Naoto Fukasawa: Lessons for VR from the ultimate interaction designer

If you haven’t heard of Naoto Fukasawa, he’s a modernist product designer whose work is deeply rooted in the psychology of human interaction. His hyper human-centric design process transcends the world of products gaining relevancy beyond any specific genre of design. His work is purposeful, intentional, and created with a sense of humility that allows his products to work for the user and not the other way around.

How Naoto Fukasawa thinks and speaks about interaction design is especially relevant to designers who work or plan to work within the realm of augmented or virtual reality. Design for AR/VR falls into a space somewhere between the tangible nature of industrial design and the semi-tangible nature of digital user experience design. We must now not only consider the user’s interactions within the digital world, but also within the physical, and consider the thought process that led the user to initiate that interaction. How humans perceive and choose to react to the environment around them is something that Naoto Fukasawa is particularly skilled at. In fact, it’s that very idea that he bases his life’s work around.

“ The designer’s role is not only to create things but to create interaction or relationships between things, the environment, and people.” — Naoto Fukasawa

Naoto Fukasawa is a self-described “interaction designer.” Though he primarily designs static physical objects, it is the careful consideration to the context that objects are used that makes his work interactive. He draws on observed behavioral patterns and human psychology to predict how a user will behave in a certain context. Doing this allows him to place an affordance or design feature in the exact place that a user would naturally be looking for it.

An example of how an action executed “without thought” becomes a product feature.

His focus on tying together the research of human behavior and the stimulus that affords such behavior is something that is deeply applicable to achieving highly functional design within AR/VR applications. Being able to predict natural, perhaps instinctual, human behavior within AR and VR will help designers create interactions that require less explaining, and as a result, feel more natural to the user.

“I focus on your mind, not just the things I want to make. It is not about me … I would much prefer to read your mind or your body as an animal and how it behaves.” — Naoto Fukasawa

The basis of this, of course, is to be able to observe human behavior and to have the sensitivity to be able to recognize relevant behavioral patterns. But perhaps the biggest key to what makes Naoto so successful with interaction design is the scope of the behavior that he observes. The “magical” part of his products do not come from observing a user’s conscious decisions. It is always the subconscious behavior that he is looking and designing for that allows his products to have such an ethereal quality. Designing for subconscious behaviors also allows him to create less obtrusive solutions by being able to place features actually where it feels natural for a user to want them. This is something that Naoto calls, “design dissolving in behavior” and goes on to say, “ that design has to achieve an object “without thought.”

The more that we are able to achieve interaction “without thought,” the less our design will separate the user’s mind from the experience and the more immersed and empowered the user will become.

- Jean-Pierre Chery
HCI Designer