Japanese Design is about interaction in a very physical sense. You can always spot Japanese design. Always. For someone not from that part of the world it feels weird, almost perverted (I’m being honest here), but design from Japan is body and human focused.
Their work is doing it’s best to engage you physically and have you play and interact with your device. One of my favorite designers right now, Naoto Fukasawa, calls himself an “interactivity designer”. I’d say everyone is an interactivity design, or rather, everything you design will be subject to interaction. Be it a graphic design on a shirt, or a new type of rubber grip for kitchen tools, you are designing an interaction.
Japanese designer’s take this very literally. Their designs engage us physically, having us look at things, talk to things, think about things, feel things, move them, lift them, spin them, and do just about anything with them. Their philosophy is too engage the body and give objects human attributes. Look at a Microsoft patent and a Sony patent. They’re both making game consoles. Microsoft patents an IR camera that can see our movements. Sure, that’s engaging the body. It’s application, if you’ve used it, is ultimately recreate a touch screen without having you walk up to your 50 inch LCD.
Sony patents a camera that watches your face to tell what emotion you have on. It can deliver those emotions you like or dislike to you more or less often, and of course keep track of how people respond to these things so they see how effective what they’re making is.
It’s different. It’s weird, and it’s hard to describe, but the difference exists, and I think a lot of future design is going to lean more to this weird body-human philosophy. Everyday, design is becoming more about new physical solutions to old problems. Better shapes, more thoughtful build and materials. Now the way we actually use them will change. Tickle something to get it to work faster. Blow on it to wake it up. This human approach to design is unique, and it makes Japan to me an undiscovered land. The thought process is so different. You can see a lot of this in Nintendo devices. Their Vitality Sensor, their DS, and of course the Wii.
Fukasawa designed the Muji Wall Mounted CD Player. This is an extremely subtle version of this human involvement, but it’s there. Before it would have been the buttons and a display sitting on your desk. But Fukasawa takes the analog interaction from turning on a lightbulb (often a metaphor for inspiration or great ideas…) and adapts it to music. So it’s perfect for music lovers like myself, because music is a source of inspiration and feeling for us.
This interaction changes the entire value of the music. It modifies our perspective. Where it sits, where it comes from, and what purpose it has to us when we use it. It’s elevated to a new importance.
The Human/analog interactivity of objects can be explored further and it can make our interactions that much better. Let me know what you think.