Faculty of Engineering


Research Highlights

The Benefits of Inconvenience: A New System Design Theory

At Kyoto University of Advanced Science, Professor Hiroshi Kawakami is studying a principle of systems design known as "the benefits of inconvenience,” a lens through which critical analysis can be performed on existing human-machine systems.  

As engineering creates better, richer living environments for humanity, some have concluded that we have arrived at the zenith of convenience. However, in recent years, scholars have come to notice that higher functionality and efficacy on the system side alone is not necessarily beneficial to the sum efficiency of human-machine systems. The question is, how to design devices and services that are useful for the system as a whole, including humans. In other words, what kind of relationship should be established between artificial systems and humanity? 

In the past, devices were meant to augment people. Now, devices have come to replace people. The relationship between devices and humanity is shifting from augmentation to replacement. For example, automobiles have thus far augmented the speed and capacity of human travel, but soon they will replace human travel itself. Is this the direction that engineering should take? Isn’t there a more desirable relationship with these technologies than that of replacement? 

Answering this question is one of the research themes in systems engineering, and one of the key phrases in this research is "the benefits of inconvenience." The benefits of inconvenience, such as the need for human physical and mental effort, are generally ignored as trivial. However, in the research field of human-machine systems, "human-centered design" is an important notion. Its aim is not automation in which the human element is reduced to zero, but is oriented toward expanding and deepening the significance of the human-machine interaction. Interaction involves human effort, which is typically avoided as an inconvenience, but human-centered design actively utilizes that human effort.   

In Japan, junior high school students are introduced to Dr. Kawakami’s “benefits of inconvenience” through their liberal arts course textbooks as a novel way of looking at everyday things. Dr. Kawakami has also published a book for younger readers called "Promoting the Benefits of Inconvenience" as well as another book on the subject for general readers. Dr. Kawakami’s publications also include specialized texts for designers and engineers, as well as collections of scholarly articles by himself and other researchers from various fields on the benefits of inconvenience. Several of these works have been translated from their original Japanese into Chinese.  

The Kawakami Lab is not a place where students learn how to make something, but what to make. It is a place where researchers work to learn what new contributions engineering can make to society. This involves the creation of new products, new business, and new development methodologies themselves. These methodologies are not just confined to the sort of "problem-solving" that is generally associated with engineering, nor is it limited to so-called "design thinking." Instead, new methods of ideation are being created in the Kawakami Lab, such as "value mining," which does not require the initial postulation of a problem, analogy-based “emergent” methodologies, and more.