The main selection criteria are “whether the principles of universal design (UD) have been espoused and whether superior activities to achieve them have been proposed or carried out.” Judging is based on both the advocacy of the principles and the activities and actions that result from it. Both are comprehensively evaluated as a whole. The judging perspective mentioned in the application requirements is also given importance in the evaluation process.
As Chair of the Awards Selection Committee I have again been privileged to review some striking initiatives and inspiring products. Over the years I have seen a remarkable progression in both the level of understanding of Universal Design and the absorption of UD principles into the mainstream of design practice. This is particularly so in Japan, where the many companies and municipalities that come together and work together under the banner of IAUD, have made significant progress towards the goal of creating a UD society. As Mr Toda, a founding member and Advisor to the Council of IAUD, said in his memorable address to our last conference in Fukuoka: Universal Design is "about creating a community that aims to develop a safe and secure environment for all people, with and without disabilities", reminding us that this was what His Imperial Highness Prince Tomohito intended and envisioned 13 years ago when IAUD was first established.
Now, well into its second decade in Japan, I see a step change in confidence, capability and activity. There is no doubt that here Universal Design has completed the journey from the margins to the mainstream―a journey it has yet to complete in other countries. Moreover, in Japan, Universal Design has already started to widen its goals and find applications on a much broader front than originally envisioned.
The devastating Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 triggered an imaginative response amongst our community, shifting our understanding of Universal Design beyond the goal of removing barriers and creating an open and accessible society. Increasingly, UD is now seen as an innovative and effective problem-solving approach to a very wide range of social challenges and issues, with its core value—engaging with the widest range of users in the design process—its greatest strength.
This broader understanding has become increasingly cemented in the philosophy, design approach and brand strategy of major Japanese companies, as exemplified by some outstanding entries in this year’s IAUD awards. It underpins the goals of this fifth IAUD International Conference for Universal Design and focuses our minds on the sharing ideas and knowledge, and the social responsibilities of design and designers.
Exciting and challenging discussions await us, and on behalf of the International Delegates I would like to extend a very warm welcome to everyone attending the 2014 IAUD conference in Tokyo. I look forward to meeting old colleagues, making new connections and to the precious time we will share together.
The grand award for 2014 has been made jointly to three companies with a long-term commitment to universal design, which is fully embedded it in their business strategy, design practice and consumer offers. Although each company has approached this in different ways, together they demonstrate the remarkable level of maturity that Universal Design has achieved in Japan within a relatively short space of time.
For over 20 years the Aeon Group has been creating retail facilities that incorporate and feature Universal Design elements intended to improve the shopping experience for customers of all ages and abilities. It has achieved this by paying close attention to its customers, seeking their opinions and responding with far-reaching design and service improvements. This process began with barrier-free initiatives to make Aeon stores more accessible, and has since moved on to focus on user-friendliness, customer consultation and greater integration of stores with their local communities. Specific initiatives have delivered: decentralized toilet facilities that are highly thought of, much improved signage, and close attention to provision of appropriate parking, all of which greatly increase accessibility. More recently, attention has been given to encouraging healthy lifestyles, supporting older people and community-focused provision, for example, of nursery, facilities, play spaces and recreational areas.
The jury noted the high level of customer satisfaction and feedback, and felt that the achievements were particularly important as Aeon outlets play an important role as local supermarket stores. It was impressed by the clear community focus and consistent progression from barrier-free initiatives to a focus on user-friendliness, customer consultation and involvement and an awareness of demographic change and the needs of older people, and found the 20-year commitment to UD values and practice exemplary.
In response to population aging and the impact this was having on its production workforce, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation has introduced far-reaching improvements aimed at eliminating unreasonable physical and mental demands on workers. This has been achieved by adopted a Universal Design approach to workplace and job design, in order to ensure that production tasks are easy to perform and also easy to understand. As a result, Mitsubishi Electrical Corporation is able to employ a workforce with an older age profile and wider ability profile.
Workplace designers now specialize in user-observation and consultation, and increasingly adopt a co-design approach aimed at identifying problems and developing improvements. By applying Universal Design methods the company has successfully improved safety and worker satisfaction and increased productivity, whilst at the same time significantly reducing human error. Particular attention is placed on improving the performance and usability of tools, encouraging correct posture and safe working, and creating user-friendly and attractive workplaces and environments. There is a strong focus on visibility, legibility, and easy-to-understand operations, manuals and procedures, and products are designed in order to facilitate assembly and handling.
The jury thought that the application of Universal Design principles to workplace and job design was both innovative and important, as it effectively combined the performance and productivity demands of modern manufacture with the reality of an ageing workforce and the aspirations of disabled people. It was impressed by the fact that these initiatives have made workers aware of the importance and benefits of Universal Design, and helped management to appreciate the benefits of a user-centered approach to workplace and job design.
In 2003, Panasonic embarked on what has proved to be a long and fruitful journey towards a company-wide Universal Design methodology. Beginning with the ‘seven principles of universal design’ as set out by Ron Mace and colleagues in the USA, and in the spirit of company-wide quality control, Panasonic raised several important questions and set out to answer them systematically, such as: "how do we know we are doing the right thing," "how do we measure ‘ease-of-use’," and ‘how do we measure success?"
The goal is to improve quality of life for users of all ages and abilities, and the result is an evolving and unified Universal Design process extending from the product development stage to promotion of the product after its release. Key aspects are: ‘verification’ through wide-ranging user consultation and involvement; ‘quantification’ of ease-of-use and other core factors, based on extensive data gathering through in-depth research and human engineering methods; ‘assessment’ during and after development to ensure products deliver what they promise, and ‘promotion’ of UD to help consumers better understand the benefits of UD products and raise expectations.
The jury was particularly impressed by the thoroughness of the process and certification system, the long-term commitment of the company to Universal Design and the central place this methodology has taken in the design, development and marketing of Panasonic’s products. The jury also found good evidence for the success of this initiative in the extent to which UD principles are embodied across the company’s whole product range, and the high level of entries, year on year, for the IAUD Universal Design Awards.
Fujitsu developed this smartphone application in collaboration with the Sakai Laboratory at the Faculty of Education at Kagawa University. The goal was to meet the needs of children who have difficulty with communication, delayed speech development, and troubles with reading, writing and arithmetic. ICT plays a large role in terms of independence and social participation for disabled, and Fujitsu is committed to delivering an ICT society anyone can participate in, in particular by developing and disseminating lifestyle/learning support applications that use ICT.
The design is based on extensive user research and collaboration, in particular involving children, and was validated through observation and testing at special support schools and classrooms affiliated to the Faculty of Education at Kagawa University. Results include improved writing skills, and an increase in the ability to name and describe a wider range of emotions and feelings in children who previously struggled with these skills. Importantly, the usefulness of the emotion expression support tool has been recognized not only in special education classes, but also for children in mainstream education.
The jury was impressed with this productive example of tightly focused research and close collaboration between industry and academic researchers, and the effectiveness of the final product. Although more an assistive technology product than a universal design, the jury particularly welcomed the potential for future mainstream applications.
Through observations in hospitals and related institutions and interviews with nurses Okamura’s designers gained important insights into the usability of drip stands for both nurses and patients, confirming that designs that are easy for nurses to use often provide safety and a sense of security for patients. As a result, usability for both nurses and patients was placed at the heart of 'divo' a new drip stand design that incorporates a number of nurse-friendly and patient-friendly features missing from existing drip stands.
Importantly, "divo" eliminated grooves and recesses in which dust and dirt may accumulate and the surface of the pole is specially coated to prevent staining. Priority is given to cleanliness, stability, ease of use, and a friendly aesthetic, all contributing to a greater sense of security to ambulating patients. While the stand is easy for staff to adjust, patients’ attention is drawn away from the mechanism to avoid unintentional changes to height. Careful attention was given to the management of infusion tubes and providing adequate hand-holds for patients recuperating from surgery.
The jury was impressed with the synthesis of user-friendly detailing and appearance, the considerable user research and observation behind the product, and the integration of features that enhanced usability for both staff and patients.
In response to user research, which revealed that people found plugging and unplugging vacuum cleaners troublesome, Panasonic product developers saw the potential for a hybrid cleaner that can be plugged into a power source or used as a cordless device. This has been achieved by incorporating innovative, high-efficiency batteries and a small, lightweight motor. The result is a powerful, efficient and highly portable product, which, combined with other innovative features, offers a complete vacuum cleaning solution and avoids excessive plugging and unplugging.
Batteries can be recharged within the unit itself or separately, by removing the battery pack from the unit. As a result, the battery, which comes with a USB outlet port, can double up as an emergency power supply. The battery capacity is approximately 100,000mWh, sufficient for up to 60 hours of telephone calls, offering security of mind in an emergency or extended power outage.
The jury was impressed with the amalgam of powerful features in a small, portable product, and in particular that the inspiration for this highly innovative design was rooted in user research and Panasonic’s Universal Design methodology. The additional functionality afforded by recent developments in battery technology, offering the potential for its use as an emergency power supply, was seen as a significant advantage.
The University of Tsukuba has adopted an action research approach to ageing and usability by establishing its ‘MinLab’ in October of 2011with funding from the JST-RISTEX Aged Society Project. The MinLab echoes the UK Birmingham University 1,000 Elders initiative, founded in 1986 by Professor Bernard Issacs, in that it centers on building up a reference group of older users to improve the quality of products and services in the context of an aging population.
The focus was initially on the extent to which usability can be tested and usability-based manufacturing realized for an aged society, but has since expanded into a reference and expert community able to collaborate with manufacturers and researchers. A growing database of registered participants stores information in more than 200 categories, including individual profiles, details of items owned or used, attitudinal data and other information pertinent to usability testing and research in cognitive engineering, socio-cultural learning, psychology, human interface, etc., at the University of Tsukuba.
The jury praised this initiative for actively engaging older people as partners in age-related research and usability testing research, rather than research subjects. The jury saw in the growing data-set building up at Tsukuba considerable potential for an important longitudinal study of such factors, and importantly of the impact of age-related capability changes over time.
The limited space of the majority of restrooms has resulted in most toilet doors opening inwards. This arrangement is inconvenient for the user, and has considerable disadvantages. The alternatives of doors that slide or open outwards both demand extra space and are therefore not realistically viable. In response to this problem, Okamura Corporation designers have developed an innovative solution in the form of a curved door that rotates around the user’s body without obstructing their path as they enter and leave. When the door is shut, the curved door creates extra space inside the toilet booth for sufficient comfort.
By improving access to the toilet, the arc slide door system offers benefits to users of all ages and abilities, and allows architects greater flexibility in the design of toilet facilities, as well as cost savings in conversions from traditional to western style toilets. The addition of an emergency opening feature makes it particularly suited to public buildings.
The jury thought highly of the innovative, user-centered approach adopted by Okamura, and also the diversity of possible applications other than for toilets that confirm it as a universal rather than specialist solution. Attention to details such as accident prevention and operational noise were also praised.
The Shower is a Panasonic initiative that combines a way of warming the body with a new approach to bathing for people who prefer a shower to a traditional bathtub. Inspired by the well-established trend among young adults and 40-60 year olds to use the shower exclusively for bathing purposes, in particular during the summer season, Panasonic has rethought the sit-down shower that it has manufactured since 1996. The result, The Shower, is a Universal Design product that combines showering, either standing or seated, offering a refreshing easy-to-use bathing option for people who find bathing difficult or are too busy to take time out for a bath. Built around a structure that disperses warm water over a wider area, The Shower delivers a fine water spray enabling users to enjoy the feeling of warm water enveloping the entire body to deliver the body-warming capability previously associates with the bathtub.
The jury was particularly impressed with the way Panasonic product developers had used recent trends data to inspire a rethink of an earlier and successful, yet essentially ‘assistive’ product, and deliver a truly universal and inclusive design. Carefully applied human factors design and detailed engineering combine to make The Shower a thoroughly modern product.
As a major transport hub, Narita International Airport is host to people with a very wide range ages and abilities and from all around the world. Clear signage and readily accessible information are essential to help travelers understand and navigate the building, and to smooth the flow of people to and from their destinations. Narita Airport and Mitsubishi Electric Corporation worked together to create an appropriate information system based on Universal Design principles. 11 touch-screen guides have been installed in terminals 1 and 2. These are easy to spot and presently operate in four languages: Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean.
The jury applauded the careful attention given to the intuitive user-interface, positioning, screen height and accessibility, and choice of font and colors, but would have welcomed more detail on user-testing.
The Elizabeth and Nona Evans Restorative Garden reflects the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s goal of helping people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities appreciate and benefit from the positive role that plants play in their lives. It provides for quiet respite, socialization and active engagement within a diverse plant collection. In a setting designed specifically to accommodate for people of all abilities. This was achieved through discussions and collaboration with various visitor groups, and plants were chosen with an emphasis on horticultural therapy.
The jury felt that although the design focus is primarily on ‘special’ populations these beautiful, calm and serene gardens feature many design-for-all elements and set an example in the thoughtful integration of the needs of specific groups within a universally appealing setting.
Korea Railroad Corporation has developed a robust methodology for implementing Universal Design across both the renovation and improvement of existing stations and the construction of new stations. Centered on a 4-stage program, the methodology begins with a condition survey and analysis and moves on through the establishment of UD guidelines and on to implementation and verification. Universal Design goes hand-in-hand with safety enhancement and education as part of a holistic approach to transport system design and development.
The jury was impressed with the commitment and integrated approach of the Korea Railroad Corporation and the focus on safety as a core element of Universal Design, but would have appreciated a more detailed account of lessons learnt from global precedents, the implementation timeframe and success criteria.
The Learn & Play! Sign Language Dictionary is a learning application for smart phones developed by Softbank Mobile Corporation. By capturing the hand motions of a sign language translator, this app allows people to have fun learning sign language intuitively and accurately with 360 degree 3-D animations. It was developed with the aim of being used by not only sign language users, but also people who are interested in sign language and those who have the opportunity to interact with hearing impaired people in their daily lives.
The jury applauded the capturing of ‘live’ sign language from expert users as a basis for animations and the use of a gaming to encourage and engage people wishing to learn sign language, as endorsed by the Tokyo Federation of Deaf People.
The number of older people requiring assistance with everyday living continues to increase in Japan. In view of this, and with a focus on self-reliance in nursing care and support, Panasonic has developed the Resyone bed to make transferring from bed to wheelchair easier, and to achieve this, part of the Resyone bed separates and converts into an electric reclining wheelchair which allows for the smooth transfer of the user from the bed to the wheelchair without placing any physical burden on the carer. The bed also makes it possible for the user to transfer from bed to wheelchair simply and safely with the assistance of a single carer.
The jury praised the strong emphasis on user involvement in development and testing, and with careful attention given to safety and usability, which reduce the physical burden on the carer to just one-third of the previous level.
Feedback from visually impaired people indicates that banknote identification remains a significant issue, and whilst future changes are envisaged to significantly improve banknote identification for people with visual impairments it was clear that an immediate solution was needed in Japan. As a result, the National Printing Bureau of Japan has released a free iPhone application.
U·Qui·Ch-kun, which uses the built-in camera to identify banknotes and tell the user their denomination, visually and audibly. Development of the app involved national organizations for the visually impaired and monitoring and surveys to ensure the needs and wishes of visually impaired people were taken into account in the process.
The jury praised this initiative as a way of dealing with an immediate problem while more complete and longer-term solutions were under consideration.
Older people in particular can find sitting down and standing up difficult without the support provided by appropriately positioned armrests, especially when using the toilet. A-La-Uno, and innovative toilet by Panasonic Design, addresses this issue by making long, wide armrests an integral part of the product rather than an add-on. This reduces the burden on the user’s legs and the lower back when sitting down and getting up from the toilet through the introduction of armrests to the toilet. Additional features and careful choice of materials help to keep the toilet clean and odor-free, and also make regular cleaning quick and easy.
The jury described A-La-Uno as a good example of product improvement through careful attention to detail and a thorough understanding of Universal Design.
Mitsubishi Electric Home Appliances is committed to continuously improving its products in accordance with Universal Design principles with an emphasis on user-consultation. An excellent example of this process is the Steam-less Rice Cooker, first introduced in 2009, in response to national statistics on scalding incidents involving children and rice cookers. Additional safety features were added in 2011 and 2012, with the latest, 2014 version incorporating a number of ease-of-use functions, including voice navigation, a large back-lit LCD screen and a UD font.
The jury found, in the combination of safety and ease-of-use features, an excellent example of well-realized universal design, and praised Mitsubishi’s commitment to continuous improvement through the application of UD principles.