Designing the Future: Japan’s Tech Revolution – Panel Discussions on Technology & Design

First of all, who thought it was a good idea to host an event at 10am on a Saturday morning? Seriously! Who wakes up earlier than 10 on the weekends? I had to set my alarm to wake up early on June 9th. Managed to leave the house way early, but when you need to go somewhere on time, leave it to MTA to fuck it up for you!! There were constructions near Queensboro Plaza on my N,W line, I had to ride the train backwards to Astoria Blvd, and then the outbound train was stuck right before we got to Queensboro Plaza because they were using one platform for both directions! So I ended up being late! Mr. Nishiyama was the first one to present, so I missed some of his speech.

Kohei Nishiyama, inventor of Design to Order (DTO) system and founder of elephant-design and cuusoo.com. The DTO system reduces the risk of new products development by allowing manufacturers to wait until the number of orders for a product reaches the break-even point. One interesting tidbit, Nishiyama-san grew up in South America. He lived there until age 19. He’s a graduate of the University of Tokyo. So… naturally, I wondered if he had applied to UT as a foreigner. I think he should have some good advice for me in that department.

Unlike the companies that presented yesterday, Kohei Nishiyama’s company is truely “Customer Driven”. What elephant-design and cuusoo.com do is they invite users to submit their ideas (or dreams), other users who shares the same ideas can join in and provide inputs. Then, the “designers” within the cummunity can put the ideas into reality. Mr. Nishiyama summarized the business into 3 basic steps:

  • share a problem to make a community
  • Invite designers to brush up innovation
  • gather reserveration until break even point

One of the key points that Mr. Nishiyama brought up was that “Users’ wishes to collarborate with designers can be viewed as assets”. This idea is similar to what Professor Karim Lakhani had said in his speech the day before, which was “companies need to adjust to the changing market where users are now active producers“. elephant-design is at the forefront of this so called “crowd sourcing”. People are just beginning to realize this potential as Web 2.0 rolls along. The amazing thing is, Mr. Nishiyama started elephant-design in 1997! That’s before the Web 1.0 bubble had burst! It has taken 10 years for the web to mature to the point where communities can finally be leveraged as an asset.

After the speech was a Q&A session, the moderator, Nick Thompson started it off by asking some tough questions like:
– How do you motivate or reward the wish makers?
– Who owns the IP of a design?

I was pretty interested in elephant-design’s concept, so I had a few questions of my own, like one that’s IP related (which is very important for a designer) – has any designer or manufacturer stole ideas from cuusoo?

The question that I asked was this. First, I revisited someone else’s comment the day before, which was “a user cannot be a designer”. In my personal experience as a developer, I realize that users don’t really know what they want! It takes a special talent of a designer to understand the needs of a user, and a designer has to possess the “eye” to see into the future, to create the “next thing”. That being said, I understand the user’s urge to share their wishes with the designers, so I applaud the creation of a system like elephant-design and cuusoo.com, to bring the users and designers together. I think it was ingenious. Now, regarding the “break even point”, Mr. Nishiyama said that currently, they have 20 thousand members, and when a design is made, they gather “reservations” until the number of people that are going to purchase the product reaches the manufacturer’s break even point. I questioned whether or not the company had thought about corporate sponsors. (It isn’t uncommon that when companies first introduce a new product, they have to incurr some losses before the market catches on and they start to make a profit.) I guess because my question was too long, Mr. Nishiyama didn’t get to the corporate sponsor part. He pointed out that he agrees with the statement that “users cannot be designers”, but that doesn’t mean users cannot participate in the designing process.

It was unfortunate that Mr. Nishiyama had to run off and head to Boston right after his speech, I would’ve liked to have a chance to speak with him more in depth about his company. I touched base with Ray before he and Mr. Nishiyama left Japan Society, then I went back inside the auditorium to listen to the next speech.

Afterwards, I chatted with a few industrial designers who came to listen to Mr. Nishiyama’s company, all of them came in later than me so they missed out a lot. From what I gathered, their main concerns were 1) I.P. and 2) finding a trust worthy manufacturer. They all seemed to be very interested in Mr. Nishiyama’s company and wanted to know more. I offered to get their contact info and get back to them when I find out more info. So Mr. Nishiyama please! Let me talk to you! 🙂

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Just another guy trying to beat the system and be released from the Matrix http://about.me/nicholaswang

Posted in events, networking, tech
One comment on “Designing the Future: Japan’s Tech Revolution – Panel Discussions on Technology & Design
  1. Melina says:

    very interesting. i’m adding in RSS Reader

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