Kansei Engineering Applied to Design

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The ‘Kansei Value Creation Initiative,’ led by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), was pushed by the Japanese business and design communities. It aimed to foster a broader knowledge of the emotional aspects that draw people to things rather than depending on the more traditional factors of reliability, performance, usefulness, and pricing, emphasising emotional fulfilment over monetary fulfilment.

Consumers’ personal hidden requirements and aspirations were integral to the design process in this quasi-psychological link between maker and end-user. Kansei had a distinctively Japanese perspective on product development and was associated with the concept of monozukuri, which is difficult to define in English but can be defined as “craftsmanship” or “creating with skill and artistry.”

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, a similar emphasis on the relationship between created items and emotion was also investigated in other parts of East Asia and Europe and the United States. The Kansei-Japan Design Exhibition in Paris (2008), produced by METI and the Japan Export Trade Foundation in collaboration with the Musรฉe des Arts Dรฉcoratifs, Paris, further promoted Japanese Kansei thought. The following year, at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF, the world’s largest furniture fair of its kind) in New York, a similar initiative was launched, with Kansei values featured as a critical theme of an exhibition titled ‘Japan by Design,’ which was complemented by the Japan Pavilion. Two more shows, dubbed the ‘Kansei Design Experience,’ were held in Kanazawa and Hong Kong in 2010.

“The impression that somebody gets from a certain artefact, environment or situation using all her senses of sight, hearing, feeling, smell and taste [and sense of balance]”

Kansei and the five senses

“Kansei” has to do with the five basic senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste and the way in which they interact with personal values, ethics and emotions.  It is a word encompasses the meanings of such words as sensitivity, sense, sensibility, feeling, aesthetics, emotion and affection. It aims to seek the structure of emotions which exist beneath human behaviours.  This structure is referred to as a person’s Kansei.

Figure-3-The-etymology-of-Kansei-and-Chisei-Lee-2002
The etymology of Kansei (Lee 2001)

Alternative terms might be total sensitivity or receptiveness, although in its full Japenese meaning goes much further.  It is what is felt when all the senses are in harmony.  “Thoughtful awareness” and “heightened sensitivity” are the expressions that come closest to defining Kansei.  Perhaps the realisation that the appropriateness of each element on the page underlies the goodness of the whole, that the synergy between the user and the site can be felt by anyone who uses the site.

Developed by Mitsuo Nagamachi

Kansei Engineering was developed mainly through the work of Mitsuo Nagamachi at the University of Hiroshima.  Nagamachi said that it helped the investigator to understand the relationship between the formal properties and experiential properties of a product.

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