2021Design perspectives which gaze at “what lies ahead”
Ai Iishi
Ai Iishi Director’s Message “Incomplete design”

Seeking continuous co-creation based on trial and error. Design that can be worked on over time, giving peace of mind to project members

2022.03.28LocalSocial Infrastructure

Conditions for designs that evolve like living creatures

These days, it is becoming more and more difficult for uniform products to meet individual and social needs, which are becoming increasingly complex. Moreover, social changes are occurring at an accelerating pace. As a result, the conventional design process of launching large projects that take a long time to complete is become untenable.
Against this backdrop, what is needed is design that tolerates changes in things and responds to new demands quickly and flexibly. I think we should explore a way that allows a small and incomplete design to continue changing like a living creature, growing and improving over time through repeated trial and error, and that is why I decided on the theme of “incomplete design.”
Now, how can “incomplete design” be achieved? I asked myself this question over the course of the screening process for the Good Design Award, and I came up with the following three conditions.

1. The project is structured to last long

The first is continuity over the long term, which is exemplified by kitamoc and Kuwamizu private house with public bath.
The company “kitamoc” runs a forest plantation business in Karuizawa. Since launching 25 years ago as a campsite operator, the company has extended its business domain to wood processing and forestry, including a self-sustaining type of forestry called “zibatsu-style” forestry. It has also moved into food production and processing, including beekeeping and the sale of honey.
One step forward allows you to see a next issue you should make. Through repetition of the process, the scope of solutions you can accomplish in your domain gradually expands, that is, it spirals up. This kind of continuous expansion is possible because kitamoc has ceaselessly and increasingly tackled issues faced by the region and the forestry industry.

Another good case in point is Kuwamizu private house with public bath in Kumamoto Prefecture, a bathhouse built inside a home based on lessons the owner learned from his support activities for survivors of a series of strong earthquakes that struck the region. The owner, architect Yuuki Kuroiwa, says he operates the business on the side and has no intention of making money from it. Bathhouse businesses are oftentimes unprofitable. Kuroiwa, however, has run the business for years because he does not rely on the income. In other words, changes regarding the business can be made in a relaxed manner, allowing it to operate for a long time.

*For reference: Yuuki Kuroiwa × Ai Iishi|What is needed is design that can be continued comfortably

2. The service allows for direct and proactive involvement of its users

The second condition is that the service concerned allows its users to go beyond being merely clients and to get directly and proactively involved in it. “Johnson Town” and the “Taitung Slow Food Festival” are interesting in this regard.
It took 18 years for Johnson Town to apply for the Good Design Award competition. Johnson Town, once a slum town, sits on 2.5 hectares of land in Iruma City, Saitama Prefecture. During those 18 years, a repeated trial-and-error process was carried out by residents to build a community and revitalize the town, apart from the construction of new houses and lanes.
Many town development projects come with almost- or already-developed housing sections, and there is usually nothing much else to do for future residents than buy or build a house in one of the sections. That is not the case with Johnson Town, where residents have been directly and proactively involved in the town’s revitalization, along with architects and Isono Shokai, the property owner. In fact, the town and its community appear to still be growing together, with changes happening all the time, such as the building of new alleys between houses and the conversion of some houses to store-attached dwellings.

The Taitung Slow Food Festival is an event held in Taitung County, Taiwan, to expand slow food activities, and events to communities. The festival is not only an event for sharing the county’s traditional, ethnic food culture, and history, also serves as a venue to enlighten people About the importance of plastic reduction and eco-friendly designs and involve them in activities for reducing plastic products and protecting the environment with the participation of local restaurants and organizers. (*Slow Food, a social movement aimed at promoting a food culture that places increased value on healthy and eco-friendly food and on its producers, started as a call for rediscovering regional agriculture and food culture and a protest against fast living and fast food.)
Local chefs who participate in the festival acquire know-how About Slow Food and sustainable designs and apply the know-how to their daily business practice. The festival has stimulated local chefs to inherit and pass down the region’s Slow Food culture and delve into it further with other local chefs. The favorable cycle got from participating local chefs owing to their proactive and direct involvement has in turn made easier to create new changes.

3. The project’s members feel psychological security

The third condition is that there is psychological security that allows the project’s members to go through minor yet frequent trial-and-error actions.
What is common among the projects cited earlier is that their stakeholders are in equal positions and on good terms; stakeholder relationships in which they accept each other and exchange honest opinions About their shared goals raise the value of the project.
Care should be taken regarding the following two matters to ensure psychological security for the project members. Firstly, excessive pursuit of short-term economic rationality should be avoided. Emphasis on quick profit-making and excessive focus on economic figures limits psychological security, because people’s motivation will then become all About meeting numerical targets, with anything that does not lead to that considered as without value. Avoiding such emphasis or focus is important for the medium- to long-term time frame of projects premised on “incomplete design.”
Secondly, people should not be pressed too hard. People tend to avoid taking risks when they feel they cannot afford to make a mistake, and such an attitude hinders the project from moving to the next level. Such risk aversion is typically observed in employees of leading companies and public officials, as many of them are strongly expected not to fail. In recent years, more and more urban design projects are conducted have been referred to as “social experimentation,” as the term “experiment” suggests unpredictability. Projects with names that include such terms as “experiment” allow the members to feel less pressure to succeed, which makes them more willing to try new things, even if it is a public project.

The key to successful co-creation is vision-sharing

As I have explained, “incomplete design” requires three conditions: (1) the project is structured to last long; (2) the service allows for direct and proactive involvement of its users; and (3) there is psychological security for the members. Even if all these conditions are in place, however, a project will not work properly unless the project vision is shared.
A project involves various kinds of stakeholders, and the vision sought through the project needs to be shared among all of them in order to unite them as a team. Knowing what the project aims to achieve and for whom the project is to be carried out raises the motivation of those working on it and makes them proactive members.
Visions should be visualized as clearly as possible. The overall vision should be drawn and shown to all stakeholders, and at the field level, prototypes should be made to give a more specific idea About the output. For example, particularly in long-term projects, a change in personnel could put a project at risk. A catchy picture and prototype will help you share your project vision with new members in the event of such changes.
“Incomplete design” is viable only through co-creation by people from various walks of life. Even a genius cannot come up with the perfect answer regarding such design. To solve complicated social issues, it is necessary to incorporate the wisdom of various people while imagining a not-so-distant future.

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