Japan's product design is another area of UX design success; both in its approach to the aesthetic qualities and its functionality. Here are just a few things Japan can teach us about product design.
Japan has a long history of packaging and product design rooted in a tradition of gift-giving. Long before industrial materials like plastic and cardboard, gifts were wrapped in straw, bamboo, leaves, and paper. Although the materials have changed, the core values of Japanese design remain at the heart of these creations - harmony, consideration, and functionality.
Harmony in Design
Creative packaging designs often lean towards the experiential. Utilizing interactive elements in the opening experience of the product, creating a whole new realm of experiential opportunity. The creativity of Japanese design often comes in the ability to create a sense of harmony between the products and the user. Take the bento boxes below, warm hues, rounded shapes, and matted textures provide both tactile and visual harmony for the user. The satisfaction of perfectly aligned boxes exists every time the product is used. How can it not "spark joy"?
Cuyana x Marie Kondo Mini-Capsule Capsule case product designs.
Another example of harmony in design. Packaging for Japanese rice crackers and Swedish biscuits.
Design by Saikai — Japanese fika packaging project
Designing for the Differently Abled
Designing for usability in healthcare packaging has been a topic of consideration for many global brands. In Japan, it extends beyond niche markets and brands consider multiple users of varying abilities when designing everyday products. Milk cartons are outfitted with a special indentation to the top of the carton to help visually impaired customers identify pure whole milk out of all the drinks with the same packaging. Simple considerations like this can have a huge impact on the experience of the user.
Image by Ikidane-Nippon Milk carton design in Japan
Minimalism and Maximalism
Strolling down the aisles of a supermarket in Tokyo I'm distracted by the bold, glittering designs of candy screaming at you from the shelves. This provides the perfect contrast to the sleek, monochromatic hues of brands like Muji. This duality in design reminds us that we can't be everything at once but we can enjoy the many facets of our personality through our products.
Examples of "Kawaii Design" - Japanese snack "Pocky", Frog shaped construction signs, dish sponges.
Japan’s “kawaii” culture is another example of personality in design. Sprinkled throughout the city, on everything from construction signs to stationery. “Kawaii” as an aesthetic is not reserved for children but seeks to provide a more relaxed, familiar and friendly feeling to products that would otherwise be mundane. One doesn’t usually smile at a roadworks sign, especially one that disrupts your daily commute…but I found myself doing just that in Japan. The subtle effects of “cuteness” is part of what makes Japan special.
Eugen Eşanu talks about product designers “living the life of a user” when designing products with purpose and clarity. We can go a step beyond to stay that products should share in the lives of the user. Cup noodle containers with resealable lids, food packaging with perforated lines for opening, the neatly outlined 3 step process for unwrapping a rice ball — all examples of products that anticipate the needs of the user and aim to make the experience frictionless. The products certainly change with time but the core values of Japanese design remain the same.