Consider “coexistence” afresh, and redefine “affluence”
I served as a Focused Issues Director also for the 2020 Good Design Awards, and I picked the theme for the year to observe designs from the viewpoint of environmental issues. I derived the theme for the 2021 Good Design Awards for the same reason as the last time: observing designs from a stationary standpoint. The standpoint I chose for fiscal 2021 was “coexistence,” and thus let me discuss here “Designs for Coexistence.”
The interpretations of “coexistence” and its domains vary considerably.
Coexistence in a particular community can be found in relationships such as those between: people and others in families and workplaces, schools, and districts; the young and the elderly; people with disabilities and those without; and the non-discriminated and the discriminated due to race, gender, or other attributes. From a post-humanism perspective, coexistence can also be found in relationships between people and non-people, such as between humans and non-human organisms like the COVID-19 virus and between people and nature.
What kinds of designs would help us build and maintain diverse relationships of coexistence? What future or conditions would accommodate them? I chose the theme “Designs for Coexistence” to find some answers to these questions.
I had another reason for choosing the theme. My field of expertise, fashion and beauty, is directly linked to the culture of desires, a field that has blossomed owing to capitalism. Therefore, those who are in the industry including makers in this domain should be highly expected to sincerely face up to the task of helping humankind achieve the SDGs, particularly ensuring the goal of “sustainable consumption and production,” while at the same time keeping the industry flourishing.
Coexistence between the SDGs and business activities would not happen without a paradigm shift in “affluence,” a sense of value built on capitalism that has fueled mass production and consumption. I want to find and put a spotlight on feasible designs that can help redefine the definition of “affluence.”
Judging entries in light of those questions and the overall quest led me to identify some, if not all, key factors to create “designs for coexistence,” and I am going to talk About them in roughly two aspects.
Backcast the design plan
Firstly, I recommend using the method known as backcasting, whereby one envisions a desirable future and then works backward from that future to design it, instead of continually improving the present to move toward an undefined future.
It is important to have a multispecies-based viewpoint when defining a desirable future. Designs have long been created to pursue the concept called Human-Centered Design. In light of sustainability, however, the concept, which places an exclusive focus on humans, is no longer relevant. One should instead stand on the premise that we are living in the epoch of Anthropocene, an age in which humans have a tremendous impact on the Earth.
Let me rephrase. Envisioning a desirable future requires seeing things from an alternative viewpoint or based on an alternative ethics, and designing the desirable future requires detecting the missing pieces between the present and the future, i.e. the missing links.
It should also be kept it in mind that there will probably be no such thing as a future that is free of inconsistency. For instance, making all one’s products organic and plastic-free might allow for achievement of carbon neutrality, but that would not necessarily solve marine pollution, non-green procurement, or other issues out there. I find various inconsistencies like that in the fashion and beauty industry I am in.
To my amazement, however, that is not the case with “O’right,” a Taiwanese cosmetics brand. The company of this brand has grown its business for 20 years non-stop, heightened the brand value, established a solid customer community, and made employees feel proud and motivated in being part of the company, all the while operating a thoroughly circular supply chain from start to finish.
Based on a solid vision, the company has worked for decades to change the industry, supply chain, and consumer mindset. The company is pursuing coexistence between business and a desirable future while accumulating achievements. Practical design by future-oriented companies and organizations serves as a superb role model that gives courage to other thoughtful companies around the world.
- Operations [The best sustainability-oriented organizational adaptation to climate change]The company is seeking to reduce its environmental impact through internal carbon pricing (a tool used by companies to put a price on their greenhouse gas emissions and thereby create financial incentives to reduce them). The company provides environmental education programs for employees and suppliers to change the mindset of consumers through the company’s products and transform its supply chain and industry.
As another example of a design for a desirable future, let me mention the “Smart Childcare Center,” a next-generation tech-based nursery school so designed to ensure the safety of children and the peace of mind of parents as well as to reduce the workload of children’s nurses. People become parents and they assume responsibility for fostering their children. Some make their kids go to nursery schools and kindergartens. So, we can say these facilities are places where they play a partial role of guardians. Nursery schools and kindergartens are the entrance to children’s coexistence with other people. Many parents expect a lot from the nursery school or kindergarten that shoulders part of the work involved in childrearing, but such expectations can sometimes be excessive, adversely affecting children’s nurses.
The Smart Childcare Center is designed to reduce its staff’s paperwork so they can concentrate on activities with children. By separating the components of labor between those that need not be done by people and those that should be done by people and using computers for the former, the Smart Childcare Center realizes favorable coexistence between people and technology.
When designing a state of coexistence, it is necessary to consider the equilibrium or alleviation of psychological stress of those who are involved in the relationship. Otherwise the coexistence will turn out to be unsustainable. The coexistence at the Smart Childcare Center is achieved through the reduction of human labor. The business format employed by the nursery school is viable and sustainable and would hence be widely applicable to businesses in other fields.
- Childcare Center [Smart Childcare Center]The center is designed for a wide range of stakeholders as essential workers, including childcare workers, children, and parents. By dramatically reducing the workload of childcare workers, the nursery school has successfully increased the time they spend with children and raised their job satisfaction and retention, which has in turn led to better support for children’s development and greater peace of mind for parents. The design will also contribute to gender equality in society.
Not only responsibility, but also joy and hope
The second essential factor is joy and hope.
Earlier I mentioned the responsibility of “sustainable consumption and production,” one of the SDGs. In my view, the two organizations of “Smart Childcare Center” and “O’right” have transmuted the responsibility into the joy of working.
When the design of an envisioned future is inspirational, aspirational, and joyful for those involved therein, the design attracts more people.
“AVATAR ROBOT CAFE DAWN ver.β and avatar robot OriHime,” the winner of the 2021 Good Design Grand Award, has a design that gives a joy to those who work and spend some time at the cafe. By using avatar robots called “OriHime” and “OriHime-D” that can be remotely controlled by anybody regardless of age, gender, or disability, the DAWN cafe has provided people with disabilities with a venue and opportunities to work for others, participate in social activities, and feel the meaning of their lives beyond their physical restrictions.
The DAWN cafe concept embodies coexistence. I believe that everybody will find a joy in the world created by ORY Laboratory, the company who designed the avatar robots and the DAWN cafe.
- Avatar robot cafe [AVATAR ROBOT CAFE DAWN ver.β and avatar robot OriHime]Avatar robots invented by ORY Laboratory, OriHime, and OriHime-D are easy to operate regardless of age, gender, and disabilities. The company also designed “AVATAR ROBOT CAFE DAWN ver.β,” a cafe that uses those avatar robots as servers under the control of employees with disabilities, and launched “AVATAR GUILD,” a remote recruiting and staffing service designed to make and keep people with disabilities actively involved in society.
By the way, I think a major change is occurring regarding people’s desires.
In the 20th century, stimulating the desires of individuals was the main driver behind consumption. People back then found pleasure in owning and using a product created by a renowned designer and adored by many other people. Today’s main consumption driver is empathy with a future envisioned by a brand or company.
Young people called digital natives, who put much value on society’s desires, are an antithesis to the society built by present-day adults, which has placed much value on individuals’ desires. Understanding the antithesis is crucial to create a design that will satisfy, whether as a product or business practice, many people’s desires for joy and hope, and thus that will help create coexistence between old and young generations.
Democratize the design process in a world where actual and virtual realities coexist
In addition to those factors, it is necessary to consider the two worlds that coexist in today’s society.
I suppose you may have heard of a concept called the metaverse. Anyone can see that two worlds are running in parallel, the actual and the virtual. The virtual world may prove to be an invention as significant as the steam engine and electricity that made a huge impact on people’s lives in the 20th century. I predict that there will never be a bigger invention than the virtual world.
It is possible for anybody today to learn and create a design in the cloud while focusing on both actual and virtual worlds. Even metaverse, blockchain, and NFT as new technology are merely by-products of someone going back and forth between the actual and virtual worlds. There are already many spin-off technologies similar to them, and there will be more and more. The time has come where a peripheral “how” is no longer relevant.
It may not be very wise to stick to a zero-to-one innovation in these two worlds, because the zero-to-one innovation was already accomplished when the virtual world was created. All conventional rules and fixed concepts were reset at that time. It may not be an exaggeration to say that we are in a period of an innovative civilization change.
Instead of struggling to make a zero-to-one innovation, perhaps one should make a less-dramatic yet steadier effort to turn the existing one into two, and then two into three. One should not hesitate to give shape to their concept, or fear failure. Always be a challenger, which is possible, because all the necessary technologies and tools are there to make such innovations thanks to the coexistence of the two worlds.
The question is why rather than how. What future do we want to design, and why do we want to design it? What matters most is what kind of future is created by using the technologies, techniques, and knowledge that abound in today’s two worlds.
To identify individual, social, and environmental desires and to design a future that meets them, it is necessary to involve as many people as possible, particularly digital natives, since they are closer to the virtual world than any other generation.
I am not saying that conventional technology or knowledge is completely useless. Sometimes old-school expertise from professional designers and the wisdom of retirees can be useful. Or rather, incorporating ideas from as wide a range of people as possible, including the elderly, will have a greater social impact. Flexibility is an important element for coexistence.
Involving multiple people – the more the better – makes a difference in the creation of a “design for coexistence” and is important too. It would be difficult to single-handedly create a design that would bring a great future or make a great impact on today’s society, because influential designs need always to reflect the diverse values embraced by people of various generations and by people with different attributes of life. So, we need to think together how to make designs like this.
Also, again, one has on their side the technological environment that makes it happen. The design process should be more democratic, now that the internet and other cutting-edge technologies have enabled us to involve many people, including digital natives in particular. Creating “designs for coexistence” in the backcasting method boils down to envisioning a desirable future, and sharing the joy of designing it with as many people as possible.