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  • The Smart Design Award:The Always Convenient × Always Prepared Series (2012)
  • Translated by Mycah Braxton

The following translation has been excerpted from a special feature introducing the Nikkei Design magazine's Smart Design Awards for 2012. The editorial, written by the magazine's editors, has been selected for the way in which its description of the adjudication process for the award clearly articulates corporate interpretations of disaster readiness and social use in contemporary design. First published in 1987, Nikkei Design is a monthly magazine published in Tokyo by Nikkei Business Publications, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of the business newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun.


Our country learned a crucial lesson from the Tōhoku triple disaster of 2011.1 In the disaster and ensuing power outage, items of regular use and convenience suddenly became completely useless. When the time came, those items set aside for that one-in-a-million worst-case scenario were nowhere to be found. Or rather, they were indeed at hand, but useless without a power supply. This startled us, and as we reflected on it, we realized this was a design issue.

This problematic situation results from the very process of design and the development of commodities, which are separated according to the concepts of "everyday, regular use" and "provisional use." The everyday and the provisional are connected. After all, that "just-in-case" emergency situation can arrive suddenly, at anyone's door. Thinking about the everyday and the "just-in-case" as connected leads to a new kind of design. Our magazine has strived to present interviews and introduce research, in order to disseminate information and promote what we call "Smart Design"—that is, design that connects regular use and the provisional. [End Page 305]

Attention to Specific Risks

At its core, Smart Design is based on lessons learned from the 2011 Tōhoku disaster, and in the beginning our magazine focused on design as a narrow concept that addressed seismic hazards. What we discovered in the course of conducting interviews, however, is that great variety exists among the "one in a million" disasters that can befall a person. What we saw next was that taking those "one in a million" possibilities and risks and putting them in the context of everyday life and needs made the relationship between them immediately clear.

Today, it has become increasingly difficult to classify the needs of users or envision their needs uniformly.2 As a result, developing products based on needs has become very challenging. Why not therefore turn our attention to risk instead? Disasters, illness, disability, other causes that inhibit sound health—there are many different kinds of risk that can affect a person, but in the case of each risk, the fundamental causes of each problem can be identified with relative clarity as personal or societal, as issues that affect a great number of people. If we account for those risks and incorporate them into the design and function of our goods and services, then, even if this work is not easy, it is certainly possible.

A Movement Giving Rise to a New Industry

Our magazine chose the theme of "Design to Rescue Life and Spirit" for its first Smart Design Award. By not allowing our many observations and lessons learned from the Tōhoku disaster—now more than a year in our past—to dissipate, our goal is to first more clearly define the contours of Smart Design. We do not, however, intend to delimit its scope. Instead, we want to encourage and deepen greater progress in Smart Design, and to spur the growth of new designs with ever more comprehensive functionality.

When we reflect on our society, or even just on our everyday lives, it is easy to see how our needs and risks are bound together in complex ways. There are times when need and risk rise to the fore together, and cases in which a great number of small risks are imbedded within a single need. The Smart Design approach is to address these precise risks and prepare for them, in advance, with design and function.

Smart Design is that which can resolve the complex, entangled problems of society and everyday...


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pp. 305-309
Launched on MUSE
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