National / Social Issues

Japanese firms revamping products and signs for clarity

by Tomohiro Oda

Kyodo

From signs and maps to product details such as the hands on alarm clocks, there is increasing attention to colors that all can read easily, particularly people with color vision deficiency.

The Color Universal Design concept aims to offer clarity for all. By rethinking how information is presented, the new designs can also benefit people who cannot read Japanese and individuals with poor eyesight.

In May, Ryohin Keikaku Co., operator of the popular Muji brand, marketed an improved version of its color-coded PET bottle identification ring tag product, changing the brightness of the colors to make them more easily distinguishable.

The redesign was made possible by a group of Muji designers and others, led by 32-year-old Hiroyuki Shiratori.

The rings fit underneath the pump of Muji refillable bottles to enable customers to color-code their bottles to distinguish their contents, such as between shampoo and body soap.

“The color tags were designed for the purpose of identification,” said Shiratori, who has studied color vision deficiency.

“I found out that the older-style rings had actually been inconvenient for users with color vision deficiency.” He said the discovery had left him feeling “ashamed.”

Muji’s alarm clock was also redesigned last fall, changing the color of the hand for setting the alarm time from the typical red to yellow. This helps people with color vision deficiency to distinguish it from the other hands.

Users have praised the new color scheme.

“We would like to make sure that things we use in daily life will become more user-friendly to more people,” Shiratori said.

Meanwhile, Color Universal Design is also finding its way into displays and signs at public facilities across Japan.

The Rissho Koseikai Kosei Hospital in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward conducted an overhaul of its in-house direction signs and displays in 2014. Grouped by department and area of the building, each location is identified by three elements: color, shape and letter. For example, the hospital staff will tell patients: “Please go to ‘A’ with the red circle.”

By also giving consideration to elements other from color, the new signs are believed to have made it easier for patients and visitors to navigate their way through the hospital’s complicated complex.

“The general public with ordinary color perception as well as the elderly are also adapting smoothly,” said Takashi Nikaido, the hospital’s deputy director.

Meanwhile in public transportation, a growing number of subway and railway companies have adopted a station numbering system, in which stations are represented on maps by letters and numbers.

Thanks to this decision, which was also borne out of consideration for those who struggle with color perception, signs and displays are very different nowadays compared with 15 years ago, when subway and train lines were typically presented by color and stations by name only.

Identifying stations by number instead helps to present complex subway and railway networks simply.

East Japan Railway Co. has announced it will introduce the numbering system at its stations in the Tokyo metropolitan area from October.

“We aim to create signage that is easy to understand for all users, not only for those who have trouble with color perception, but also foreign visitors, the number of which is expected to increase leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, as well as people who are not used to riding trains in the Tokyo metropolitan area, and others,” a JR East official said.