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 Researcher's Eye

The GOOD DESIGN AWARD, a fixed point observation──Sakura Nomiyama


Focused Issues researchers looked over all the screening subjects and explored the "ground swell" from the perspective of outside experts who were not judges. We asked three of them to each write based on their own expertise and from their own angles about what they noticed and saw as they accompanied the screening process. In this essay, design historian Sakura Nomiyama discusses the significance of the GOOD DESIGN AWARD, an activity that evaluates present-day design, and its potential. This article is also included in the 2023 Focused Issues Report.

The period in the history of design in Japan that I find most interesting is the 1950s. The 1950s are often overshadowed by the glamorous image of the 1960s, when the design industry displayed increased momentum, the World Design Assembly (1960) was first held in Japan, and designers played an active role in the Tokyo Olympics (1964). However, during the rapid post-war recovery, the word “design” gradually penetrated society, and it was in the 1950s that professional design organizations, such as the Japan Advertising Artists Club and the Japan Industrial Design Association, were established, and a design movement was rolled out by the Japan Design Committee. If you read the magazines and literature of the time, you can tell that it was chaotic but very lively.

Design historian, design researcher, Sakura Nomiyama

The GOOD DESIGN AWARD was established around this time, in 1957. Japanese manufacturers imitated the design of foreign products at that time, which became a problem, and the story of how the AWARD was set up with the purpose of encouraging the "good design" of domestic products is well-known in the industry. Japan has come to be called an advanced country in terms of design, so people are amazed that examples of good design once had to be provided.

Many of the phenomena of the 1950s are now part of design history, and their stories have been handed down, over time becoming milestones in the revitalization of design. Nevertheless, the GOOD DESIGN AWARD has a point worthy of special mention. This is the fact that it is not a passing event but an activity which is still continuing today. It is thus a rare entity which is part of history but also connected to the present day. There is no other site of “fixed point observation" for design that has functioned for as long as the GOOD DESIGN AWARD. By enumerating the good designs that were newly selected each year, you can follow the ways in which "design" changed from era to era. In response, the activities of the GOOD DESIGN AWARD have changed from instruction about "good design" to awareness-raising.

The significance of a fixed point observation

When I joined this project as a researcher, I was pondering what kind of examination someone who studies the past of design history could carry out by attending the GOOD DESIGN AWARD, an activity to evaluate present-day design. What I envisaged was to analyze, as an expert, situations in which knowledge of design history would be useful in some way as a background to the screening. For example, the form of a product may refer to a style that was popular at a particular time, or it may be influenced by a certain movement. Of course, I occasionally saw such conversations between the judges, but I do not think there was any aspect that greatly affected the screening. What I found more interesting was that the past discussed by the judges was five or 10 years ago, not so far removed from the present. In other words, the accumulation of the past which had not yet become "history," or the "fixed point observation," often acted as an important reference point in the screening.

2023 GOOD DESIGN AWARD FOCUSED ISSUES researchers,(from left)Aki Hayashi, Sakura Nomiyama, Yutaka Nakamura

One particularly memorable example of making use of consideration from the standpoint of “fixed point observation” during the screening was Toyota Motor Corporation’s Prius. It was selected as a candidate for this year's GOOD DESIGN GRAND AWARD, but in fact, it first won an award at the GOOD DESIGN AWARD in 1998. At that time, it was awarded a prize in the ECOLOGY DESIGN PRIZE category. It then won the GRAND AWARD for the first time in 2003. It was recognized not only from an ecological perspective but also for its high design quality. It went on to win a GOOD DESIGN AWARD in 2009, 2011, and 2016. If you read the comments from the screenings, you can see which points received recognition at the time of each award, and if you look at them in chronological order, the meaning of this year's award to the Prius stands out more. There was talk in the screening about what was unchanged from the previous winning models, or what was overwhelmingly different. Of course, there was also discussion about the fact that it had won the GRAND AWARD in the past. In this year's award, its design quality was evaluated highly. Given that people are moving away from objects lately, the enthusiasm with which the judges said, "Revamping the Prius's former image, it is so overwhelmingly cool that it makes you want it" left a deep impression.

Design changes along with our lives and values, which change from day to day. However, these changes are sometimes subtle and difficult to capture at the time. Through fixed point observation, by continuing to look at something while being aware of changes, we can notice things that cannot be understood just at a particular time.

For whom should the GOOD DESIGN AWARD be a fixed point observation?

The amount of valuable data that the GOOD DESIGN AWARD has obtained so far is vast. At present, the official website provides a database of information on past screenings (see "Learn: About Award”) and provides an overview of the activities to date.

On the other hand, what bothered me was that this content was mainly directed at the makers. Certainly, designers and manufacturers can contribute to making people's lives, industries, and society more well-off, as the GOOD DESIGN AWARD aims to do, by creating better designs. However, it feels a little odd that the parameters of those discussing "good design" are limited to people in the design and manufacturing industries even today, when design culture has reached maturity.


This is because I believe that the main agent of design has shifted from being makers to users in recent years. In this day and age, the act of choosing and using goods and services from the perspective of the SDGs requires a proactive stance, and a great responsibility is placed on the users. It goes without saying that the awareness and actions of the users who generate the demand for design have a great influence on society and life. Given the growing interest in design research and the importance of user-based design, it is clear that design is becoming more user-driven.

We were particularly conscious of this during this screening when school satchels and hair removal machines were being discussed.

The reason for the existence of these products is preconceived notions and values, such as "school bags in elementary school are satchels" and "it is better not to have body hair." There were many judges, including myself, who felt that there was something wrong with this. However, if we think about it, design changes in response as users break free from these chains and develop a new consciousness. Of course, the opposite can also be true. Breakthroughs occur when the minds of the maker and the user resonate, and both are unafraid to change or have the courage to try new things. This is true not only in product development but also in all areas of design, including that of policy or social institutions.

One of the proposals we are putting forward this year is the need to expand the functionality of the GOOD DESIGN AWARD as a think tank, and from now on, we will be called to provide helpful analysis and research to users as well as makers. In order to create a richer cycle of design activity, I believe it is important to proactively engage users in discussions about "good design," rather than simply positioning them as people who refer to "good design." To this end, rethinking the way in which the GOOD DESIGN AWARD carries out fixed point observation will surely make it possible to shed new light on the direction in which design should aim.

In the report "Focused Issues 2023: Proposals for the Future of Design," which summarizes the activities of this year's Focused Issues, we present proposals and discussions on the new “wave" of design that we have gained through the screening process and interviews with the award winners. For more details, click here. → FOCUSED ISSUES 2023 Proposals for Future Design

Sakura Nomiyama

Design historian, design researcher | Curator of Igarashi Takenobu Archive at Kanazawa Institute of Technology

Nomiyama completed her master’s degree in History of Design and Curatorial Studies at Parsons School of Design. After working at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, she has worked on planning design-related exhibitions, and writing and translating books and articles. Lately, she authored “Takenobu Igarashi A to Z” (Thames & Hudson, 2020) and worked on the exhibition “DESIGN MUSEUM JAPAN Collecting and Connecting Japanese design” (National Art Center, Tokyo, 2022).

Shunsuke Imai


He was born in Minamiuonuma City, Niigata in 1993. He became independent after working for amana Inc.

Masaki Koike


Editor. He does planning and editing in multiple media, mainly in collaboration with researchers and creators.