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  • The Essence of Social Design (2013)
  • Kakei Yūsuke (bio)
    Translated by Elsa Chanez (bio)

Essence 1: Encounters and Connections

When I consider the roots of the issue+design office,1 I am brought back to the year 2001. At that time, in my advertisement job I was dealing mostly with design related to gathering spaces—such as those found at commercial institutions and hotels. I was visiting New York for a business development job for a hotel, when the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened. This shocking incident seemed to presage what things would be like in this new century. I didn't just see footage of it—I was very close to the World Trade Center and witnessed the event first-hand.

This experience left me with a completely different understanding of myself in relation to the world and society. Confined in the hotel and unable to travel back home, I wondered what would become of the United States, the world, and also Japan. With a vague sense of unease, I started thinking about various things, like nations and religions, competing views on life and death, war and disaster. Looking back on it now, I feel like it was a precious time for me, because I was able to completely forget about my job and reflect on the big picture.

With these reflections as a starting point, I became interested in the communities that support the lives of people—nations, regions, cities and villages—and the various social issues related to such communities. And I decided to attend graduate school.2 There, I encountered Yamazaki Ryō and this connection led to the establishment of issue+design.3 At the time, Yamazaki had just started a design office that mainly operated in the field of landscape design. Even though his field was different than where I was coming from in the advertising world, a lot of things resonated with me when it came to "design." Skipping class, we would go to Korean restaurants in the Hongō neighborhood and talk about a lot of things. We discussed many things: the problems accompanying the decrease in population in the transalpine areas;4 Japan's provincial cities and isolated islands; how [End Page 310] we sensed great possibilities for design to offer solutions to such problems; and how the kind of social issue-based design that existed abroad remained yet to be developed in Japan. At any rate, our discussions evolved, and that is how we started issue+design.

What has propelled this project until now is the idea of "people" as a starting point for social design. Likewise, Yamazaki, who has since become my colleague, was at the starting point of the shift in my activities to social design. And since then, a lot of other people have become starting points for different projects. The origin of the "Parent and Child Health Booklet" (2010)5 are students from the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine who I met at a workshop; a Kobe city employee inspired the "We Can Do It Bib" (2011)6 and People of Fukui (2012)7 our community travel guide, was inspired by meeting youths from Fukui who currently reside in Tokyo. For me, these encounters became the seeds for the ideas of these projects, growing rapidly into roots that carried solutions and actions that developed into fertile grounds. These were not simple encounters as the word might imply, but crucial elements of each of these projects.

This concept, "social design," carries another meaning. It is a bit abstract to describe, but social design starts and ends with people. In other words, one should not forget that social issues always involve people. Sometimes, when participating in forums on social issues, I feel as if people, who are at the start and endpoint of such issues, were being forgotten. When we only think along the lines of "What should we do?" and always focus on the steps to resolving these issues, we drift further away from our original motive—those for whom we are doing this. It is just as if we were walking in circles, wondering where we started from—we often forget our starting point.

Social design is...


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pp. 310-319
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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