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As a product designer, I have worked on many designs for things that people own. Recently, however, my interests have been shifting toward public spaces used by large numbers of people. The reason for this is that, while public spaces nowadays make allowances for things like barrier-free access and usability, they remain comparatively ignored when it comes to design.
The elevator is one such example that has not received any depth of attention in terms of design despite serving as an important piece of infrastructure that is essential as cities increasingly build upwards. Elevators are one of the main forms of access to public places that people use without even thinking. I had a strong desire to help bring richness to people's lives and to create spaces that enclose people in a comfortable way and give them a sense of well-being. Doing so by improving the experience of the public spaces that exist all around us, with which people unconsciously establish a relationship, and which people take for granted.
Hitachi has currently adopted a core concept of systems that proactively anticipate unconscious human behavior for all of its elevator and escalator products and services. The first step in realizing this concept was the elevator concept model it announced in 2015. I had the opportunity to work with Hitachi operations staff and designers on everything from creating the concept to the design and supervision of the concept model.
One of the key ideas associated with realizing this core concept of systems that proactively anticipate unconscious human behavior is the ambient environment, meaning the air or atmosphere conveyed by the space around us. When people ride in an elevator, they sense things like air, light, and sound through their eyes, ears, and skin without being aware of doing so. They exhibit behaviors such as establishing a distance between themselves and the other people in the elevator, looking upwards, leaning against the walls, or in some cases holding the door to allow other people to exit. That is, people take in various sense impressions from elevators that unconsciously prompt them to engage in certain behaviors. I wanted to remove as many irritations as I could from this environment by keeping it in harmony with these behaviors.
The result was to create designs that were free of sharp edges. Just as people's bodies lack sharp edges, I removed the edges from all the interior details such as the corners of the elevator car and its display panels. I proposed the use of lighting that can change depending on the time of day and graphical displays that let users see the current elevator car location, thereby creating an attractive unbroken space with rounded edges. I would like to think that by doing so I set a benchmark for the design of public spaces.
Having visited numerous cities around the world, I believe that very few of them benefit from the provision of the same high quality public spaces as Japan with its attention to detail. Likewise, I see the concept model as a product that epitomizes the quality of Japanese design. Involved as it is in social infrastructure businesses that encompass numerous fields such as cities, public services, and transportation, Hitachi is a leader in this provision of high quality public spaces and as such it seems only fitting that it should set a new standard. The elevator represents a first step in that direction, and I anticipate the core concept of systems that proactively anticipate unconscious human behavior will be adopted more widely and be put to use in developing the next generation of enriched cities.