Kansei Engineering: affection + emotion into design

Posted on 31 Oct 2008 by The Manufacturer

LearnSigma blogger and Six Sigma black-belt Rob Thompson offers an insight into Kansei Engineering including the process behind it and to what it can be applied. He also provides a case study on Mazda from the QFD Institute

Kansei is a Japanese term where the syllable kan means sensitivity and sei means sensibility, together it addresses the psychological feeling or image of a product. It is used to express the quality of an object for producing pleasure through its use taking into account subjective issues (emotion, affect, perceptions, sensations…) in user experience. It is sometimes referred to as “sensory engineering” or even “emotional usability.”

The method was invented in the 1970s by Professor Mitsuo Nagamachi (Dean of Hiroshima International University). He recognized that companies often want to assess the customer’s impression of their products. Kansei Engineering can “measure” the feelings and shows the relationship to certain product properties. Consequently, products can be designed to incorporate the intended feeling. But, which parameters influence these impressions? Kansei Engineering can show to what extent factors have an effect on these impressions. Moreover, target values can be derived.

The word of Kansei engineering was used for the first time in America by Mazda motor company. The Kansei engineering began with sensory or sensitivity engineering at the starting point. However, current Kansei engineering is the trans-disciplinary engineering that extends over the humanities, social science and natural science. Kansei engineering has a purpose, a structure and a function. Namely, the purpose is realization of rich society, the structure is a network of social elements joined with pipes each other and the function is the mutual recognition between elements and the formation of interrelationship.

Using the process
The process starts with a set of products sufficiently diverse to provoke a wide range of different emotional responses. These subjective responses can be assessed using sets of bipolar attribute rating scales. A typical bipolar attribute rating scale uses a pair of opposed terms, such as simple vs. complex or enticing vs. repulsive, placed on a continuum represented as a line. Participants are asked to place a mark on that line to indicate where they think a product falls relative to the two attributes in question.

Each product is rated on each attribute scale, and these ratings are statistically compared to provide a distribution of products across the different rating criteria. Analyzing all products rated highly on a particular characteristic allows you to draw conclusions about which perceptual elements are responsible for eliciting this subjective judgment.

What can I apply it to?
Any product that is intended to communicate a specific user experience by means of visual, auditory, or tactile features. For best effect, Kansei engineering must be applied at a point in the development cycle where sufficient flexibility exists to make decisions concerning the visual, auditory or tactile format of the product. Kansei engineering has been applied with great success in the automotive industry (the Mazda Miata being a notable example) and is being extended to other product domains including consumer products and software systems.

<a href="http://www.qfdi.org/lifestyle_qfd_and_kanseiengineering_miata.htm"Case study from QFD Institute.

“Mazda learned of Kansei Engineering from the project team members who frequented the ergonomics laboratory at Hiroshima University where Kansei Engineering research began some 30 years ago.When the car manufacturer decided to develop a brand new sports car with the young adult market in mind, the project team followed the Kansei Engineering processes and began by video taping as well as taking pictures of young drivers maneuvering, steering, and controlling cars. This is based on the psychological observation that human feelings often reveal themselves in people’s attitude and behavior.

Based on the video recording and pictures, the project team extracted young drivers’ behaviors, Mazda Miata sports car, an example of Kansei Engineering productsdescribing each behavior on a card, assigning a keyword to it, and then grouping the cards in a tree structure. Some of the similarities identified in this process were transformed into the design specifications that became physical characteristics.

For instance, one card said “my own way of controlling” – a typical feeling expressed by young drivers. This Kansei was examined in an ergonomic experiment in which subjects (young drivers) were asked to evaluate which length of a shift lever best fit this Kansei feeling. Using a 10-point scale, Mazda subjects concluded 9.5 cm as the best fit for “my own way of controlling.”

For the feeling of “runs fast,” it was determined that the engine response time was the most important factor that embodied this Kansei. This meant the timing of combustion following the push of the accelerator must be as short as possible. This led to a redesign of the engine.

The Kansei process also uncovered young drivers’ love for a particular sound of engine thrust. For this requirement, Mazda’s project team made a computer simulation of the engine sound and conducted an evaluation of “thrust sound”. They found that the low frequency sound with odd cycle combustion noise had a very close relationship with this Kansei. This finding led to the development of an exhaust pipe fitting that produced this engine characteristic. Finally, the new sports car was named “Miata”.

By Rob Thompson of LearnSigma.

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