10 Things that caught my eye in Japan

The things listed below are not aspiring to be exiting new insights. They are elements that stood out during our stay in Japan. Some are marketing or usability related, some are public nudges and some are just efficient.

1. Call To Actions

Adverts and billboards show search terms (and a search icon) as a Call To Action in order to find the company, not a URL (www.example.co.jp).

8The Search Bar in the left-bottom corner
The Search Bar on the right side (middle)
A billboard near Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo

2. Governmental Communication

When an earthquake is imminent, everyone simultaneously receives an Early Warning message on their cellphone. Imagine all the phones in your train car going off collectively. I assure you, this is a very effective way to make sure everyone knows something is happening.

Message received during an earthquake (luckily we had Google Translate)
Information Flow (Image: Japan Meteorological Agency)
Image Source: http://goo.gl/IHm8sU

3. Japanese Keyboard

The Japanese keyboard on a smartphone doesn’t provide the same luxury upgrade as it did when we switched to an (Azerty or Qwerty) smartphone keyboard in the West. The Japanese languages has a lot more characters than Roman or Germanic languages. The Kana keyboard on a smartphone (e.g. on your iPhone) therefor still uses a 10-key keypad today. And in order to sift through stacks of ‘characters’ you have to repeatedly tap the same key. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Maybe that’s the reason Flip Phones are still so popular in Japan?

The Japanese Kana 10-key Keyboard on an iPhone, the same as an old-school keyboard
The 10-key Keyboard on a Japanese Flip Phone — Gratina 2 (2015)

4. Webdesign

Apparently, Japan was using its version of the mobile web (stripped down format) on those advanced flip phones mentioned above long before the iPhone came along and even more importantly before everyone had a personal computer. This peculiar mobile legacy is still visible today as a lot of website are very text heavy (and have a white background). In contrast to what you might expect from a modern society, this legacy also means that a lot of the websites are not responsive or even use web-fonts (read more on Japanese design here: http://goo.gl/BExB0f).

Mobile website of a Kyoto based Sushi Restaurant

5. Taking directions to the next level

Not a major discovery, but a feature of Google Maps that isn’t commonly seen in Belgium for lack of tall buildings. Google Maps shows you the specific floor your destination is located on.

The Thea House we were looking for was situated on the 10th floor of this building

6. Parking

In Japan almost everyone backs into a parking space rather than pulling into it head-on.

A Sushi Restaurant parking lot in Nara

7. Ordering food

Using a tablet in a restaurant has completely lost its novelty here and is actually really convenient way of ordering food.

Ordering Sushi

8. Branding

Almost every self-respecting local government or commercial brand has a custom made cute (or in Japanese: Kawaii) ‘Mascot’. It seems as important as a company logo.

Brand of strawberries — A beverage — The city of Kyoto

9. Public Transport Efficiency

Besides the obvious miracle of all public transportation being on time (and I mean ‘on the dot’ on time), there are other elements that may be helpful. Everyone stands in line to get on the metro. They wait for everyone to get off first, politely waiting for their turn, before entering the car. O, and you get on a bus in the back and off in the front (where you pay). This makes for only one efficient direction in the flow of people on the bus.

Gotanda Station, Tokyo
How to take the bus in Kyoto

10. Nudge

A lot of public spaces use motivational nudges, they show the amount of calories you burn when taking the stairs for example.

Gotanda Station, Tokyo

10. +1 Show don’t Tell

Vending machines display the actual soda cans. Lights indicate what you can buy when you insert a certain amount of coins (Yeeen).

Nishioi, Tokyo