Kansei engineering – definition and meaning

Kansei engineering is an integrated manufacturing system and product development tool that strives to please consumers in two ways. It aims to please customers with the product’s aesthetical qualities as well as its performance. A product’s ‘aesthetical qualities’ refers to how it feels, looks, smells, etc.

We also call it Affective Engineering or simply Kansei.

If you integrate the consumer’s psychological feelings and needs into the product design, you are practicing Kansei engineering.

Kansei engineering – Prof. Nagamachi

Mitsuo Nagamachi, Professor Emeritus at Kure University, invented the Kansei engineering method in the 1970s. Kure University is now Hiroshima International University. He currently works at the Kansei Design Departement at Hiroshima International University

Prof. Nagamachi saw that companies frequently wanted to quantify consumers’ impressions of their goods or services. So, he decided to research developing products by taking into account customers’ emotions.

Kansei engineering became popular in Japan in the 1970s. It was not until the middle of the 1990s that it spread to North America and Western Europe.

Kansei Engineering
When developing current and new products, Kansei Engineers take into account how they make consumers feel.

How do consumers decide?

How do we distinguish between a Mac or PC, Kindle or Sony e-reader, an Android or an iPhone?

Most of us find it hard to distinguish between goods due to functional equivalency. We will, therefore, also base our decisions on subjective factors.

In other words, we do not only compare the technical pros and cons of different products. How products make us feel has a significant impact on our purchase decisions.

Kansei engineering links the consumer’s emotional responses to the properties and features of a good or service. Consequently, producers can design products to bring forward those feelings.

In his book ‘Innovations of Kansei Engineering,’ Prof. Nagamachi wrote:

“A powerful consumer-oriented technology for product development, Kansei or Affective engineering translates customer’s feelings into concrete product parameters.”

Kansei Engineering – examples

When consumers think about sports cars, the following adjectives come to mind, elegant, powerful, fast, and sporty.

However, which parameters influence these impressions? In other words, which parts of the sports car trigger thoughts of, for example, powerful?

Kansei engineering can show to what extent the vehicle’s suspension affects these impressions. It can also do the same with other parts of a sports car.

Furthermore, we can derive target values for certain parts of the vehicle.

Mazda engineers used Kansei in the development of its model Miata (MX 5 in Europe). Within ten years, the Miata became the world’s greatest-selling 2-seater sports car, according to The Guinness Book of Records.

Japanese underwear company Wacaol gathered Kansei data on one of its brassieres. They improved its design according to the data they had collected. Soon, that product achieved a 42% market share in the Japanese brassiere market.

Japanese business practices spread

During the 1960s and 1970s, many Japanese manufacturing and business methods emerged which later made their way to North America, Europe, and Australasia.

For example, Kaikaku, which means ‘radical change,’ focuses on making drastic changes to a company. Specifically, making changes all in one go.

Kaizen, on the other hand, focuses on changing things slowly, i.e., small steps over the long term.

Video – Kansei engineering: Mazda

This Compu 85 video shows us some Mazda adverts in the 1990s. The ads explain that Kansei Engineering is engineering that is based on human feelings.