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Relationship between Social Changes and Design

Daikin Industries, Ltd. received a Good Design Award for its commercial air purifier “UV Powerful Streamer Air Purifier ACBF15Z-S.” In the process of developing the product, Aoi Saito and Kentaro Niki, the two designers leading the project, turned their gaze toward the social changes generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here they share their thoughts on the role of designers in the post-corona era.

Archetype for Product Development during COVID-19

Please tell us about the background, development aims, and product type.

With the revitalization of economic activities, measures against infectious diseases are in wide demand by the general public for large spaces, such as commercial spaces, where an unspecified number of people can gather. To meet the needs for infectious disease control and air purification in indoor public spaces, we designed this product to be powerful in purifying and disinfecting air in large spaces.

The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare established guidelines for commercial buildings and similar public spaces relating to the prevention of infectious diseases. To meet that standard, we equipped this model with a new UVC LED and an antibacterial HEPA filter and combined them with Streamer, which is our own unique discharge decomposition technology. Utilizing these three methods can suppress viruses and bacteria adhering to the dust collection filter by more than 99% in 30 minutes.

Not only did we work to upgrade the product itself, but we also adopted specifications to further instill confidence from the user’s perspective. The operation display features antibacterial properties, and consideration was given for safety. Customizable filters are available as an option, and there are five types of specialized deodorizing filters that disinfect and purify the air while eliminating a variety of unpleasant odors, including those from shoes in the shoe cabinet, pets, and the toilet.

Despite undergoing new product development incorporating significant model changes, development time for this product was astonishingly shorter than usual because of the modular design of its structural parts, and to ensure quick delivery to a wide range of customers, we made use of the automated production lines in Japan.

With the number of infected people rapidly increasing, we were especially driven to develop and launch the product in a speedy timeframe to help relieve the fear people felt when spending time in public spaces. This fast-moving development could only have been achieved through the cooperation of related departments including the Development Group, Production Engineering Department, Quality Control Department, and Sales Department. Making sure that overall progress in product development remains smooth is part of a designer’s job, so we have a deep appreciation for the manufacturing and development aspects along with the needs of the customer.

Elements Essential to Air Purifier Design

What were your thoughts on design and what were you uncompromising about?

Since it would be installed in public spaces, we tried from a design standpoint to create a square design that could blend in with interiors in such settings as luxury hotels and car dealerships. The flat panels make it easy to wipe off dirt and dust and maintain a clean exterior, which in turn inspires a sense of confidence. It’s built lower to the floor than conventional and competitor models. That makes it appear less conspicuous in terms of size and lowers the risk of tipping over.

Beyond its actual function as an air purifier, we believe that air purifiers have a role to play in conveying a feeling that "this space is clean." This means demonstrating to people that the air is getting cleaner. Having gone through the COVID-19 pandemic, I think people have become more conscious of indoor air quality and cleanliness. This is why we aimed for a design that communicates a sense of clean air.

That’s true. As a company that offers products handling air, we want to provide air that is healthy and safe. But even in our work to create safe public spaces, we are also conscious of the need to design products that harmonize with the existing indoor interiors since these interiors were designed to be aesthetically pleasing.

To complement interior designs and give a slimmer appearance, we made the front panel silver and the side grilles gray.

I feel that design is a job that goes back and forth between "insect eyes," "bird eyes," and "fisheyes" to make products better. In other words, we take a bird’s eye view overall while being aware of the trends, work out the details, and give our users better value. When we consider the product lifecycle, we must design with an eye to the future by taking account of global social events such as “With Corona” and SDGs. For this reason, we create designs that maintain a balance between universality and the circumstances of the times. It’s one of our responsibilities as designers.

I am also always conscious of that point. As an in-house designer for a manufacturer specializing in air, I strive to understand from both perspectives of the manufacturing realities and customer needs to create better products.

Future Aspirations for the Designers

The future from now may continue to be one of uncertainty and anxiety because of COVID-19. What do you think will be required of designers aiming for better indoor air quality and air environments?

We would like people to recognize that the air environment where this equipment is installed is safe and has a low risk of infection. Our hope is that the product will be used in a wide variety of air environments and contribute to the creation of spaces where people can have relaxed conversations and eat meals together with confidence.

We believe that the great value for installing this air purifier is the foundation that it builds for people in that air environment to spend time in comfort and tranquility, and we would like to continue providing that feeling of security and comfort. Through the layers of air, we hope to provide various experiences with our future products that enrich people's lives.

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