The GOOD DESIGN AWARD has been celebrating good design for over 60 years, ever since their founding in 1957 as the Good Design Product Selection System (or G Mark System), under the sponsorship of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. Over these six decades, society has been confronted with many different issues, and as these changed with the times, so did our expectations for the role of design. Even now, the issues we face and our expectations for design continue to evolve from one moment to the next. Through all of this change, the GOOD DESIGN AWARD has flexibly adapted its structure to meet the needs and values of the times. The path they have charted is considered a milestone of Japanese design and industry. Here we will follow the evolution of the GOOD DESIGN AWARD by examining the historical events and social conditions that shaped this path. We will also examine other milestones that were passed by Japanese design and industry along the way, and take a look into the future, in five phases.
Phase One: The Age of Restoration
Reforming the Social Consciousness through Design
The G Mark System was officially established in 1957, but its origins date back to 1949. At this time the Treaty of San Francisco (1952) had not yet been signed, and Japan was still under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, more commonly referred to in Japan as GHQ (General Headquarters). During this year, GHQ received a protest from the United Kingdom, complaining that Japan was exporting textiles that misappropriated British designs. This led to the filing of numerous similar protests about copied textile designs from other developed nations like Germany and the United States, and the matter quickly developed into a diplomatic issue. In response to these complaints, the government revised their procedures for export inspections, as well as for the registration and authorization of designs for the export market. While these measures found some success, a movement soon started to build within the government and private sector that believed that regulation was not enough-that it was necessary to encourage and promote designs with originality in order to fundamentally deal with the issue of imitation products. As part of this movement, the Council of Design Promotion was formed within the Patent Office in 1956.
Around the same time, the United Kingdom, believing that design had much to contribute to the post-war economic recovery and trade development, set up the Council of Industrial Design in 1944. Its purpose was to select and highlight well-designed products. This idea soon spread to many other countries, including Japan. Interested individuals formed groups that collaborated with department stores, international exchange organizations and art museums to exhibit well-designed products to the public.
These two trends converged, and in 1957 the Special Section for Good Design was formed within the Council for Design Promotion, tasked with identifying examples of good design. The selection committee was chaired by the architect Junzo Sakakura and consisted of 42 experts, who soon set about selecting products. This was the moment when the GOOD DESIGN AWARD was born. At the time even the word "design" was not well known to the public, and it was hardly practiced by businesses. It was in such a climate that the selection committee members went out into the city in search of good design. This arduous process required significant labor and perseverance, but it was driven by a strong belief that design was necessary to develop the nation's industry and improve the life of its citizens.
At the same time, there was a burgeoning movement within domestic businesses to form in-house design departments. Matsushita Electric Industrial (present-day Panasonic Corporation) set up their first design department in 1951. Tokyo Shibaura Electric (present-day Toshiba) followed suit in 1953, and this movement soon expanded to many other businesses. It was against this backdrop of businesses gradually adopting the practice of design that in 1963, seven years after its foundation, the G Mark system shifted from a closed-selection model to a public-participation model. It no longer sought out products unilaterally, but allowed for an open submissions process. The G Mark system itself was gradually refined and adjusted by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (the current Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry), and from this time on, the early objective of "design to promote exports" came into clear focus.
At the time, Japanese export products acquired a market through a philosophy of "if the function is the same, aim for higher quality and lower price." Design as practiced by businesses came to concentrate less on the pursuit of originality than it did on proper craftsmanship and manufacturing. In response, the G Mark system's selection process introduced a quality inspection component in 1967, and it realigned its standards to place the emphasis on the total quality of a product, from concept through execution. As a result, the G Mark came to represent a standard of high quality product.
As far as the economic trends of the time, 1964 was the year that Japan-taking advantage of the opportunity afforded by the Tokyo Olympics-entered into a period of sustained and rapid growth driven by increased consumption. By this time the post-war national infrastructure was in place, and together with the wide circulation of cars, air conditioners and color TVs, sometimes referred to as the New Three Sacred Treasures (from mythological Three Sacred Treasures of Japan, a legendary sword, mirror and jewel brought to earth by the divine ancestor of the Japanese imperial line), transformed the country into an economic power. The trade balance, long in deficit, turned into a surplus.
Growth from the post-war reconstruction into an economic power, steps to prevent the imitation and copying of products, the introduction of design practice within the private sector, and the beginning of a systemized encouragement of good design-these factors made this era one of restoration, where Japan worked to reclaim the identity it had lost.
Phase Two: The Age of the Japan Original
Internationalization and The Japan Original that Focused on Spiritual Happiness
The 1970s saw progress, with an increased awareness of design among management, and recognition of the G Mark surpassing 65% among the public.
The Japan Institute of Design Promotion (JDP) was founded in 1969, as a comprehensive organization for the promotion of design. In 1970 they were granted exclusive license to the trademark rights of the G Mark by the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), and in 1974 were entrusted with the G Mark selection duties by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. From that point on, the JDP focused exclusively on the implementation of these tasks.
The Japanese economy was growing at a steady rate despite a temporary setback from the Oil Crisis, and growth in trade was bullish as well. As exemplified by the 1970 Osaka World's Expo, there was also a growing desire to contribute to global society. Economic and industrial policy, which until then had focused first and foremost on manufacturing and export trade, began to shift toward improving quality of life for the average citizen.
In the latter half of the 1970s, spiritual happiness came to be seen as more important than material prosperity. Instead of simply pursuing efficiency and ease-of-use in a time of plenty, the main theme of design became one of how to respond to the latent desire within the human heart to lead a full and enriching life. It was in this context that Sony released the Walkman in 1979 and the Profeel TV monitor in 1980, and that the Honda Motor Company released the City in 1981 and Civic in 1983. Many other products that had strong global appeal soon followed. Because of this shift of focus, it was an era that gave birth to many products befitting the title of the Japan Original.
In order to honor the cutting edge designs that led this era, the G Mark system introduced a grand prize for each category in 1977, and in 1980, an overall Good Design Grand Prize, awarded to the design that most symbolized that year. In 1975, applications were received from Braun of Germany and Phillips of the Netherlands, and the G Mark system gradually began to take on a more international color. Furthermore, the G Mark system redefined its goal as "Comprehensive Improvement in Quality of Life," and expanded its eligible products to all industrial goods in 1984. Many examples of good design were soon born within categories of consumer products such as home appliances, which not only raised the awareness of the average citizen toward the products they used, but also qualitatively enriched their lives.
At the same time, it was hard to say that the quality of the public environment in fields such as labor, medicine and education were keeping up with the progress in other areas. To address this, the G Mark system actively promoted design practice in these fields under the banner of "Comprehensive Improvement in Quality of Life." In addition to expanding the market by broadening what could be subject to design, this was an opportunity to spread knowledge of design methods-which until then had been accumulating within individual consumer products-into new areas. Experts from a wide variety of fields came to participate in the selection committees, and the G Mark system evolved into a more open structure.
Phase Three: The Era of Changing Values
Changing Values and a New Beginning for the GOOD DESIGN AWARD
By the 1980s, the Japan Original had swept the world and given rise to a significant trade imbalance, which brought with it some problems. Friction over the trade issue was particularly centered in the United States, and was known in Japan as "Japan-bashing." Meanwhile on the domestic side, real estate speculation led to an economic bubble that would eventually collapse in 1991. The collapse provided an opportunity to reevaluate the prevailing values, but it wasn't the only event that threw those values into question. The Great Hanshin Earthquake struck in 1995, and the destruction of numerous buildings and an elevated highway shocked many. This was also the year of the Tokyo Subway Sarin Attack. Like the Enron Scandal, the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, and the September 11th attacks of 2001 in the United States, these incidents raised questions about many of the things that people believed in, and created a collective sense that it was necessary to reassess society's priorities.
Around this time in the leading design nations of the West, new currents were forming in the field, such as those that sought to proactively engage with global environmental problems. 1997 saw the passage of the Kyoto Protocol, and words such as "ecology," "universal," and "sustainable," started to appear frequently within the design world. It was in this context that the G Mark system introduced three new special awards in 1997, that set out new objectives for Japanese design to tackle in order to remain internationally competitive. These were for Interaction Design (design in dialogue with its user), Universal Design (design that doesn't discriminate in how it's used) and Ecological Design (sustainable design that takes into account the environment). It was hoped that the establishment of these awards would lead to concrete progress toward these objectives.
The G Mark system itself also went through a reassessment. Its foundational goal of accelerating the introduction of design practice within industry had largely been achieved, and there was much discussion over what kind of role it should take on moving forward. As a result, against the backdrop of a general slimming down of the administration, the Good Design Product Selection System as sponsored by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry was ended in 1997, and relaunched as the privatized GOOD DESIGN AWARD under the sponsorship of the Japan Industrial Design Promotion Association.
Accompanying this change from "Selection" to "Award," the judging standards were dramatically revised to focus on assessing and commending a product's points of excellence. The organization's activities shifted toward the two-part goal of finding good design and then communicating it to society. As part of this reorientation, the screening hall in which the products were inspected and judged-until now closed to outsiders-was opened to the public once the judging had concluded. Furthermore, they sought to expand their conception of design, which until then had been limited to products; new categories were formed towards this purpose. The New Territory Design Category (1999) highlighted work that actively pushed the boundaries of the discipline, and the Communication Design Category (2001) awarded excellence in the design of information and media. As the values of society underwent a period of gradual change, the GOOD DESIGN AWARD was transformed to better reflect them.
Phase Four: The Era of Diversifying Values
The Evolution of Information and a New Stance for the GOOD DESIGN AWARD
The 2000s saw the rapid development of information and communication technology (ICT). From 2000 on, the rate of Internet adoption in Japan dramatically increased; 9.2% of the population had been online in 1997, and this grew to over 70% by 2005. The 8,670,000 mobile phone contracts that existed in 1996 grew roughly tenfold to 85,770,000 contracts by 2005. The development of ICT also unleashed waves of globalization within the business world.
In 2000, the GOOD DESIGN AWARD began accepting submissions through the Internet, and the number of applications from abroad started to increase. In response to these trends, the GOOD DESIGN AWARD began to highlight good design not just within Japan but also overseas, with a particular initial focus in Asia. Starting in 2003, the GOOD DESIGN AWARD ASEAN Design Selection was held over three years, honoring excellent design from the ASEAN member states. In 2008, they helped Thailand set up its Design Excellence Award. In addition to providing support, they exchanged judges and began engaging in other cooperation. Meanwhile in Europe, taking advantage of opportunity provided by the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the GOOD DESIGN AWARD, they exhibited at the Milano Salone in Italy. Due to its popularity, it returned a total of three times through 2009.
The rise of ICT ushered in more than just globalization. It enabled us to acquire information from a wide variety of sources, and made it possible for anyone to transmit information to the whole world. As a result, the voice of ordinary citizens started to exert a large influence-an ability that had previously been limited to the mass media-and it became possible to easily encounter new and different ways of thinking and living. This led to a diversification of social values. Within rapid globalization and diversifying values, the role of design was widely debated. This debate was waged within the GOOD DESIGN AWARD as well. The future role of design, and how the Award should orient itself in relation to this evolution, was the subject of many discussions within the organization.
In 2008, the GOOD DESIGN AWARD decided to make a change in direction. Up until this point they had been judging from an industry perspective, but from then on they would judge from the perspective of a consumer in the near future. This shift from a supply-side mentality to a demand-side one would entail major reforms, but the GOOD DESIGN AWARD took on the challenge. As a result, the composition of the Award was reassessed. The categories were changed from the previous department-based divisions to a new grouping into the four areas of Body, Life, Industry and Society. In addition, new awards were formed, such as the Sustainable Design Award (2008) and the Frontier Design Award (2009). Finally, the five concepts of Humanity, Essence, Innovation, Aesthetics, and Ethics were chosen as the themes that would form the fundamental principles of the GOOD DESIGN AWARD.
The development of ICT created great change, stimulating globalization, bringing about new ways of relating to information, and leading to a diversification of values. The GOOD DESIGN AWARD too underwent a big shift in perspective-from supply-side logic to demand-side logic-based on observing matters and their underlying relationships from the position of the consumer.
Phase Five: The Age of Sharing
What is Good Design Today?
The rapid development of ICT in the 2000s has only accelerated further in the years since, and now all sorts of things are being connected by networks. Globalization continues to gain speed and momentum. The GOOD DESIGN AWARD too has increased their international coordination. Building on their cooperation with Thailand on the formation of the Design Excellence Award in 2008, they lent their support to India's I Mark in 2012 and Singapore's SG Mark in 2014.
The advancement of social networking services and cloud technology has led to even further interconnectivity and information sharing. Through open-source development and the rise of fab labs and the personal fabrication movement, this current of digital information-sharing has evolved into sharing and cooperation in the physical world, and is becoming a driving force in society. Within the GOOD DESIGN AWARD, the question of how to build up structures of sharing and cooperation is a major subject of discussion. As part of engaging with this question, the "Interactive Hearing" was introduced in 2013, in which the applicants and the judging committee can directly share information with each other.
It was in this period of change that the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 struck. Much of what happened shattered long-held assumptions. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, many products disappeared from the shelves of supermarkets and convenience stores. Lights vanished from the nighttime landscape. Many who witnessed this situation found themselves asking, "What is it that we can do right now? What is truly necessary?" We believe this marked a major shift in values. The time has come for the GOOD DESIGN AWARD to once again rethink the question, "What is good design?"
The GOOD DESIGN AWARD has kept asking this question throughout its history, but now that another shift in values has occurred, a new answer is needed-a redefinition of good design, and of the GOOD DESIGN AWARD itself. As design has evolved in recent years, its role in society has also undergone major change. As we have gradually started to lose the physical things around us, intangible functions like services and systems have begun to manifest within our lives. In this changing landscape, design is taking on the role of an environmental medium through which people are able to fully sense and be aware of the conditions that surround them. From now on, we believe that there will be a growing need to think about the meaning of design from this perspective.