What challenges should designers face now, as found at the GOOD DESIGN AWARDs.

FOCUSED ISSUES is a GOOD DESIGN AWARD initiative that depicts the future of design in society through the screening process.


FOCUSED ISSUES of this article

Continuous design

Restore the democratic sense of changing something by oneself. Design in which the initiative is passed on and connected


The world is now experiencing a series of unintended events, such as economic upheaval, pandemics, and wars.

In a world where the future is uncertain and social values are rapidly changing, what kind of design will be flexible enough to suit changing situations? How can we nurture something important for several decades ahead? FOCUSED ISSUES Themes, "Incomplete Design" in 2021 and “Continuous Design” in 2022, share a common awareness of the issues resulting from a sense of crisis and anxiety.

Someone with a strong will may be able to continue one project for a short period.

However, it may be difficult for a limited number of people to continue the project naturally over a long period of time. I hypothesized that it would be necessary to hand over the initiative to someone else, change generations, protect important values, and continue to change in keeping with the times.

How can such Continuous Design be realized? As I deepened my thoughts through the screening process for the GOOD DESIGN AWARD, I came across some hints.

Be aware of generational changes over a long-time horizon

First of all, I feel that it is important to have a premise that it takes a long time to create a system to allow generational changes. In other words, it is to design a project that will continue effortlessly after the first generation is gone. This was particularly felt in the case of Onoji Apartment Complex in Kamiyama Town.

Under the concept of a townhouse that is taken over by future generations for 100 years ahead, this housing complex for families with small children imposes requirements, such as age restrictions on residents. In addition, the project supports independent management by residents, by setting the rules to allow residents to maintain and manage the building, making brochures, and so on.

Reference Article: "Bothersomeness" fosters Continuous Design across generations — Tatsuro Baba x Ai Iishi

Mr. Baba, representative director, says jokingly, "this is a demanding house," but these seemingly troublesome rules are full of wisdom to make generational changes in the housing complex and to live in and hand over the house for 100 years ahead.

In addition, Continuous Design is often relayed through the team even on the designer side or the operational side, by connecting the project in the long term, not in the short term. Mr. Baba, representative director says that he is always aware of passing the baton to future generations and that he designs projects with an eye toward the development of successors so that new generations can join at any time.

No charismatic leader

The next thing I noticed is that the project is not led by a single strong leader, but collectively by a diverse group of project members. In this respect, I also found the aforementioned Onoji Apartment Complex in Kamiyama Town interesting.

The housing complex in Kamiyama Town was realized mainly by Kamiyama TSUNAGU Corporation, which connects the local government with the public. However, many people are not sure who is the planner or the project leader. In projects where Continuous Design has taken root, multiple people are equally involved. It is often unclear who the leader is. There is no charismatic leader who made it.

This quality of anonymity was incorporated into the project from the very beginning. In order not for a specific person but for everyone to create something, the process, culture, and values of “overcoming through dialogue in any situation” are essential. To foster this, Mr. Yoshiaki Nishimura, a former director of Kamiyama TSUNAGU Corporation, first followed the mindset and methods of workshops and facilitation in Kamiyama town office and in the program to consider creative strategies.

As a result, even among members of different positions and generations, a culture of voluntary discussion while sharing the passion and feelings of each other has emerged. I believe we can solve any problem through dialogue, and we are strong and flexible enough to pass on the project to the next generation as a team.

Keep changing while preserving what our ancestors created

In addition to preserving what our ancestors created, including the cultures and traditions that have taken root in the region, we can also see the common picture of always changing and evolving. In other words, we must incorporate new technologies and values in line with the times. A good example of this is The Sustainable Chocolate Business Model.

In a village in Pingtung County located in the southernmost part of Taiwan, betel leaves (similar to chewing tobacco) used to be grown. However, owing to health and other problems, the industry declined, and farmers started growing Taiwanese cacao instead. Cacao fermentation and chocolate manufacturing technologies have been researched and developed since then, which has resulted in Fu Wan Chocolate. The chocolate has won more than 100 awards worldwide for its quality despite being a new industry. Farmers in the village have successfully sustained their livelihoods.

In a project where we continue to do the same thing, we will slowly lose our passion and suffer inertia. Then, the project will gradually deteriorate. If farmers in Pingtung had continued to grow betel leaves, they might have been at their lowest ebb. In the first place, it is often difficult to maintain the status quo without changing to fit the times. Because 23 farmers in the village thought they had to change and stood up as a group, their efforts have not only become sustainable but have also been appreciated by many people.

Of course, this kind of innovation is not limited to villages. In traditional manufacturing, for example, I think it has been enough to meet the customer’s short-term buying needs and owning needs, and make them happy.

However, I feel that in recent years the principles and soundness of efforts, such as transparency and long-term sustainability, have been questioned in the process of creating products, and consumers have chosen products with this in mind. I think it is important to accept major changes of the times and decide what should be protected and what should be changed in every field.

Design a space for involvement

Finally, I feel it is important to have a space where people want to get involved in the project. The project’s process should be open and accessible to everyone. And the project is designed to encourage active participation. Typical examples include Magical Dagashiya Tyrol-Do, Yamakoshi Public Meeting's publication of the NFT, and Circular Community Point System YAMAP DOMO.

Tyrol-Do is a penny candy store through which the locals support children who are living in poverty or lonely. The candy store is also a place for children to stay. The store's currency, the Tyrol bill, which is worth 100 yen, allows children to buy snacks or eat curry.

The point here is that by calling the act of donating Tyro-ru, it is designed to make people want to donate spontaneously. In other words, this converts the approach to challenging poverty into fun, not obligation. I feel that this creates a space in which even people who are less interested in the issues want to get involved. They do not convey a sense of urgency about social issues unilaterally.

Yamakoshi Public Meeting is also a thought-provoking example. Yamakoshi, which is a marginal village in Niigata Prefecture, has issued NFTs and registered the purchasers as digital villagers. I found it interesting that they built a new system to accept sympathizers and supporters beyond the physical confines and get them involved.

In addition, YAMAP DOMO, a point system that allows users to share their sympathy, gratitude, and support with each other, and use their accumulated points for mountain restoration support projects, is another initiative that converts challenges into fun. The altruistic behaviors and thoughts of mountain lovers result in interactions among the users, which leads to solutions to problems. I felt that the communication of this system was very well designed. Not only a direct approach to environmental conservation but also sharing feelings among the users would lead to the restoration of the mountains.

Also, in terms of making a space, I felt it was important to make clear not only the outline of efforts but also the process, thought, passion, and values that led to its creation. If the project is open to everyone and people can find a reason to be involved, or if people can be interested and can get involved in it, more and more people want to get involved in the project.

Restore a sense of autonomy

So far, I have presented tips for Continuous Design: Have a long-time horizon, and be clearly aware of generational changes; no charismatic leaders; not only protect what our ancestors built, but also continue to change; and design a space to be involved in.

When I reflect, the sense of crisis and anxiety that I felt vaguely while focusing on the theme of FOCUSED ISSUES seems to have been a sense of moving away from the tactile democratic world. In a world of uncertainty in which unexpected events occur one after another, and in a world in which we feel that an unknown great power moves society, I think we sometimes give up because we feel unconsciously that it's hard to change our life, our livelihood, and the way society works. For this reason, what we need now is design to bring back the feel of being involved in the world.

So then what do we need to regain the sense that we can change things? Under these circumstances, I see the potential in questioning the concept of autonomy.

A local government is defined as an autonomous body. Furthermore, community-based organizations, such as an autonomous body, neighborhood association, and commerce and industry association, were developed during the postwar period of high economic growth, when the town was created from scratch. However, owing to the spatial separation between residences and workplaces in cities as well as lifestyle changes, people have fewer opportunities to spend time in their communities. And generational changes in resident organizations created and fostered by their ancestors are difficult throughout the country.

On the other hand, new ways of interacting with communities are emerging overseas. For example, in Portland, USA, there is an autonomous organization called the Neighborhood Association. Its form is similar to that of a Japanese neighborhood association, but it is an organization officially recognized by the city of Portland. It can be involved in policy-making and budget-making, and can plan and implement the development of the community. It takes the form of a management team of a small town. They collect money and gather followers to allow community functions they want to create. There are many young people involved in the organization. They seem to be trying to develop their town by themselves.

This trend may be called post-individualism. Instead of thinking only about improving their own lives, they share their money, time, and ability in order to make their communities and regions more prosperous. As a result, the improvement of individuals and communities will eventually enrich their life. I believe that by taking this perspective, we will be able to create a path in which efforts themselves will have life and continue to grow.

Continuous Design comes from passing the baton to someone else. In this uncertain society, we may need to pursue an ideal for the whole community while using our imaginative power, including the following generations and communities that inherit our thoughts.

Ai Iishi

Urban Designer | Coordinator, Real Public Estate / Director,

As a member of " Real Public Estate", a media that makes public space interesting, she is involved in process design for creative use of public space, research, promotion of projects with local governments, and direction of "Public Space Reverse Proposal", a new matching event. She is also promoting a project to enhance the value of the area through the use of public space at Green Boulevard and Minami Ikebukuro Park (Toshima Ward). She is the author of "Project Study of Real Public Estate - Mechanism and Design of Public-Private Partnership - (Gakugei Shuppansha).