Design principles I learnt in Tokyo

by Foolproof

I recently had the chance to conduct some user research in Japan. From a user experience (UX) design perspective, spending a week in Tokyo was a fascinating experience and a continuous source of inspiration.

Although it’s one of the biggest and most crowded cities in the world, in Tokyo nothing seems to be casual. From taking a shower to ordering food, every single bit of the human experience appears to have been carefully designed.

The attention to detail is simply stunning, yet sometimes disconcerting to the eyes of a European visitor. Here are a few things that life in Japan reminded me about design.

Keep up with expectations

Japanese have a passion (obsession?) for well presented food and every restaurant window is filled with colourful, saliva-inducing copies of their dishes.

However, if you know what a McDonald’s burger looks like compared to the picture on the menu, you are also familiar with how quickly the excitement can fade as soon as it gets served. This is not the case in Japan, where you can expect your food to look EXACTLY like the beautiful plastic copy, making every meal even more enjoyable.

Maintaining (and exceeding) expectations should be the first concern when offering a product or service.

Think about the context

The tiny bathroom of my hotel room has been a constant source of amazement. Here is my favourite little wonder: a portion of the mirror is heated from behind, which means you can look at yourself even after a hot shower.

Simple and elegant solutions like this are only possible when design considers the importance of context.

Be inclusive

Tokyo impressed me for the attention to disability needs in all public spaces. With its buttons at different heights, this elevator is just an example of how sometimes it takes very little to create a design which works fine for all users disregarding their physical capabilities.

Don’t overcomplicate

Here it comes, the famous Japanese toilet; heated seat; customisable splash. Star Trek meets your most private needs. Sitting gives the anxiety of the first take off on a plane. It’s a striking contrast to the otherwise minimal design of Japanese interiors, and frankly the control console feels like too much even for an Italian expat whose first complaint abroad is the lack of bidets.

Trying to do too much with a single product often ends up worsening, rather than improving, the quality of the experience.

Japanese consumers recently started to abandon their typically intricate mobile phones to embrace touch screen models like the iPhone, which offer rich features in a much more elegant package: is the bathroom the next frontier for the touch revolution?

Author: Andrea Agueci

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