May 16, 2004


Universal Design: Opening the Future of The Manufacturing Industry

* This article is under copyright protection.

Manabu Akaike
Universal Design Intelligence Inc.

Different Industries Join in Manufacturing

Over the past several years we have seen many examples of universal design in community building and manufacturing concepts. Universal design refers to the development of shared components.

So-called barrier-free design, which promotes the design of goods that are easy to handle and a society that is easy to live in for the disabled and the elderly, has become well-known in Japan. Universal design began as a development model for barrier-free design, proposing design that is easy to use for everybody, beyond distinctions of age or sex or disability. I have defined the ten necessary conditions of universal design for Japan as follows: Safety, Sustainability, Easy to Handle, Scalable, Use at Will, Interactive, Comfortable, Aesthetic, Cost Appropriate, Japanese Value.

Universal design is sometimes misunderstood as meaning manufacturing to a global standard, but that is not necessarily the case. Obviously there could be universal design that was common to the whole world, but the history, customs and culture of the region cannot be ignored in the building of either communities or goods. The unique characteristics of a region are the important elements that give form to the long-standing common use of an object or idea. I would like to emphasize from that standpoint the concept of "Japanese value" in the development of universal design.

A universal design trade show known as UD21 Niigata was held in November 2000. The show originated with the inauguration in April of that year of a manufacturing union of companies in different industries within the same prefecture, also known as UD21 Niigata, and was the first showing of the results of product development based on the fundamental principles of universal design that I proposed.

Building Regional Social Systems for the 21st Century

Among the products developed for UD21 Niigata were a kerosene space heater that can be checked for operating status by both dial and voice and a water heater (Corona), futon stuffing that is lightweight and easy to fold in any manner (Ito Shoten), a showerhead for caregivers (Twinbird), a dry toilet that reduces solid waste to an ash-like state, self-collecting in a paper pack (Hokuetsu), and a bench with an adjustable seat that can slope up or down to make sitting and standing easier (Satomi Kogyo).

This exercise was not just in product design but also grew into a cooperative venture among local companies. Kameda Seika, a confectionery company that sells the Fukkura O-Kayu rice gruel product, joined with Aoyoshi Manufacturing which makes products like spoons for the elderly or caregivers, to begin joint exhibitions at the Home Care and Rehabilitation Show and others. The appeal of the separate products was elevated by packaging them together, as in Aoyoshi's Feeding Spoon, developed for users with difficulty keeping their mouths open or unable to swallow much at a time, together with Kameda's functional rice gruel product that can be easily swallowed without fear of choking.

Once links between local companies like this are forged, links that enable zero emissions by manufacturers will come into being such as food maker like Kameda Seika or Sato Food Industries recycling the rice powder or rice hull left over from fellow UD21 member Asahi Breweries' rice polishing process for use as a raw material.

The future image of UD21 Niigata will be to serve as a testing ground for the building of regional social systems for the 21st century, and for recycling based manufacturing that intelligently utilizes the natural resources, the residents and the researchers of the region.

The UD21 manufacturing union is the key to opening the door to the future for Niigata's industries. By joining hands, I'd like to create a manufacturing framework where one plus one may equal three or even four.

I mentioned that universal design is often translated as shared component, but within that concept must be included the important design philosophy of shared creation. Only when business and government provide for full participation in the manufacturing and design process by our skilled craftsmen and researchers who have often been left on the sidelines, and with our citizens who are too often relegated to mere consumer status, can true universal design that is easy to use for everyone become a reality.

JAPAN CLOSE-UP, August 2002, published by PHP

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