BreakThrough Interview

Approaching a challenge reveals new valueUNIVERSAL SOUND DESIGN Inc.

<Series 2 (Total 2 series)>


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"Comuoon" is a communication support speaker that supports the hearing impaired by adjusting what is spoken rather than what is heard. However, no matter how great of a product is made, its true value cannot be demonstrated without communicating its value to the world. In the second part of the series, we will delve into how comuoon's value was spread throughout society in less than six years from its release.

Expand functions through collaboration with sites where issues and needs can be addressed

"Comuoon" has been lent to numerous medical institutions, nursing homes, NPOs, and citizen groups from the prototype stage, and has been continuously improved based on feedback from the field. A mobile version with a built-in battery was also developed in response to requests for portable use. In October 2019, Universal Sound Design plans to release a popular version that has been priced down by adding a cable.

"The challenges and needs are at the on-site level, and are not visible without moving together with the user. People with hearing loss who are affected by the issue are our development partner. We will give shape to their requests through repeated prototypes and verification. Anyone I tell about my plan for the next product are happy to cooperate."

In recent years, new uses such as using "comuoon" for aural rehabilitation have also spread.

"The ability to process the sounds you hear in your brain is apparently maintained by using the ability every day. On the other hand, international studies have shown that if hearing loss is neglected and the frequency of communication decreases, the brain atrophies and it becomes a risk factor for dementia. To prevent these situations from occurring, some nursing homes are now having hearing impaired residents use "comuoon" to try playing cards, making auditory care more fun.”

However, finding people who need auditory care is not easy. This is because many hearing-impaired people don't want others to know that they are hard of hearing.

"So in cooperation with the Tokyo Metropolitan Industrial Technology Research Institute, we developed an app ( = photo) to check your ability to hear words as if you were playing a game. Using this reveals who needs what kind of auditory care. We are also preparing to release it in November 2019."

Educate about problems solved by the product rather than the product itself

"Comuoon" is now used not only in medical and nursing facilities, but also in public facilities such as city halls, at bank counters, and in public prosecutor offices. This unparalleled product has probably been taken up by so many people partially because Mr. Nakaishi himself has been eagerly spreading information about the challenges of the "hearing wall."

"If you want people to adopt your product, you tend to start by describing the product. However, for essentially unparalleled products, it is more important to bring the associated issues to people's attention. Visualizing issues and letting them sink in deepen people's understanding for why the product is needed. Time and effort should be spent on this. The invisible "hearing" problem is particularly difficult for the general public to understand. In order to make the public aware of this issue, we have promoted the "Hearing Harassment Zero Promotion Project" in cooperation with an NPO organization. With the cooperation of the prominent film director, we are also producing video works for public understanding."

Since completing the "comuoon" prototype, there have been increasing opportunities to be featured on TV and in other media. Increasingly, university researchers have contacted Universal Sound Design to hear their story and asked them to give lectures on their research and products. In these situations, the company considers the best way to appeal to the interested party. With lectures, presentation content is arranged on that very day after seeing the reaction from the audience to the previous speaker.

"I think of presentations like a live performance. Droning on about a product resonates with no one. I think it's more important to find out what the audience in front of you is looking for and how to please it."

If you can leave some impression in their mind with your story, people will appear who want to research with you and who want your advice, and the circle of collaborators will grow. This circle of collaborators is also effective in terms of corroborating you in differentiating your product from similar products that appear. Therefore, Mr. Nakaishi eagerly learned about communication which he struggled with at a young age, and acquired the ability to communicate.


Create the product with people who need it

What should we keep in mind in order to gain awareness of societal issues in order to create new value such as with "comuoon"?

"It's completely normal, but I think it's necessary to be interested in everything and have various kinds of knowledge. It is important to delve into a single topic, but if you learn widely, at times the disparate strands of knowledge will link up. This leads to the discovery of unknown challenges and new value."

Lastly, when we asked for advice to SMEs that want to expand their products throughout the world, he answered as follows.

"I think it's difficult to accomplish if all you want is to do business. There is an approach to making products where you create a promising product taking into account the purchasing power of potential customers, but "can buy" and "want to buy" are two different things. It is important to offer something valuable that the buyer wants to buy, at a reasonable price. In order to do so, it is first necessary to gain insight into what challenges the world faces. Since all future customers will work together to solve societal issues, it's important to have a willingness to make genuine things together that are really needed."

Series "Approaching a challenge reveals new value"

Series 1:Proposing a new solution to the societal problem of hearing
Series 2:Approaching a challenge reveals new value

Company overview

Universal Sound Design Inc.

CEO Shinichiro Nakaishi

After graduating from the Architecture Department of Kumamoto YMCA College, Mr. Shinichiro Nakaishi was involved in building construction management. After attending the Digital Hollywood University, he helped launch corporate websites as a web director and project manager. In 2012 he founded the company together with his father. The company develops, manufactures, and sells the dialogue support speaker “comuoon” that supports hearing by adjusting what is spoken, and has developed various services that help solve the problem of hearing.

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