Skip to main content
Board Director & General Manager, Products Planning Division, Hitachi Home & Life Solutions, Inc.
Chairman of the Board of Directors, International Association for Universal Design
"No one is 100% physically challenged. And no one is 100% healthy. Everyone is challenged in some parts of their body or their mind, and has healthy parts at the same time. Universal design is for everyone to lead affluent and comfortable lives."
Those are the words of His Imperial Highness Prince Tomohito, Patron of the International Association for Universal Design, *1 at the time the organization was launched. Hitachi also participates in this organization. In his words we sense that we should have a fresh look at society, from the perspective that no person is perfect, and everyone feels some kind of obstacle in daily life.
Even if we're not normally aware of obstacles, if we have a fresh look at modern urban living, we will notice that various obstacles are there. For example, just placing an ashtray below the call buttons in an elevator lobby will probably create an obstacle for a person in a wheelchair. For non-Japanese in Japan, indicators and instructions printed only in Japanese are a barrier. So are huge product manuals that overwhelm users with detail.
In short, Universal Design (UD) *2 is not some special discovery or revolutionary technology, but rather a concept that we should introduce into the design of products and services. - the concept that everything should be easy to use for everyone.
Actually, long before this term was born, the concept of UD was already deeply rooted in Japan. It comes out and is used everywhere in daily life in Japan, in things that change in size, move, or have flexible uses. - examples include the furoshiki (a cloth to wrap things in), the sensu (a folding fan), or the fusuma (sliding doors). UD could also be described as a concept that makes manufacturing one of this country's strengths.
UD also happens to overlap with Hitachi's view of the world. Hitachi has always had the goal of contributing to society through technology as part of its mission. - but at its core is the "human-centered" approach. We don't see UD as a new concept, but rather, as an opportunity to have a fresh look at things from the human-centered perspective and to learn something new. And we are working to deepen that approach.
The Hitachi Group is involved with everything from the appliances around us in our homes, to information services, and basic infrastructure such as public services, in other words. - society and living. It is exactly because the customer base we serve is very broad, and the social aspects of our business are major, that we would like to see UD from the perspective of social responsibility. As concrete activities for this, we are pouring our efforts into basic research, product development, employee awareness-raising, networking and information dissemination.
In terms of basic research, we are conducting research into visibility, and are preparing guidelines on indicators of visibility. In terms of product development, from home appliances to major infrastructure projects, we seek the cooperation of the actual users, and conduct research such as by using monitors to report their experiences, and evaluation testing. In terms of awareness-raising activities, we conduct various activities aiming to have people understand the principle of UD, such as offering employees the chance to use kits that simulate the experience of being an elderly person. We also offer education programs, and workshop for customers. We have created a database with a variety of know-how and basic data. And, as mentioned earlier, we are working with other organizations, including the International Association for Universal Design, to create networks, and to spread information.
UD is an initiative to respond to the diversity of needs. Just as it is difficult to satisfy every person, this UD is an activity that has no end. But little-by-little, we can get closer to the environment that we seek. We are hoping that through these activities to increase the number of satisfied people, some day, in Hitachi and indeed, in society, the thinking behind Universal Design will become the normal way people always do things.
(Published in July 2005)