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Design Research

“Can Japan, with its asymmetrically aged society, be a role model for the world”

A decreases birth rate and increases in longevity thanks to advances in medical care and technology have had an enormous impact on the increase in the senior population (age 65 and older). Now, the implications of an "aging society" have become a major issue shared among advanced nations.

It is estimated*that by 2030, 1 in 3 people in Japan will be elderly, making it the most rapidly aging society among developed nations. Now, many nations are turning to Japan as a role model for solving the many problems that accompany aging.

*National Institution of Population and Social Security Research, “Estimate of the future population of Japan”

“A research project involving research professionals, businesses, and universities around the world”

Now, Loftwork, Inc., in a collaboration with Studio D's Jan Chipchase*has implemented a design research project in three cities: Tokyo, Yoshino, and Chengdu (China) with a theme of “aging and aging societies.” The project is based on " The 2016 Industrial Science and Technology Survey Project (A Survey of the Creation of Business Models Originating in Social Issues and Technology Seeds)," a project commissioned by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. The results of the the research were complied into "Transformation: A Foundational Study on Aging."

This project seeks to use a technique known as "design research" to clarify the essence of the issue of aging confronting the world, as well as the public's attitude and approach toward old age itself.

This research was conducted as a foundational survey; its goal is to provide an impetus for new viewpoints on and discussion of resolving the issues facing aging societies and is not meant to resolve specific issues directly. In order to take the first steps toward applying research discoveries to new industry and business, engineers and researchers from Panasonic Corporation and NEC Corporation (Japanese Electric Coporation) as well as members of Keio University participated on the research team.

*Chipchase was previously the Executive Creative Director of the Global Market Research division at frog, a design consulting firm. He is now the founder of Studio D, where he tackles design research across the globe.

“How is this different from previous marketing research?”

The approach used in this survey, "design research," is distinguished by how those who conduct the survey are the ones actually planning and designing the projects and products. With previous marketing research, studies were conducted by marketers and researchers; involving design personnel at the study stage leads to a greater understanding of the nuances of our everyday lives.

Design research also focuses on the “Why”s—including the context behind the thoughts and actions of everyday folks, which are difficult to clarify in quantitative and formal qualitative studies. It could be said that this approach to research identifies viewpoints and psychological attitudes of which even the subjects themselves are unaware, leading to a more fundamental understanding of the issues at hand.

Project overview

・Client;Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, Industrial Science and Technology Policy and Environment Bureau
・Project term;September to December 2016
・Location: Tokyo, Yoshino, Chengdu (China)
・Research theme:The state of society and individuals' thoughts and behavior patterns as they relate to aging
・Research content and subjects:Interviews with a total of 170 individuals were conducted utilizing a variety of formats, such as interviews with specialists; 90-180 minute in-depth interviews; group interviews; ad-hoc interviews (improvised in a variety of environments, encompassing the research theme); and more.

This project was launched as part of an initiative to make Japan a role model for the world in problem-solving. In addition, beyond the scope of this project, this report is available to the public via a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), with the desire that the content of the research contribute to the enrichment of public understanding of the elderly. The Implementation Guide, which collects knowledge of design research, and photos of the research process (161 total) will also be available to the public.


上記の文書・写真は、クリエイティブ・コモンズ・ライセンス(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0*)を付与し一般公開します。 このライセンスは、非営利な目的のもと、適切なクレジットの表示、ライセンスへのリンク貼付、変更がある際はその旨を表示し再配布の際は同じライセンスを付与すれば、利用・再配布することが可能です。営利目的の利用の際は、ロフトワーク広報(にお問い合わせください。
*Transformation images, figures, and content are published under a Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
*his document differs from "The 2016 Industrial Science and Technology Survey Project (A Survey of the Creation of Business Models Originating in Social Issues and Technology Seeds)" commissioned by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry.

Transformation: A Foundational Study on Aging

Primary content of report

Further division of existing life stage classifications

In order to gain a more nuanced grasp of aging, the twelve life stages that have been created based on Thomas Armstrong's "Twelve Stages of Human Development" theory are here redefined with four new life stages (in red) focused on those age 50 and older, based on hypotheses derived from previous research. The proposal is presented as a diagram to provide an understanding of the research as a whole.

Conceptualization of discoveries gained in research

The content of discoveries made in the course of the research is presented together with eight frameworks.

Based on interviews with 170 people total, we tried to reflect on and visualize the meaning of time passing and matters that tend to be treated as "tacit understandings." We did this by using models capable of visualizing each attribute in the process of transitioning to resignation and retirement, reciprocal-relationship models that express changes from a give-and-take standpoint between parents, children, and grandchildren, and more.

Conducting field research
to create five target archetypes

These are the archetypes defined when designing new businesses, products, and services. We depicted five archetypes of the elderly based on common characteristics, behavior, and mindsets among our 170 research subjects.

In this research project, "personas" (images of existing persons selected to represent an entire research target group), a term used frequently in marketing, were identified and classified to encompass all the research subjects. The personas are not people who actually exist; rather, they are positioned as plausible personalities.

Opportunity Areas
Defining nine areas of opportunity
and formulating the next phases of research and blueprints for industrialization

Based on insights yielded by field research and the five defined archetypes, nine areas of opportunity for the creation of new businesses, products, and services were defined.

The issues of existing physical and mental deterioration, as well as health and financial issues, are extensively examined and collected as potential topics for deeper research in the project's next phase.

*This document differs from "The 2016 Industrial Science and Technology Survey Project (A Survey of the Creation of Business Models Originating in Social Issues and Technology Seeds)" commissioned by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry.

The future design research process

The design research process implemented in this study and the attendant knowledge has been compiled in “Design Research 101: An Implementation Guide Based on the Aging Society Design Research Project.” The guide was created to support the implementation of design research projects and cover the information and viewpoints required for said process.

Immersion in the research theme

The preparatory phase needed to acquire a deeper understanding of the project and theme. Trend analysis and background studies are conducted, and initial hypotheses are established.

Preparing for the research

Based on one's understanding of the geographic regions and nations involved, recruiting is conducted for logistics (transportation, lodging), interview subjects, and local guides for field research team members in the area of research in which the initial hypothesis has been established. It is not an exaggeration to say that the process of recruiting interview subjects or local guides can make or break the quality of the subsequent research.

Conducting research on-site

On-site research is conducted in various locations. 90-to-180-minute interviews held in the subjects' homes and closely-related locations (in-depth interviews), 10-to-60-minute interviews in locations related to the theme (ad-hoc interviews), and observations lasting several minutes to half a day (observations) are conducted with subjects.

In the interviews, the day-to-day lives of the subjects and the people, places, and objects into which they come in contact are observed, leading to responses that verbalize not only what the subjects are actively thinking but their unconscious thoughts as well. The daily sharing of research (debriefing) is interspersed every several days with synthesis sessions, providing day-to-day updates that improve the accuracy of the research.

Synthesizing information gained from research

Techniques such as the KJ method are used to organize raw data such as observations and statements into meaningful insights, and meaning is unearthed from what is subsequently revealed.

After the theme is grasped, the essential concepts are defined, a framework for the findings is created, and the findings are refined. Discussion also deepens regarding the archetypes and the individual needs that have been so far overlooked or left unfulfilled. The results are collected as opportunity areas to serve as important input for conceiving new products or services.

Create a deck

The content gained from research is collected in a deck (a presentation-like document). The concepts, findings, archetypes, and opportunity areas that have become clear through synthesis are repeatedly scrutinized, and the content is further refined.

Photographs are selected to assist readers in understanding, and illustration, layout, and proofreading are conducted simultaneously. After the macro overview (a summary of the research themes) and the methodology are organized, the researchers reflect on their work overall.

Research team member overview

Design research professional Jan Chipchase served as lead on the research team. The project members included not only specialists on the research theme but also individuals from a variety of backgrounds, including business and college academia. Assembling such a diverse team ensured that the content of the research was not subject to any particular bias. Members were flexible in fulfilling a number of different roles and participated in the project on equal terms.

• Studio D|Jan Chipchase, Venetia Tay
• Loftwork |Chiaki Hayashi, Mami Jinno, Minori Kuwabara, Shinya Kunihiro, Aki Kanawa
• University partners|Keio University SDM: Naohiko Kotake, Kaori Aizaki, Teruyoshi Sumiya, /Keio University SFC: Takeshi Sasaki
• Business partners|NEC (Nippon Electric Company): Tsunehisa Kawamata, Eiji Hirao, Yumi Yano / Panasonic: Takayuki Fukui

Project Team

Cotact Us

ロフトワーク 神野真実

Creative Director
Mami Jinno

The true pleasure of the project was found in "taking a long look at the lives of the interview subjects from their perspectives" and "synthesizing the data gathered from the research to create new discoveries." Aging is a huge issue, and in taking it as a research theme, we first had to build a relationship of trust with each and every subject and politely observe their conversations, behavior, and environment. Carefully synthesizing the enormous amount of data gained subsequently leads to great discoveries. To obtain data that was more valuable to us, we built relationships of trust with local guides before venturing out into the field, carefully selected the locations and spaces of the studios that would serve as research hubs, and even created rules as to how to affix Post-It Notes and where to store keys. By doing so, we enabled ourselves to devote our time to the areas of our research on which we wanted the greatest focus. We also continually asked ourselves, "What would constitute even better research?" and were open to changing and adjusting our research approach—which I feel allowed us truly to enjoy the project. This research project was conducted as a foundational study, and so I hope it leads in the future to further projects.

Creative Director
Minori Kuwabara

For this project, we took an approach that was entirely unprecedented for me: interviewing a grand total of 170 subjects in Japan and China. The design research process used for this project has a dynamism that means your plans can easily change from one day to the next; my stomach would tie itself in knots every single day. I believe, though, that the relationship of trust that was forged among the team members by eating, sleeping, and spending numerous hours each day together became a huge driving force that allowed us to overcome those circumstances. Design research reflects not only the subjects themselves but that which they see and live with in their everyday lives. It became more than a research technique—it offered an opportunity to experience an approach that formed a strong relationship between team members and at the same time tested it.

shinya kunihiro

Creative director
Shinya Kunihiro

The real joy of design research lies in the moments from day to day where you can't tell what's going to happen. In order to enjoy this dynamism, it is important that that the team build a deep relationship. Everyone tries to experience the same role. Everyone shares in the events that occur during interviews. Everyone eats and lodges together—the subjects, the guides, everyone. The opinions of the team members are respected, and opportunities for discussion naturally arise. So many little opportunities arise to strengthen this relationship, and I think it's really felt in the team's excellent output.

Ministry of Economy, Trade and IndustryPartnership