Research lab’s experiential design

Dentsu served as the design consultant for an exhibit by Sumitomo Forestry Co., Ltd.’s Tsukuba Research Institute at the Material Design Exhibition 2019,*1 an event that showcased new benefits offered by materials and technologies.

The Sumitomo Forestry Group has been doing business as an expert in forests and trees for over 300 years, and the Tsukuba Research Institute draws on that expertise and know-how to explore new possibilities for using wood. Dentsu worked together with the institute to create a highly original experiential installation for the exhibition.

  1. The Material Design Exhibition has been held annually since 2015 by Material ConneXion Tokyo. Bringing together companies and designers, the event showcases new benefits of materials and technologies.

Benefits not just products

The Tsukuba Research Institute primarily focuses on finding beneficial and effective ways of using wood. Developing such applications, having people experience how wood is useful for their lives and communities, and showing how trees and forests are an integral part of the global environment are the institute’s overarching goals.

Generally, most of the requests that Dentsu receives for consulting come from companies that want to promote their products. In this case, however, rather than showcasing products, the Tsukuba Research Institute wanted to visually display and clearly explain its research results and the benefits of materials.

The question was how to create an exhibition space that would convey the institute’s pursuit of developing beneficial and effective ways of using wood. The answer lay in transforming the institute’s research results into a spatial design.

Dentsu Design Firm’s approach

Put in charge of this mission was Dentsu Design Firm, which had been set up in December 2018 as an interdepartmental organization within Dentsu Inc. It provides services spanning from strategic planning and product design through to communication design and sales support.

Conceptually, Dentsu Design Firm considers how to present a product from the time it is produced, and creates a work in reverse order from the product’s presentation. It not only develops products, but also helps clients grow their businesses through the development process.

The project team comprised Mihoko Hotta, a product designer, Masahito Nakagawa, who handled the copywriting, and Namie Osaki, who studied architecture at university. Combining their creativity and skills, the team managed everything from formulating a concept for the exhibit to creating the user experience design, planning the exhibit space, designing the products, and naming the exhibition.

Experiencing wood

The project team members met with representatives from Sumitomo Forestry’s Tsukuba Research Institute and discussed its research on effective ways of using wood, particularly its relaxing effect.

The institute wanted visitors of its exhibit to directly experience the warmth that comes with the feel of wood and wood grain texture, and the calm that comes with wood’s aroma. Those ideas became the main concepts of the user experience.

The installation set up in the exhibition hall included three cylinders of different sizes and shapes. The interiors of each were lined with natural wood panels made of cedar, Japanese cypress, and oak, respectively. Visitors could enter the cylinders, which allowed them to not only see the wood, but also to touch and smell it, while listening to forest sounds (recorded in a forest managed by Sumitomo Forestry) and experiencing the relaxing effects.

Since the cylinders were designed to create the experience of being inside a tree in a forest, the exhibit was named FORESTARIUM, a coined word combining “forest” with “arium,” a suffix used for an enclosed space, such as an aquarium or planetarium.

Integrating research

The FORESTARIUM not only allowed visitors to experience the exhibit, but it was designed to integrate research activities. A system was set up to enable the institute to monitor the emotional responses of visitors as they experienced the effects of wood in the cylinders.

As they developed a user experience based on data collection, the team and the institute created this novel concept of integrating research in an installation inside an exhibition space.

For the research, sensory analyzers*2 were used to collect brain wave data from visitors who entered the cylinders and to measure how the wood affected them.

Based on the brain activity, the researchers could analyze and evaluate emotional and latent responses, which are difficult to obtain using conventional questionnaires. They found that the stress levels of visitors decreased during the time they were inside the cylinders.

Another fascinating result is that, when visitors who are highly involved with wood in their daily life or work touched the wood in the cylinders, high levels of “liking” were detected. Interestingly, while the cylinders had been developed only for this project, numerous visitors enthusiastically expressed a desire to have one of the cylinders at home or in their workplace.

*2 The sensory analyzer was developed by Dentsu ScienceJam Inc. as a simple measurement tool for evaluating five emotional responses to a stimulus: interest in, liking of, stress from, concentration on, and immersion in that which is providing the stimulus.
The measurements are based on readings that are recorded of brain electrical activity using electroencephalographic?generally referred to simply as EEG?technology. Use of the sensory analyzer allowed visitors’ responses to the wood in the installation to be collected as brain wave data. Researchers were then able to analyze and evaluate the visitors’ emotional and latent responses, which are difficult to obtain from conventional questionnaires.

New image for research institutes?

The client in this project was a research institute that rarely engages in public relations. Although research institutes do not have an image of being involved in business activities or corporate communications, it is precisely through their study and development of products and services that they have great potential in terms of corporate business and communications.

The Company’s project members believe that this is one of the endeavors that research institutes should pursue in the future. The Company is committed to offering assistance to research institutes so that, together, they can create and promote new things.

Material Design Exhibition Photo/Kenji Kagawa

The project team members:Hotta / Nakagawa / Osaki

Related Links


Hotta / Nakagawa /Osaki (Dentsu)