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The 44th Installment“Asking Your Own Community”to make use of design expertise in manufacturing

by Yoshie Kunisawa,
Professor, Master's Program of Innovation for Design and Engineering

“Asking Your Own Community” to make use of design expertise in manufacturing

In fact, the attempt to make use of design expertise to improve the marketability of products manufactured by small and medium-sized enterprises had already started beautify utility goods in the latter half of the Meiji Era (1868-1912). ※1 After a while, the importance of building the excellence of the tradition of Japanese arts and crafts for daily necessaries became understood, which led to the establishment of the National Research Institute of Industrial Arts (NRIIA) attached to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce at that time (1928). The NRIIA then started its operations to promote arts and crafts from an industrial point of view in order to improve the competitiveness of local small and medium-sized enterprises. ※2 The first chief Kitaro Kunii said, "The development of industrial arts, which is complete with both practicality and beauty, will contribute to the improvement of human life as they spread, and it goes without saying that industrial arts will significantly influence social ideology."※3 And, Kunii regarded industrial arts as "productive activities that satisfy the practical requirements for the necessities of human life and, at the same time, appeal to the sense of beauty, which is an instinctive desire of humans." He believed that arts and crafts should be included in industry and that "by beautifying industrial goods as craftwork, their value will be improved further because of the harmonious combination of practical factors and aesthetic elements." ※4

Those activities are the same as industrial design today. The Institute made a commitment to finding a way out of stagnation by small and medium-sized businesses through the improvement, research and development, and technical instruction with regard to products. Specifically, quality improvement of daily necessities, the quality of which had been sacrificed to quantity at that time, was the goal in terms of practicality and the aesthetic aspects. That is, early attempts to use design expertise focused on the improvement of marketability of existing products and the application of local resources that had not been used yet.

Since then, almost all activities for making use of design expertise have been promoted on the basis of the early focus up to now, contributing to the promotion of many local industries. Many of those activities are related to the development of applications starting as "seeds," which are for promoting design expertise from the supply side (suppliers) in terms of aesthetics related to color and shape and purely functional improvements to enhance practicality.

However, the said activities will make use of solutions for aesthetic problems related to the color or shape of products and problems reviewed from the viewpoint of ergonomics as the essence of design expertise. Originally, design expertise included many kinds of potential, such as identifying various problems around us from the viewpoint of living people, to create solutions for problems where the future can be predicted and to give our life new meaning, visualizing the solutions to promote innovation, and communicating the meaning to stakeholders so that they can understand it correctly.

Based on that original point of view, the attempt to use the design potential to improve the marketability of small and medium-sized industries has begun. This can transfer previous activities for making use of the design potential from the supply side into a process from the demand side (consumers). This demand-side process will start at finding near problems related to the essence of design and then capitalize on the ability to solve the problems in elegant ways.

Based on the problems, the search is to find the value expected by the demand side, model the process for inducing the product development of small and medium-sized manufacturers as a new method for manufacturing, and promote the process. Small and medium-sized manufacturers in urban areas, in particular, are near their own users who demand new value, and the issues of and/or around the users may just lead to the starting point for product development. Moreover, the solutions created by them would be effective for common problems in urban areas.

Thus I named that model for manufacturing by using design potential "Asking Your Own Community" as a method of determining and solving local problems using local resources, and I am trying its modeling. The model of "Asking Your Own Community" represents the concept of solving local problems using local resources. It refers to the approach through which local businesses can work on product development based on the needs of the community by using the leverage of design potential, and at the same time, it may lead to an attempt to seek solutions for problems common to urban areas.

※1 Kappei Toyoguchi, History of Japanese Industrial Design (Industrial Art News, Vol. 21.37, 1953)
※2 Kakichi Takeuchi, Talks about the establishment of the National Research Institute of Industrial Arts (Industrial Art News, Vol. 17.2, 1949)
※3 Kitaro Kunii, Facing the guidance of industrial design (Guidance of Industrial Design, No. 1, 1959)
※4 Kitaro Kunii, Hoping for the development of Japanese industries in terms of design (Industrial Art News, Vol. 1.4, 1932)

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  • The 44th Installment

    “Asking Your Own Community”to make use of design expertise in manufacturing

    by Yoshie Kunisawa,
    Professor, Master's Program of Innovation for Design and Engineering
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