Shinji Sudo strives to be an agent of change in the world. As founder and director of the People Design Institute in Japan, Sudo helped pioneer the concept of “People Design” – a creative method and philosophy that aims to eliminate the societal barriers and (emotional) stigma associated with persons with disabilities and other minorities. Through various social initiatives in fashion, sports, entertainment and the like, the Institute, together with Sudo’s non-profit organization NexTidEvolution, aspires to create a culture of diversity on a global scale.
“People Design is understood as ‘barrier-free in each mind, creatively’,” Sudo says. “We make solutions creatively, without stigma. We make people think with empathy, to not view minorities as a social cost.”
A personal stake
Sudo’s decision to work with the marginalized stems from personal reasons. After obtaining his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from Meiji Gakuin University in 1986, he went on to work for Marui Co., Ltd., one of the largest retail companies in Japan. During this time, his second son Kazu was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
“It felt so strange to be around people with a huge amount of stigma against those with disabilities,” Sudo admits. “This was the starting point for me to know the situation around disabilities, to know the situation around minorities and the welfare system.”
In 2000, Sudo left the company to establish his own marketing consultancy firm Fujiyama Store and launched NexTidEvolution two years later. Over the next fourteen years, he continued to refine and expand the People Design philosophy to include other minorities such as the elderly, sexual minorities and foreign nationals. In 2011, Sudo founded the People Design Institute as a non-governmental organization, working together with both the public and private sector to promote what he calls “Diversity Culture”.
Designing for diversity
“It’s just like in nature,” Sudo explains. “There are many differences in the mountain but nature is sustainable in itself. In the human race, we have to make a new culture of real diversity. This is so important for our future and for sustainability. In making this culture, we use design.”
That being said, Sudo only considers design as a means to an end. “We believe that the design is not the purpose,” Sudo claims. “It is just a tool, like luggage or a cellphone. When we try to establish Diversity Culture, we like to use design because design makes something visible. It’s a strong weapon.”
As a Design United Research Fellow, Sudo continues to share his knowledge, methods and ideology with students and researchers at Delft University of Technology through various lectures and research initiatives. His goal is to educate the next generation on the urgent need to build a more diverse society, advocating a holistic approach to design that is mutually beneficial to all stakeholders involved.
“When we think about a solution, we need to think about the economy as a whole. Our designs have to benefit each sector – government, businesses, universities and all citizens. If our designs can create happiness, they create benefits.”