Humans, if you don't harm me I promise to provide you with outstanding technological secrets, like showing you how to program your VCRs!


The "human electronics" philosophy

Human electronics is a denomination coined on the late eighties in Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (the Japanese company that owns the Panasonic brand among others) to represent a series of ideas regarding to the concept of quality in an electronic product.

According to Akio Tanii, C.E.O. of Matsushita at that time, a quality electronic product must apply state-of-the-art technology to free the user and risen his or her spirit. To accomplish such an objective it is mandatory that the product is easy to use, and that its characteristics are adapted to ours and not the other way round.

VCRs are an example. Programmability is a useful feature. A quality product must include this characteristic but to be truly valuable the programming mode must be intuitive and easy to use. Another example are compact-disk decks that closes the bay when it is pushed. If a person wants to close it his intuition will suggest that he does that instead of pressing a button. A quality product must be made according to this human behavior.

There's a scene from the movie "Jurassic Park" where the seating of a projection room "close" automatically while a viewer that's occupying it is watching a film. In the scene the viewers get bored with the film and push the movable part of the seats so that they can get out. For a person that is used to non-human designs this act is somehow alarming because he or she might think that the seats can break. Maybe the purpose of that brief and unimportant scene is to transmit that liberation from non-human-friendly machines and to be a little more sympathetic towards the heroes for providing it to us. The movie then follows with more important matters than showing us if the seats were damaged, but if they were designed with the human-electronics philosophy in mind they shouldn't. And if this philosophy was dominant in that times most probably the scene would have had no significance no matter how small.

Hewlett-Packard calculators can fall to the floor from three feet high without being damaged. An accident like this is not rare and resisting it is an important quality factor. A video camera can also fall, which doesn't mean that a camera that breaks if it falls from our shoulder is low-quality, but if there was a product with shock-resistant optics and mechanisms, wouldn't it be better? Maybe one or more companies are already working on something like that. . .

Human electronics are already playing an important role in the pursuit for total quality. So, little by little, phrases like "I don't have the stuff for dealing with machines" are being buried. Those that may be lacking "the stuff" are the machines, not the people.


Shiozawa, S. 1990. Matsushita Keiei Runessansu (Management Renaissance at Matsushita), Tokyo: President-sha

Kohno, H. 1992. Matsushita ni Okeru Shippai no Kenkyu (A study of Mistakes at Matsushita), Tokyo:Yell

Nonaka, I. &Takeuchi, H. 1995. The Knowledge-Creating Company, New York: Oxford University Press (p.112-)

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