This article is the next in our series based on the Fast Company list of the 50 Most Innovative Companies. I want to take a step sideways and talk about the Japanese principle of Kawaii. Kawaii is the basis for Line, a Japanese company that fell into an entire line of products by accident – a great example of the reality that innovation is a combination of invention, implementation, and preparedness.
First, what is kawaii? Kawaii is that “cuteness” that has been popular in Japan for some time. The earliest examples that I can remember is Pikachu (from the Pokemon series) and Hello Kitty. Wikipedia has a decent summary.
Kawaii, “lovable”, “cute”, or “adorable” is the quality of cuteness in the context of Japanese culture. It has become a prominent aspect of Japanese popular culture, entertainment, clothing, food, toys, personal appearance, behavior, and mannerisms.
So now on to the story behind Line. They started out as a sticker app company. They created a series of kawaii stickers that have become a full form of communication. I bring it up here on EID because we saw what happened with SMS and texting. We now speak in LOLs and hashtags and so on. The communication medium has been translated into spoken and written language in standard and traditional media. Emoticons morphed into smileys which morphed into Emojis. They spread like a virus among the younger generations and find their way into general usage for the rest of us.
Line’s stickers take the visual language behind emoticons and Emojis to a higher level of semantic complexity. The stickers contain these kawaii characters engaged in some form of behavior like cooking dinner. They are now used in 2 billion messages each day. At first they merely supplemented texts to add a bit of emotion. But the user base ran with this idea and now can send Line stickers as a standalone communication. If I want to tell my friends that I am cooking dinner, I can just send that one sticker. Line helped out with this by allowing users to create their own sticker designs, which apparently 200,000 users have done.
And then it grew. Now, there is a trading economy in the stickers. Line is opening retail stores with their sticker characters made into all kinds of merchandise such as pens, kitchen utensils, jewelry, and of course toys. They are opening a virtual reality amusement park and have created an animated film.
And all they really did was make some “cute” characters. Do you have any? Amazing what really knowing your users can do. It could be worth $Billions
Image Credit: IhoraChi