Designing The Good Life = Design of Volition
Japan Using Risk Resilience & Strategic Design for a Safer Future
By Yusuke Ashizawa
Issue 9 Fall 2011
Japan, along with the rest of the world, is united in the common goal of designing an economic recovery that can enable communities to re-imagine the good life in challenging and changing conditions. Japan will be an important country to watch as it uses its ability to mobilize collective will and coordinate collective action to design a good life within the framework of complex natural systems subject to extreme shifts. Japan will take a leadership role because it must. Extreme events can also be opportunities for radical innovation.
How do we design the will to go on and to thrive in the face of challenges that can seem insurmountable? Now is the time to think seriously about such matters as
Japan will need to engage its considerable will to make some important transitions.
Around the world, people have been asking questions about the consequences of economies driven by consumption and the development of consumerist society. But as fate would have it, Japan is now in a situation that has forced us to address these questions.
At 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011, an unprecedented earthquake and tsunami disaster struck this country, inflicting huge devastation on Eastern Japan. The destruction plus the resulting drop in electric power supply have put the brakes on economic activity in the Kanto region. This has challenged all notions of how to power up the economy and about how to define a good life. It has required that we reflect on contemporary definitions of happiness and even challenge the ways that we were constructing the good life.
The event will pass, but the total damage, direct and indirect, is beyond measurement as the consequences are complex. Besides the physical and economic damage, numerous people have suffered psychological stress, manifesting itself in the form of exaggerated fears. We watched as the goods of the good life disappeared from store shelves, and the cars that had helped make us an industrial powerhouse idled in long lines to buy gasoline. The information of our information society turned out to be of dubious validity. Twitter posts became a way of orienting.
After seeing housewives determinedly filling their shopping carts with canned foods at supermarkets, and crowds at airports rushing to get a flight out of the country, one cannot help feeling that even as the event passes, the fear has made a space for change and for innovation. We have learned that, as Bruce Mau suggests, “design is invisible until it fails.”
But will is more powerful than fear and we will now need to find the collective will to re-imagine and re-design. We will, in a way, need to design national volition in order to make important shifts in the way we view the good life and the way we pursue happiness.
The transition is already underway. As a society, we value the importance of shared purpose and will. People pitch in to help others. Fearful or not, people came forward to volunteer their assistance in the stricken areas; various companies and individuals have contributed funds; and disaster support events took place all over Japan. Our society held together even as our world seemed to be pulling apart.
Japan has always aspired to lead and it will lead now because it must. But, we cannot lead as we have led. The good life as we had originally designed it had a design flaw. We forgot how vulnerable we all are as human beings and as societies. We forgot that all economic activity depends on our ability to work within the limits of the natural world. We are now remembering that we must design for a good life within the boundaries of natural systems.
There is a positive side to every challenge and this is no exception. This situation has made us think seriously about the meaning of happiness and the good life. It is forcing us to think about the real necessities of life. What do we really need?
Like all people, we have entertained these questions, of course, but up till
now, no matter how many times people raised the issue of resource scarcity and overconsumption, it did not resonate because of the abundance surrounding us in our comfortable, super-convenient lives.
Our companies, like most companies, kept on designing products and services using advertising to emphasize that they were differentiated from one another. Often these products lacked real value and contributed to resource scarcity and wastefulness. Our people, like most people, began to identify themselves as consumers and attempted to purchase happiness in material form. We used our will to become one of the most powerful consumer societies in the world. We are world famous as a key luxury market.
But, things change and volition is reorganized to serve new ideas about what is really necessary. We are seeing this change as companies and citizen/consumers begin to ask themselves, in earnest, what sorts of things are truly needed. After all, the truly necessary things always sell and they satisfy and serve people. Markets, after all, are people.
Japan will change because it must. Every country will need to design and deliver services, experiences, products and practices that satisfy and serve a world increasingly at risk of extreme changes that challenge our ability to predict, control and manage.
So where are we now, three to four months after a disaster which is still ongoing? Where do we want and need to be? Every country wants to lead and to prosper. Japan is no exception.
I cannot speak for Japan. I will speak as a person who has a keen interest in Japan and in how we now define our future and design volition to make that future a reality with our present actions. We have used our collective will to design a consumer society filled with differentiated goods and rightly held a world reputation as a leader in the global economy. We can now use that will to design a world where our economy can truly sustain a good life. We, and the world, can learn from this terrible disaster and begin to map the way forward.
How to begin? Well, we will need to design what society really needs. This will require change and collective will.
We are discussing day and night the role that we, as an organization that promotes design, should be playing in creating a 21st century post crisis good life.
The answer is not an easy one. The diversification of values does make it difficult to come up with a uniform answer to what constitutes a good life even for a relatively homogeneous society. But it would be far too simplistic, to imagine that a variety of affordable products resulting from flexible manufacturing and easily available over the Internet can act to bind and provide a shared definition of a good life going forward. People will want more and maybe even less.
How to design a new version of happiness and the good life is a challenging design brief. But it is one Japan will and can begin to shape into a reality.
I am inspired by Akihiko Ishizuka, Head of Global Design Business, Fujitsu Design Limited, who gave a talk at TOKYO DESIGN DISCUSSION 2011 in Tokyo Midtown on January 28, 2011. He reminded us all of the power of narrative to direct will.
“Suppose some bricklayers are laying a brick wall. When asked, ‘What are you making,’ one answers, ‘I’m making a wall,’ another replies, ‘I’m making a building,’ and another says ‘I’m making a city.’ Our most important work at Fujitsu Design is to design volition in the same spirit as the third bricklayer. This is what society will need going forward, and should lead to the Good Life.”
I am indebted to Mr. Ishizuka for reminding me that we are not just making or more precisely, repairing walls broken by a disaster. We are building a renewed Japan. And, as we continue to face this disaster, I would like to make it my mission to pass this message on to others.
Collective will is the starting point of economic recovery that enables communities to reimagine the good life.
STRATEGIES IN ACTION:
Design a system which can enable the good life, even in the face of insurmountable challenges.
Clarify needs versus conveniences, and design products as well as volition to suit.
Designing the good life within the boundaries natural systems.
Renew societies by shaping a new definition of happiness.
About the Author:
Ashizawa’s work concentrates around the “International Design Liaison Center” which assists collaboration in opportunities among private enterprise, designers, students and government agencies, promote training, human resource development and research. In June 2010, the organization released the “Skill Standard Industrial Design” working with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Ashizawa has a Bachelor’s degree in Design and Architecture, Chiba University, a master degree at Design, Chiba University Graduate School of Science and Technology, and Ph.D. in March 2008. From February 2008 to the present, he has worked for the Japan Industrial
Design Promotion Organization (JIDPO).