2022Re-examining the ever-changing “present day”
Considering “Focused Issues 2022”

What design should achieve today is interaction and creating a compass – Thinking from the GOOD DESIGN AWARD 2022 [Takashi Ashitomi and Seiichi Saito]

Ryotaro Washio
Shunsuke Imai
Interview and editing
Masayuki Koike

From “Design for People” to “Design with People” and further to “Design by People.”
Liz Sanders, a design researcher, described the transition of design methods from the late 20th century to the mid-21st century as above. Based on this view, as of 2022, the era when designs are created by only designers is over, and we are in the midst of the era of “Design with People” in which designs are created in cooperation with non-designers, and are also seeing the emergence of “Design by People” in which designs are created even by non-designers.
A sign of such a trend is evident in the GOOD DESIGN AWARD, which continues to capture the ever-changing “design” with the times. Takashi Ashitomi, Chair of the GOOD DESIGN AWARD 2022 Judging Committee, and Seiichi Saito, Vice Chair of the committee, said that what is required of design today is to ‘interact’ with a wide range of fields.
The screening theme for the GOOD DESIGN AWARD 2022, set by Ashitomi and Saito, is “From Cross-Interaction toward Symphony.” It was set out of their thought for those involved in design: to deepen their “interaction” with those in other specialized domains or with minorities who are involved in the issues. “Focused Issues,” an activity to consider and recommend new possibilities for design through the GOOD DESIGN AWARD screening process, shows the path to the realization of such a thought.
Highlighted by the GOOD DESIGN AWARD 2022 and the Focused Issues, what is the “interaction” required of design today? We interviewed the Chair and Vice Chair.

“Design” That Includes Even Materials and Processes Is Now Sought After

Saito, who has been observing the GOOD DESIGN AWARD for seven years since FY2015 as a Judge and since FY2018 as a Vice Chair, said that there has been a trend in the entries for the award in the past few years.

SaitoI get the impression that even the materials of a product, the supply chain when it is created, and the way the producer works have been subject to evaluation. For instance, the 2021 Gold Award winner of ‘Operations’ by O’right, a Taiwanese company, to improve industrial awareness, and the 2020 Gold Award winner of ‘plan’ led by the Ministry of Education in Taiwan and the Taiwan Design Research Institute, are good examples.

Seiichi Saito, Vice Chair of the GOOD DESIGN AWARD Judging Committee

What this trend shows is a shift in the role required of design. We are entering an era in which a product cannot be considered “a good product” unless it is designed with careful attention to even the background and process, including the selection of materials, the way it functions when it takes shape, and the environment.
Such changes have been reflected in the screening themes of the GOOD DESIGN AWARD in the past few years. The theme for the previous fiscal year, 2021, was “aspiration and action with consideration.” The theme was set based on the thought that what society as a whole is requesting from design today is “continuing to interact with people and events in various domains, and facing society and citizens” and “listening to the ‘silent wishes’ of people and the natural environment, that is, the ‘aspiration.’”
However, Ashitomi, who has been serving as the Chair since last fiscal year, thought back and said, “The theme did not present ‘how specific actions can be taken.’” Regarding the “basic policy” of listening to the aspiration of people and nature and continuing to act by interacting with a wide range of people and events, how can it be incorporated into concrete actions? This year’s theme, “From Cross-Interaction toward Symphony,” illustrates such an action plan.

Saito‘Aspiration and action with consideration’ shows the action guidelines and ideal vision for those who design, and its message could only reach the mindset of those who produce. On the other hand, ‘From Cross-Interaction toward Symphony’ is presenting concrete actions and even the people with whom they act together.

Why Is “Interaction” Required for Design?

Then, what kind of concrete “action” does “From Cross-Interaction toward Symphony” require for design?

SaitoI think design today should deepen its ‘interaction’ with people in different domains or with minorities who are involved in the issues. The theme contains a message that encourages creating designs while making connections with such parties.

Ashitomi went on to reveal the thought contained in each term: “cross-interaction” and “symphony.” First of all, he explained “cross-interaction.”

AshitomiI believe that the source of design is the willpower to ‘improve people’s lives and society.’ However, it is difficult to change society by one person’s will alone. In order to actually bring about social change, I believe it is important for people working in various domains to ‘exchange their will’.

Takashi Ashitomi, Chair of the GOOD DESIGN AWARD Judging Committee

By contrast, what is behind the “symphony” is the “reality” that those involved in design need to capture. There are 20 entry categories (screening units) for the GOOD DESIGN AWARD, and each of them has its own specialized unit to carry out the screening, but this is merely a classification for convenience. Living space in real life is not “vertically divided.”
There is architecture in a region, and furniture and daily necessities in the architecture. The real world encompasses a mixture of various designs. Therefore, “The power of great design in one field alone cannot enrich people’s lives,” said Ashitomi.

AshitomiIn a place where many things are mixed, each design has influence along with other designs nearby. In other words, they exist by ‘resonating.’ They do not just coordinate, but may sometimes cause dissonance. I chose the word ‘symphony’ to indicate the need to embody design by keeping such unavoidable ‘resonance’ in mind.”
Saito added, “In fact, the number of applications with projects across domains is increasing even for the GOOD DESIGN AWARD.” Another important trend in recent years has been the increase in projects that comprehensively design adjacent areas, such as the city and architecture, and also the process of building them, rather than remaining in a specific domain. As specific examples, Saito cited “Kuwamizu private house with public bath” (2021 Gold Award winner), which combines disaster prevention, architecture, and regional development, as well as a circular business for the future of the region (Kitamoc) (2021 Gold Award winner), which combines forestry, camping, and regional development.

There Is No Such Person as “Elderly.”

One of the reasons Ashitomi and Saito emphasize “interaction” is that the number of applications with so-called goods and services for minorities has been increasing year by year. For instance, they cited the “Otera oyatsu club,” which won the GRAND AWARD in 2018, and “AVATAR ROBOT CAFE DAWN ver.β,” which won the GRAND AWARD in 2021.

Five years ago, when Saito became the Vice Chair, there were not that many applications with works targeting minorities. In the eyes of Saito, there were not many companies working on development of products and services for minorities with a small market size. However, over the past few years, the number of applications with such works has been steadily increasing.

SaitoEven if the total number is not so large, people with the same worries can now meet up without depending on the Internet platform. I feel that they have consequently become able to tackle problems by establishing a self-sustaining organization and producing goods and services.
Those who found it difficult to meet in the past can form communities and try to find ways to solve common problems while sharing their specialized knowledge. Such problem-solving is surely an actual example of ‘From Cross-Interaction toward Symphony’.

Saito points out that the most important part when designing goods and services for minorities is “to increase the resolution.” This is because even when we say minorities, the reality is diverse.

SaitoFor example, I think it is time that we stop lumping people who are 65 years old and over together as ‘elderly.’ Even if we talk about the elderly, there are many differences when we look at each of them. Since information technology has developed to enable detailed analysis of personal information, we should be able to set targets with higher resolution, such as those who are healthy and those who are not, and those who want to work and those who do not.

In fact, he feels that many entries for this year’s GOOD DESIGN AWARD are goods and services designed on the basis of understanding at such high resolution. Moreover, such a trend is by no means limited to services aimed at minorities.

SaitoAs a whole, I feel that the resolution has been increasing against so-called ‘citizens.’ In the past, many companies thought that they could provide goods and services to large groups of people and that ‘it is good enough if about 60% of them use their goods and services.’ However, I feel that, as a recent trend, more and more goods and services are being created with the aim that ‘nearly 100% of the people belonging to that group can use the goods and services’ by segmenting the target in as much detail as possible even with small population parameters to which value is to be provided.

Five Paths Toward the Realization of “From Cross-Interaction Toward Symphony”

The expression by “From Cross-Interaction toward Symphony” can be seen in goods and services that are targeted at “small groups.” This is evident in the “Focused Issues,” which provides a perspective for viewing the GOOD DESIGN AWARD on a “horizontal axis” rather than the “vertical axis” of the 20 entry categories.
Focused Issues is an activity to consider and recommend new possibilities for design through the GOOD DESIGN AWARD screening process. Several “Focused Issues Directors,” who are selected from Judges, set the themes that each of us should explore through the screening process of the GOOD DESIGN AWARD as “Focused Issues.” They have seen subject entries across their domain (screening units), explored and summarized their thinking through the screening process, and ultimately presented their ideas in the form of recommendations.
This year, five Focused Issues Directors set the themes respectively. “Of course, I don’t think the themes were set while five of them got together and discussed, but when we mix the submitted five themes, their content beautifully expresses the path to ‘From Cross-Interaction toward Symphony,’” said Ashitomi.

First of all, information studies researcher Dominique Chen’s theme is “design to generate ‘our’ well-being.” It was set with the intention to explore design that recaptures the definition of “well-being” by portraying humanity through our relationships with others and the surrounding environment.

AshitomiWhat well-being means is to ‘create a state in which the mind and body are healthy and filled with both personal and social well-being.’ I believe this will be the major objective or ultimate goal of all designs.

What is required to achieve such an objective is “design for the people that are within 10 feet of you” set by Laila Cassim, a designer/art director. In order to achieve the creation of designs that resonate more with people, we need to face other people’s reality first and try to diversify and enhance the views and people we see within a 10-foot radius of our daily lives. It was set with the intention that we would like to “watch and listen to the story within a 10-foot radius of each individual design, and update the views we see ourselves, too.”
Ashitomi said that, by having such a viewpoint, “I think we will notice that there is a wide range of people within a 10-foot radius.” Then, what will be needed is “just the right design” for a wide range of people. The theme, set by product designer Gen Suzuki, encompasses the intention that we can cast a spotlight on efforts to find out what is neither excessive nor insufficient – the “just right” of the future for production and disposal, digital and physical, rural and urban, etc.
Ashitomi goes on to say that “just right” for each person should be “design that cannot be described in a nutshell.” “What a wide range of people find just right can never be simple. That should be what cannot be described in a nutshell.”
This theme was set by architect Erika Nakagawa. What is required today when “existing problems in the world and the vision of an ideal world have an equal level of complexity that cannot be described in a nutshell” are “designs for tackling multiple issues from multiple angles.”
Of course, such designs “cannot be created overnight,” said Ashitomi. That is why the theme of “continuous design,” which was set by an urban designer Ai Iishi, is needed. This theme is related to the theme of “incomplete design” set by Iishi as a Focused Issues Director last year. It encompasses the intention of “shifting focus from pursuing perfection or growth to adapting to changing circumstances by taking actions in an ongoing manner.”

AshitomiA wide range of people continue to design for the achievement of well-being while exchanging their own will and resonating with each other. With such an interpretation, I believe this year’s themes of Focused Issues also show a path to realize ‘From Cross-Interaction toward Symphony’ even though they seem to be independent.

Those Involved in Design Should Be “Specialists and also Generalists”

Designs interact with and resonate with the will of a wide range of people and “those other than people,” including nature. For the creation of such designs, Ashitomi describes that the image sought after for those involved in design today is a “specialist and also generalist.”

AshitomiI think it is just like executive chefs of restaurants. They have to be able to go back and forth between micro and macro perspectives. Those in the position of executive chefs have to exercise their cooking skills while paying attention to the progress and quality of the course meal. If they cannot cook good meals, they will not gain the trust of peers, and just because they can cook good meals does not mean that they can take that position.
I think the same applies to design. As I explained, it requires more than the power of an individual to create a design that improves people’s lives or solves social problems. We can create designs that will change society only after bringing together people with various kinds of specialized knowledge and skills with overlooking the whole, not to mention skills in design.

Saito added, “I feel again that what is required of design today is contained in the four words of “From Cross-Interaction toward Symphony.”
The trends in design and society have been closely related through the cycle of “manufacturing.” For example, from the latter half of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st century, various industries pursued the needs of citizens, consequently making progress in mass production and mass consumption. “At that time, what was required of design was to shape the ‘desires’ of society and citizens,” said Saito.
However, such a relationship has changed since the mid-2000s. With overflowing materials and drastic social change, people lost sight of “what they need.” Saito emphasizes that what is required of design under such circumstances is to show what they need.

SaitoWhat is questioned in design today is whether we can clearly point in the direction that society as a whole should take and then lead in that direction. In order to fulfil such a role, having specialized knowledge in design is the basic premise. However, knowledge and information in a wide range of fields will be required in addition to this.
Needless to say, the power of design alone cannot lead society as a whole in the direction it should take. It is necessary to ‘interact’ with people in various domains and with various job categories. I believe that what is sought after is to create a compass for society as a whole with both the power of design and the interaction.

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