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Universal Design

While promoting the development of “User-friendly products” that are easy and straightforward to use for as many people as possible, we also aim to contribute to “Social inclusion” through our products, fostering the relationships between individuals, and between individuals and society.
Kao also aims for barrier-free access to information, meeting the diverse needs of consumers everywhere.

2015 activities
In 2015, Kao introduced a dedicated Sign Language Communication Window for hearing-impaired customers.
We have also been using the ideas developed from customer feedback and from employee participation in Workshops for Promoting Empathy with Elderly People to make improvements to product containers and labeling.


With “Consumer Driven” the foundation of its Yoki-Monozukuri, Kao has consistently expanded business based not only on the superior fundamental performance characteristics of its products, but also on providing products that are “straightforward and easy for everyone to use.”
Recently, changes in demographic composition and lifestyles, such as an aging society and more men participating in housework and childrearing, are making the consumer target markets for Kao’s daily necessities and consumer goods more diverse. Reflecting this situation, our aim is for its products to be used by people in all age groups (from babies to senior citizens) in their daily lives, so that we can contribute to “Social inclusion,” playing a useful role in fostering the relationships between individuals, and between individuals and society.
Monozukuri (good workmanship) that takes into account people’s lifestyles and attitudes, and which instills products and services with consideration and care for the users, is at the heart of the Kao’s Guidelines of Universal Design (UD) approach: “User-friendly products,” “Creating joy through products,” and “Social inclusion.”
Ensuring fuller corporate sharing and diffusion of the Kao approach to UD among all Kao Group employees is very important from the perspective of Kao’s global business expansion, which involves providing products to people with different values and cultures.
To this end, within the framework provided by Kao’s Guidelines of Universal Design, the Universal Design Promotion Project (whose members comprise managers from related divisions across the company) plays a central role, with divisions sharing information about needs and comments expressed by Kao customers, and implementing various initiatives in response to these issues from a UD perspective on an ongoing basis.

Universal Design Promotion Project organization

Universal Design Promotion Project organization
Kao’s Guidelines of Universal Design
Kao’s Guidelines of Universal Design


Examples of product improvements reflecting consumer feedback

Case Study 1—Displaying fragrance strength gradations in fabric softener labeling
Over the last few years, particularly among younger consumers, fabric softener has come to be used not only for softening clothes, towels, etc., but also for making clothes smell nice. However, different consumers have different preferences as to how strong the fragrance that fabric softener leaves on washing should be, and as a result Kao has received many comments from consumers to the effect that “It would be nice to know how strong the fragrance is before buying the product,” “It did have ‘Strong fragrance’ written on it, but the warning wasn’t very noticeable,” and “I’ve been trying to find a softener with a milder fragrance, but I haven’t been able to find one.”
Kao tries to provide a comprehensive line-up of products with varying degrees of fragrance. In the past, the indication as to the strength of the product’s fragrance was noted on the Kao website, and also the words “Strong fragrance” were displayed on the back of both the regular bottles and the refill packaging of the fabric softener. Starting with the Humming brand that Kao launched in March 2015, a “Fragrance Strength Indicator” has been displayed on the back of both the regular bottles and the refill packaging, with the fragrance strength graded into one of five levels, in order to make it easier for consumers to choose the type of product they want in retail stores.

Regular bottle – Mild fragrance (example)

Refill packaging – Strong fragrance (example)

Case Study 2— Emulsion-type cosmetics that can be used up right to the last drop
Responding to consumers’ comments such as “With expensive cosmetics products, I want to be able to use every last drop” and “The emulsion tends to have high viscosity, so you can’t use all of it up, which seems a waste,” for the new ALBLANC Medicated Emulsion and SOFINA Lift Professional Essence that were launched in 2015, Kao adopted a new type of container that is easy to use and reduces the quantity of product that gets left in the container.
The container has an inner pouch which shrinks and pushes up the product as the remaining amount decreases, so that even emulsion-type essence of high viscosity can be used up. Kao has also adopted a new mechanism for the refill packaging, so that the pump portion of the container can be set easily. To facilitate the setting process, different colors are used for the inner and outer containers, to make it easier for users to distinguish between them.

The new easy-to-set container that allows every last drop of product to be pumped out

Case Study 3—Foaming Type Shampoo for kids
Kao has launched a new type of shampoo that produces foam, making it easy for even young children to wash their hair on their own. Children as young as 2 or 3 years old are actually capable of starting to learn how to wash their own hair.
However, many parents and guardians worry that if they let the child do it on their own, only the outer surface of the child’s hair may get washed, or the child may not rinse the shampoo off properly.
Merit Foaming Type Shampoo for Kids uses a pump that is easy for children to press. Shampoo foam flows out smoothly, so that the whole of the child’s head gets washed properly, getting rid of dirt and sweaty odors. The foam also dissipates smoothly, so that the hair can be rinsed off easily and quickly. The refill packaging has also been carefully designed to avoid confusion with existing Merit Shampoo products.
Refill bags labeling
Case Study 4—Adult diapers with enhanced “design” feel, including a wider range of colors and decorative patterns
Adult diapers tend to have a plain white design. Kao has received a variety of requests from adult diaper users and their family members such as “Because they are white, you can’t help being reminded of the fact that they are diapers, which is depressing; it would be good if they could be made in different colors, with different decorative designs,” and “If they came in decorative patterns I would feel happier about wearing them outside the house.”
Responding to these suggestions, since 2014 Kao has launched a series of limited-run “designer” adult diapers. These feature bright colors, and feel more natural to wear because they look more like underwear. Many customers have reported feeling more positive about wearing adult diapers as a result, commenting that “Having a decorative pattern on them makes you feel more natural wearing them,” and “I’m 70 years old, but I enjoy wearing them because of the attractive floral-printed design. I feel relaxed wearing them too.” Consumers have also commented that “I wish you would start to manufacture them as a regular product rather than just as a limited-edition product,” and “It would be good if you start selling them with larger quantities per package.”
Kao’s Relief Super Slim Pants (adult diapers) look just like regular underwear (Limited-edition design)
“Designer” models launched in April 2015
“Designer” models launched in October 2015


Realizing the Yoki-Monozukuri spirit through Workshops for Promoting Empathy with Elderly People

Examples of improvements made to
containers and labeling applying
what was learned at the workshops

Kao holds Workshops for Promoting Empathy with Elderly People to develop a better sense of how senior citizens actually live and get a new perspective on how improvements could be made, with the aim of realizing continuous improvement based on a Universal Design (UD) approach.
For each of these workshops, a rental studio based in a single-family home is used, and a dozen or so Kao employees make use of equipment that provides a virtual experience of being a person requiring Level 1 Nursing Care,* experiencing what it is like for such people to perform housework and other daily living activities, etc.
By performing home living activities over a period of half a day, Kao employees are able to develop a better understanding of what it is like being a senior citizen, including the physical constraints; by actually using the products, participants are able to notice issues of usability and accessibility that would not necessarily be picked up when examining the products in isolation.

In 2015, 11 workshops were held, with a total of 114 Kao employees taking part. In addition, two in-store workshops were held using actual retail outlets, with 27 Kao employees participating. In the future, Kao will continue to make improvements from a UD perspective in relation to dissemination of information about products, product purchasing, product use, and product disposal.

  • * Level 1 Nursing Care
    An individual who has gone from requiring support (someone who is able to handle basic activities of daily life (ADL) on their own, but who may require some assistance, or who may require support with instrumental ADLs as a way of preventing a need for full nursing care), to requiring partial nursing care due to a deterioration in the ability to handle instrumental ADLs.


Providing information to the visually impaired

Providing voice-based information

Kao offers information for everyday life in Home Life, a voice-based magazine published by the Japan Braille Library for its over 6,600 members. The three issues of Home Life that were published in 2015 (the February, May and September issues) provided useful lifestyle information based on Kao’s know-how and insight. The February issue included segments on body fat, lifestyle ideas relating to eco-friendly products and saving, anti-pollen methods, etc.; the May issue covered strategies for protecting yourself from UV radiation, and maintenance of bedding; the September issue included articles on dealing with the odor resulting from mild incontinence and sweat, tips for washing summer clothing and space-saving storage solutions.
The recorded information provided in Home Life is narrated by Kao employees.

A Kao employee narrates Home Life, providing lifestyle information in spoken format

Braille tools for product differentiation
To make it easier to identify different product containers with similar shapes, Kao has developed two types of Braille tools, one for household products and another for cosmetics, and is distributing them free of charge. They feature large-print black lettering on a white background, making them useful for older customers as well as the visually impaired.
For household products, we have stickers such as “BODY SOAP” to “SHAMPOO,” “CONDITIONER,” “MAKEUP REMOVER,” and “TOOTHPASTE” to help people distinguish between different products, and stickers such as “CHLORINE-BASED” to clarify product functionality, which help to prevent mistakes when using these products. For cosmetics, we also have Braille stickers which can be used by product types, usage conditions, as well as target problem area, color of lipsticks and other makeup, and additional characteristics.
The stickers are even more convenient and effective when used in various combinations.

Braille labels for use on household products

Product catalogue sites suitable for text-to-speech software
Pages in the online Product Catalog site introducing details such as product components, quantity to be used, and instructions for use, etc. now support the use of text-to-speech software, enabling customers to listen to the text, supplemented by descriptions of graphic-based contents.

Information showing the quantity of Kao EMAL laundry detergent to be used, optimized for text-to-speech software

Making effective use of visually impaired people’s suggestions to improve Kao products

In June 2015, at the request of disabled people’s associations in Hiroshima City, the hair care business group, R&D Division, and consumer communication centers of Kao Corporation and Kao Customer Marketing Co., Ltd. collaborated on the implementation of a hair care seminar for the visually impaired. Making use of demonstrations in which participants could touch and listen to things for themselves, and also using information provided in Braille format, the seminar was attended by 32 people, including 5 people working as guides for the visually impaired.
In a demonstration of a type of shampoo that minimizes friction damage caused by the hair getting tangled up, participants were able to check how smooth hair feels to the touch even during shampooing which is the most severe environment for hair. In another demonstration, participants had their own hair fixed in place in a paper cup so that they could rub it with their own fingers and evaluate how much damage the hairs had suffered. Whenever a scraping sound was heard, it provoked peals of laughter.
Because the visually impaired have few opportunities to try new products out by themselves, an explanation was provided of Kao’s UD strategy and some recommendations were offered as to suitable products. During the exchange of views, a number of suggestions were received which will help Kao to make improvements from a UD perspective, for example: “Is there some way to distinguish shampoo and conditioner refill packaging?”
Responding to those suggestions, the refill packaging for Kao’s Essential Shampoo that was launched in 2016 has had a notch added to the cap to facilitate recognition by touch. In the future, Kao will be making a proactive effort to take into account consumers’ suggestions as expressed at events such as this, so that we can further improve our products.

Checking how smooth hair feels to the touch after shampooing


Closed captioning television commercial

With the aging of the population, Japan is estimated to now have around 14 million hearing-impaired people (representing about 11.3% of the total population). As hearing tends to deteriorate with age, these figures can be expected to rise still further in the future.
Although digitalization has enabled closed captioning of most television programs, efforts to provide closed captions for commercials have proceeded more slowly. Closed captioning not only provides hearing-impaired viewers with information about products, it also enables them to share common topics with friends and family, keep up to date with the latest trends, and strengthen ties with society.
Kao has promoted the airing of closed captioning commercials in regular broadcasts since 2011. We have surveyed the hearing-impaired and their families, along with related organizations, incorporating their feedback into our research on ways to make closed captioning more effective at transmitting information; to date, around 900 commercials with closed captioning have been produced. We have shared the results and findings we have gained through these activities with government agencies, related organizations and other companies, and are working to help ensure that closed captioning commercials become more widely adopted.
In 2014, a “Closed Captioning Commercial Promotion Council” was established by a group of government agencies and related organizations, and began preparations for fully-fledged commercial broadcasting of closed captioning commercials in Japan.
Kao’s efforts in this area have received public recognition with the 64th “Radio Day” Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Award and with the presentation of a Consumer-oriented Activities Award at the First Annual ACAP Consumer-oriented Activities Awards organized by the Association of Consumer Affairs Professionals (ACAP) in 2015.
In the future, Kao will continue its efforts to promote closed captioning commercials, through collaboration with organizations in related sectors.

Opening of a dedicated consultation window for sign language users

In October 2015, Kao established a new Sign Language Communication Window for hearing-impaired customers who have difficulty making inquiries over the phone.
There are many hearing-impaired people who rely heavily on sign language as their main means of communication, and who have trouble accessing written information or communicating by e-mail. Kao’s new dedicated communication window is intended to make it easier for these people to select and use Kao products comfortably.
Using a remote sign language communication system (developed by ShuR) that connects the customer with a sign language specialist via Skype, the new communication window makes it possible for hearing-impaired customers to address queries (through the sign language specialist) to the inquiries offices of Kao, Nivea-Kao, and Kanebo Cosmetics.

A dedicated consultation window for sign language users


Implementing Universal Design lessons for elementary school children

While the concept of “barrier-free” access that embodies consideration for the disabled has already been incorporated into elementary school classes, Kao’s idea of “Universal Design that makes products easy for everyone to use” is currently not so widely diffused.
In 2013, Kao’s Consumer Communication Center launched Universal Design lessons for fourth-grade elementary school students as a joint project with Tokyo Gakugei University.
The content of these presentations involves helping children to get a better understanding of the significance of Kao’s approach to Universal Design (UD) by focusing on everyday objects that they are familiar with, such as shampoo bottles, and why shampoo bottles have notches in them; for Kao, as the company that originally developed the idea of having notches in shampoo bottles, the presentations constitute a marvelous opportunity to talk to children directly about the background to this idea, and about the fascinating secrets of its implementation.
In 2015, the Universal Design lessons were held at seven schools in Tokyo and Osaka, with around 800 schoolchildren taking part.

A smiling instructor talks to the schoolchildren

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