I think it is a wonderful initiative. Each participant does what he or she can to fulfill the wishes of terminally ill patients near the end of life. The program deserves recognition both for valuing a society where no one is overlooked and for showing that some people have the courage to take a step forward, in this regard.

KondoWe are referring to how to support people as they approach death, or in other words, designing the last stage of life. Igoku is another example of this, but many entries this year were for the benefit of older people. Especially in this era of the 100-year lifespan, it was encouraging to see practical examples of design addressing the question of how to be happy at the end. What also caught my attention were design entries that rose to the challenge of solving overlooked issues not only for older people but also for women or vulnerable people, including those with disabilities. Negai No Kuruma stood out among these. And although jury members debated the validity of entries such as ReBuilding Center Japan that are inspired by ideas originally developed outside of Japan, I think we should not deny the approach of refining and adapting good existing systems or other design for use in local communities.

Mending fragmentation by reestablishing ties

KondoAmong activities designed for seniors, many are conservative and inoffensive, and there is probably an effort not to venture into the taboo territory of death. In contrast, activities in one award-winning program include lying in a coffin, to make death more familiar, and shooting fashion portraits with elderly participants. Best of all are the expressions on the seniors' faces. They genuinely seem to be having fun. The organization's publications resound with the message that even our last moments should be full of life. Although other entries also sought to help seniors enjoy this time of life, the Igoku program stood out for its communication and taboo-defying experience design.

YamaideIt is groundbreaking that this program is part of ongoing, city-led comprehensive community healthcare in Iwaki, Fukushima. Conveying the initiative to other municipalities may well change some aspects of how this healthcare is managed. It would make end-of-life care more open and raise awareness of its importance. Progress in this is a tremendous achievement.

KondoAlso admirable is how a young design team is involved. It is a wonderful initiative that encourages younger people (including the designers themselves) to consider social issues such as comprehensive local healthcare and how seniors can continue to enjoy themselves at this time of life. I also appreciate how experiences are planned to ensure that children are more familiar with their elders and dying.

YamaideA change came over the faces of children watching as seniors lay down in coffins for this experience, as death became more personal. Modern times have changed how we say goodbye and made death more distant from everyday life. We might say that people feel a disconnect between death and life. Comprehensive community healthcare can mend this.

KondoOther entries attempted to make funeral homes more familiar. Perhaps Igoku blazes a trail in this respect, too. By reframing death as something more familiar, the program encourages us to reconsider the significance of the life we are living every day. Also noticeable in this year's screenings were activities that bring together people with and without disabilities, which are just some of the many attempts to mend the fragmentation of modernization, whether between illness and health, life and death, youth and old age, or other things. To mention another noticeable trend, many entries introduced places that bring people together across generations. Rather than shared housing exclusively for younger generations, which has taken off in recent years, these entries presented senior housing, cafés, daycare centers, and other places that encourage interaction between local seniors, homemakers, and children. Places that nurture bonds between people will be more and more relevant.

Far-sighted, cyclical design

KondoFrom a business standpoint, most of these examples will not generate significantly more profit, but the places are valuable precisely because of their retention and flow of people, some of whom will certainly be born there. Another example is 1616/Arita Japan porcelain. As a commercial product, the series is highly polished. As an enterprise, the exchanges and circulation of all sorts of people, including international designers, no doubt provides constant stimulation and enhances quality. In business as well, I think this cyclical design will be fruitful over the long term.

YamaideCenters of traditional craftsmanship struggle to maintain brands unless local artisans jointly reinforce the area's status as a site of production. Yet often, horizontal ties between producers are surprisingly absent. We can view 1616/Arita Japan as a way to cultivate these connections. I sense that horizontal ties are especially important in rural areas. And although this is not necessarily a new approach, it required someone to take that first step.

KondoEntries on product development and business planning from a long-term perspective also intrigued me. Elegant Suwada nail clippers update the structure of clippers with a lever mechanism, but what particularly impressed me was that unlike disposables, they are designed to enable maintenance and use over many years. With 1616/Arita Japan as well, the inflow and outflow will probably continue as the brand is developed over a long period.

Designed for whom?

YamaideThe key is not to consider things from the stage of planning a business model. With traditional "product-out" business models, there is no grasp of true needs. In particular, development motivated by a desire to stand out from competitors' products has increased excess and created superfluous things. When society needs a certain prototype, this sets the scene to devise a business model. As an organization involved in many local projects, we always think that other areas are doing things in the wrong order. Again, it starts with a pressing need, and a key factor is the extent of ownership one can invest. If this is something truly needed in society at the moment, it will eventually become a viable enterprise. Along these lines, I think it is important to visualize others whose faces we know, as we imagine delighting certain people or making them smile. Then, an attentive response will be enough, even with prototypes, and it will be a matter of continuous improvement as these things are used. The appearance can be refined to look more beautiful or admirable along the way, but the first element needed is the will to somehow make a difference, to somehow restore happiness. Even problem-solving projects that are geographically limited or narrow in scope are welcome. After all, widespread adoption will make them solutions with impact beyond their original boundaries.

KondoI agree. As issues involving the environment or people's well-being emerge, our notion of business as usual – vying to stand apart and expand sales, along the trajectory of existing rules – is probably near a major turning point. We have entered an era where design inspired by a strong ambition or vision, About whether something is truly necessary or will truly bring happiness, will resonate with more people and succeed as a business.

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