November 26, 2013


Sense-Ware and Kids' Design for Sustainable Manufacturing

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.134 (October 2013)

Manabu Akaike of Universal Design Intelligence, Inc. has been working as a product designer for goods, facilities and regional development projects. He used to write articles for JFS's Column "TAKUMI", about traditional ideas, products, and integration with modern ideas.

In this newsletter, we would like to introduce some information about sustainable manufacturing from a recent lecture given by Akaike at the 8th International Conference of Design for Sustainability, with a special focus on sustainability in business and the kind of manufacturing technology that will be important in the future.


From Manabu Akaike's lecture

Conventional product development starts with hardware such as new technology or materials. The process of asking what kind of fields or products can we apply this new hardware to in order to create quality in the form of a new function is what I call "the software process." By deploying a wonderful new technology to certain goods, we can create functions that become quality and usability.

Through this hardware and software planning process, Japan used to manufacture goods that sold well overseas as well as at home. Today, however, products made in developing countries sell better than those made in Japan. I realized that I had to come up with third and fourth levels of quality that were completely different. That is why I coined the words "sense-ware" and "social-ware."

"Sense-ware" incorporates a quality that appeals to our mind and five senses that can be expressed through words like "moving," "sympathetic," "amazing," or "consistently attractive." This kind of quality must be added to the quality of functionality. "Social-ware" incorporates a quality of serving the public welfare. Recently, the concept of "creating shared value" (CSV) has been popular. Universal design - design for everyone - should provide merit not only to users but also to all imaginable stakeholders. So, universal designs include the quality of social-ware, conferring to goods and facilities value that serves the public welfare.

Then, what exactly is "sense-ware?" For example, I believe that Japanese robot technology is the most advanced in the world. Various institutes at universities are making robots, but most of them have never created business or generated tax revenue.

On the other hand, a small business in Toyama Prefecture deals with a seal-like robot called Paro. It has been entered in the Guinness Book of Records as "the most therapeutic robot in the world." This robot is selling well in Europe as well as in Japan. Paro does not incorporate incredible technology. When someone touches its whiskers, it says "iyan, iyan" (meaning "No. No." in Japanese). [Though it moves, changes expression and makes sounds, these are the only words it actually speaks.] But it sells well because it offers values that appeal to our mind and five senses.

Seal-Type Therapeutic Robot, Paro

Another product is one named "Dialogue-in-the-Dark Towels," made by a towel manufacturer in Ehime Prefecture. To develop this product, I and a colleague brought together eight people to work on this project, not famous artists and designers, but people with totally impaired vision.

People with disabilities are often regarded as weak, but people without vision live normal lives just like sighted people by taking advantage of their remaining four senses. Challenged people have special abilities and great experience that non-disabled people do not have. This towel maker aimed to utilize the power of visually impaired people for developing new products.

They have no vision, but their tactile sense is keener than in sighted people. Aiming for towels that would please sightless people's sensitive fingers, the manufacturer asked them to feel sample towels and examine various fibers and weaves for eight months. Following their advice on the best combination of fibers and weaves, the manufacturer produced a new line of towels and started selling them in Isetan, one of Japan's major department store chains. The towels have been flying off the shelves.

The results of purchaser questionnaires revealed that many were repeat customers who bought the towels as many as seven or eight times. On the answer sheets, respondents wrote similar comments, such as "These towels were developed with the support of the special abilities of visually impaired people who are often assumed to be weak. Telling this story makes me happy and proud when I give these towels to my friends as presents."

These comments show that the manufacturing sector should pay more attention to the value of impressing people or inducing empathy. I believe that such emotional responses are the same across borders.

From a universal point of view, the most vulnerable people in society are children. So, I and my friends have proposed the idea of "Kids' Design" for the first time in Japan. This does not mean designing goods for children. The concept is to create safe products and facilities, not only for children, but also for other people from the standpoint of children and based on standards for children.

Making things from the perspective of children -- society's most vulnerable sector - will lead to universal design, defined as the design of products and environments usable by all people including the elderly and disabled. Design from the perspective of children, or of future generations, will also lead to "eco-friendly design" and "sustainable design."

The fourth leading cause of accidental death in children is choking on small objects such as pen caps. What we learned over eight years of research is that you can often find a solution if you investigate the actual situation of accidents as well as the underlying social factors. In the case of choking hazards, for example, the risk can be reduced by making a breathing hole in the cap. When marker pens with such caps went on sale, they soon replaced conventional pens at most kindergartens and nursery schools across the nation.

Infants and toddlers often get scalded by steam rising from rice cookers. To prevent these accidents, new rice cookers were designed which cool the steam through a built-in water tank. These new rice cookers are high-end goods priced at over 70,000 yen (about U.S.$714), but they are a big hit in the marketplace.

There is a thermometer for children called Chibion. You can measure body temperature by placing it on the child's forehead for just one second.

There are also R-shaped baby bottles that resemble the shape of a breast, so you can feed the baby with her head slightly raised just as in breast-feeding. This helps minimize air swallowing and prevent ear infections caused by milk flowing through baby's ear cavity. Although a high level of manufacturing skill is required, the bottles are made of glass in consideration of endocrine disrupting chemicals present in plastic.

Researchers at Hirosaki University in Aomori Prefecture discovered that Chinese yam (nagaimo in Japanese, Dioscorea batatas) contains not only mucin that can strengthen muscles but also plenty of a newly-discovered glycoprotein called dioscolin, which can detoxify influenza viruses. This means eating Chinese yam can prevent infection with new strains of influenza. There are many crops with this kind of potential in Japan and throughout Asia.

I am now putting a lot of effort into consultations with a company named Nepuree, a compound of the words "next puree." Other companies produce puree by grinding up fruit and vegetables, which damages their taste, fragrance and functionality. Nepuree developed a unique device that heats fruit and vegetables with steam and then centrifuges them, which breaks the fruit and vegetables down into cells without damaging their ingredients or functions. This puree can be stored in a freezer for two years without deterioration.

Then what happens? Domestically-produced high-grade lemons are usually priced at 300 yen (about U.S. $3.1) per kilogram, but when pureed by Nepuree, the product can be sold to major bread manufacturers at 1,400 yen (about U.S. $14) per kilogram. Without using synthetic chemicals, manufacturers can produce good-tasting bread flavored only by domestic lemon puree. This technology makes it possible to create a 1,400 yen product from 300 yen worth of raw material. Such Japanese technology enables new businesses to add a lot of value, even when using substandard fruit and vegetables, an abundant resource in Japan and other countries.

I believe that everybody can find their own solutions for sustainable manufacturing and local economy stimulation if we use our "sense-ware," that is, the sensors of our mind and five senses.

Written by Manabu Akaike, Director of Universal Design Intelligence, Inc. with introduction by Junko Edahiro