The Kyoto-based IoT startup mui Lab is designing UI/UX for all kinds of products by incorporating a unique Eastern perspective into "Calm Technology," originally written from the Western perspective

mui Lab, an IoT startup from Kyoto, Japan, designs UI/UX for all kinds of products by incorporating a unique Eastern perspective into "Calm Technology," originally written from the Western perspective.

How many digital devices do you own, including smartphones, computers, and smartwatches? According to a survey, as of 2020, there will be 30 billion devices globally for a population of 8 billion. This means that there are around four devices per person in the world. The design concept of Calm Technology is attracting attention as a solution to the ever- increasing complexity of the world due to digital overload. The Kyoto-based IoT startup mui Lab is designing UI/UX for all kinds of products by incorporating a unique Eastern perspective into "Calm Technology," originally written from the Western perspective. Today we had an online interview with mui's Creative Director Mr. Hirobe, CTO Mr. Sato, and PR manager Mrs. Moriguchi to introduce the philosophy of Calm Technology that mui Lab advocates, their product mui that is made from the Calm Technology philosophy, and the relationship between Calm Technology and sustainable living.


The mui Lab office in Kyoto

Ito: First of all, how do products designed with the concept of "Calm Technology" differ from today's products?

Sato: Products designed based on the concept of personal computing, such as computers, are designed to function on the premise that people will pay conscious attention to them. While this has the advantage of being able to optimize services for each user and the environment in which they use them, it also has the disadvantage of reducing the amount of time we have to spend on our "true human life" as we are surrounded by so many digital products and spend increasing amounts of time using them. On the other hand, products designed with the concept of Calm Technology are designed to function without people having to pay attention to them consciously. This way, allowing the user to become more aware of their surroundings and turn their attention to their loved ones sharing the space. In this way, we believe that even digital products can improve the lives of the people who used them. Compared to conventional digital products that are made to simply perform tasks quickly and accurately, our products differ in that we consider what the product aims to be for the user.


Amber Case, the author of the book Calm Technology, and members of  the mui Lab who supervised the Japanese translation and publication

You mentioned mui Lab incorporates Eastern cultural perspectives in your work. What kind of perspectives is that?

Hirobe: The basis of our way of thinking is Lao Tzu's concept of "Mui Shizen," which is also the origin of our company name. The word "Shizen (Nature)" in "Mui Shizen" is not the same as the English word "nature," but means what is natural or in a natural state as it is. According to this concept, we humans are part of a wild world, and we should live in harmony with nature. We agree with this idea and have incorporated this oriental perspective on nature and beauty into our design, advocating a design where people, nature, and technology are in harmony.


mui Lab aims to create a "tatazumai (佇まい)" where people, nature, and technology are in harmony.

Ito: So the smart home device, mui, was developed to embody this concept?

Hirobe: Yes. When you touch mui, it will display weather, news, icons for controlling connected devices, and messages from loved ones, and the displays will disappear into your living space when it isn't needed. By touching the device, it functions in response to a person's request, but it does not require a human to respond to that response. This is the form of design that we are aiming for, a product that does not interfere with communication between people.


A length of wood that blends in as part of the interior space when not in use.

Hirobe: In designing mui, we spent a lot of time selecting a material that would visually blend in with the interior of a house. We conducted user tests with various materials such as stone, glass, and fabric, and in the end, we were convinced that natural wood would be the best material to maximize the potential of mui, a platform where users access information by touching the device's surface; warm texture and tactile feel of wood, mystical atmosphere of light softly emitting through the wood. Our team visited the Hida forest and had discussions and exchanged opinions with people in the forestry industry, furniture craftsmen, and forest environmental activists to deepen our understanding of the material before starting to work with it.


The coldness of digital devices softened by wood.

Ito: A life where people, nature, and technology are in harmony is often described as "sustainable living." What is mui Lab's ideas on sustainable living?

Hirobe: We believe that "sustainable living" is a long-term effort that takes decades to create. A single product life cycle would be a much shorter one. We will promote products designed based on the idea of Calm Technology and contribute to the creation of a society where these products can be integrated into people's lives and become norms, allowing people to live their original human lives. We believe the resulting peaceful days where people, nature, and technology are in harmony continuing for years to come is the realization of "sustainable living."


A scene of mui Lab's camp experience in the Hida Forest.

Through the interview, I felt that "Calm Technology & Design" is the future to realize a peaceful society where people and nature are in harmony for decades and centuries to come. I was told that mui lab has already obtained a patent for their originally developed "operation display panel system" that allows information to appear on the surface of various materials other than wood and disappear when not needed. They are already working on new projects with several companies. We hope that new communication tools like "mui" will be used in a variety of places to enrich our lives.

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