Fill the World with Emotions through the Power of Creativity and Technology
Everyone knows Sony. From the classic products such as the Walkman and digital cameras to the innovative products such as smartphones and PlayStation, people often use and see Sony’s 3C electronic products in their daily work and life.
What people find impressive and attractive about products is not only the various black technologies they contain but also their stylish, unique and innovative design. In fact, as a long-established multinational consumer electronics manufacturer, Sony always attaches great importance to the role and value of design. Sony established its Creative Center in 1961, which made Sony one of the first companies to create an in-house creative studio.
Over the years, Sony Design has forged its reputation as a topnotch global design team. In the freshly released iF DESIGN AWARD 2020, Sony’s work captured 3 of the 75 iF DESIGN AWARDS Gold, which represent the highest echelon of the iF DESIGN AWARD 2020, confirming its great design quality once again. Sony Founder Akio Morita once said, “The market is not to follow, but to create.” Over the years, Sony Creative Center has been adhering to the design vision of “Create New Standards” and the design philosophy of “Visionary, Integrity, Empathy.” With the power of design, Sony Creative Center continues to create new products that impress and exceed people’s expectations as they create a more comfortable and beautiful life for the public while inspiring people to surpass themselves constantly.
iF DESIGN AWARD GOLD-WINNING DESIGNS 2020
Today, Sony Creative Center has 5 offices in Tokyo, London, Singapore, Lund (Sweden), and Shanghai, and their value and contribution have expanded beyond purely product design, with a growing business portfolio in new domains such as medical, financial, education, entertainment, and mobility. As the design department for this famed multinational corporation, how does Sony Creative Center go about producing Sony design? How does Sony Creative Center cooperate with the R&D Department? How have they been creating the popular “Sony Characters” over the years?... With these questions in mind, this issue of Package & Design conducted an exclusive interview with Mr. Yutaka Hasegawa, VP and Head of Creative Center, Sony Corporation, and selected some exceptional design works of Sony.
Vice President and Head of Sony Creative Center
Interview conducted by Package & Design Magazine
Congratulations on Sony’s 3 projects’ winning iF DESIGN AWARD 2020 Gold. In your opinion, do these three projects (Ginza Sony Park, toio™, and SA-Z1) from different design disciplines share the same creative ideas of Sony?
Y.H.: The Ginza Sony Park, toio™, and SA-Z1 projects were from different disciplines, yes, but they all featured designs that aligned with the same Sony Design philosophy: “Create New Standards.”
"Through the power of design, we envision new paradigms, give meaning to ideas, and engage globally – a process that resonates with a diversity of values, bringing new standards into being."
About Sony Design
We know that these iF award-winning works were all designed and developed by Sony and that Sony Creative Center has design offices globally. Could you please introduce them?
Y.H.: Sony has always been at the forefront of design and become one of the first companies to create an in-house creative studio. Since its inception in 1961, Sony Design has forged its reputation as a leading and award-winning global design team. Today the value and contribution has expanded beyond purely product design, with a growing business portfolio in new domains such as medical, financial, education, entertainment and mobility. There are five offices located in Tokyo, London, Singapore, Lund (Sweden) and Shanghai.
How do you manage the whole of Sony Design? How do you ensure that every group maintain high Sonystandards for their work?
Y.H.: We use the “Design Shingi” approach to take our design quality to the next level. It’s something that helps all of our designers, including our designers abroad, progress through the many different facets of our work. From examining design concepts, working on mockups, all the way to navigating final design approval, our Design Shingi conferences bring groups of designers – with experienced veterans in the mix at every gathering – together for presentations and discussions. Drawing on the feedback the meetings generate, designers can then make adjustments and enhance their work. Not only does the process create pathways to better design quality, but it also helps keep the “Sony character” alive and well.
Is Sony Creative Center a strategic core unit of Sony Group? What’s the role of design in Sony?
Y.H.: The Creative Center operates under the Sony’s head quarters, serving a cross-functional role that spans the spectrum of the Sony Group: products, devices, entertainment, finance, and everything in between. When you look at the kind of contributions we make, I think you can condense things down to three key components: creating compelling product designs and forging new standards to benefit Sony’s business; crafting stories, communicating narratives, and building engaging worldviews to benefit the Sony brand; and sparking new business and new experiences to create new value.
This is a truly wireless headphones, featuring industry-leading(*) noise cancellation and high-quality sound technology all in a wearable, compact housing. The design aims to express a sense of silence that can be perceived visually.
(*As of June 1st 2019. According to research by Sony Corporation, measured using JEITA-compliant guidelines in Truly Wireless style noise cancelling headphones market.)
The new Xperia 1 was made with the advanced technology from Sony’s professional monitors, cameras and audio devices, to deliver creative image-taking experiences and visual expressions that are exactly as the creators envisioned. It features the 21:9 CinemaWide™ 4K HDR OLED display and a pro-quality triple lens camera. The width of the bezel was minimized to accentuate the screen and make video more immersive, without adding noise elements such as notches or camera holes that would interfere with the viewing experience.
Targeting cinematographers who record video, this image capture function is for filming movies via smartphone. Researching the workflow at movie filming sites down to the finer details, Sony has recreated the UX from its VENICE cinema camera for smartphones. Users can switch between the three cameras within the Xperia unit and use the phone’s master monitor quality 4K OLED display to view videos they have recorded. Cinema Pro makes 4K HDR video recording a breeze.
Sony Design Philosophy
The core philosophy of Sony Design is to create new value standards based on “Visionary, Integrity, and Empathy.” Could you please elaborate on the design philosophy?
Y.H.: Through the power of design, we envision new paradigms, give meaning to ideas, and engage globally – a process that resonates with a diversity of values, bringing new standards into being. As we continue to explore the limitless possibilities of design, we will work to create new value standards with people across the globe. - Visionary: We design conceptual visions, embracing our curiosity and imagination to “do what has never been done before.” - Integrity: We design with integrity, tackling every project with a sincere commitment and relentless attention to refining our ideas into a distinct essence. - Empathy: We design with empathy, appealing to human emotions with a deep understanding of significant social contexts.
Over the years, has Sony Creative Center been committed to forming a consistent “Sony image” or “Sony character” for all Sony products and services, so that consumers can distinguish it from competitive products at a glance?
Y.H.: I think that consistent “Sony character” is a natural product of our basic approach: every Sony designer creates designs in line with our design philosophy, which I mentioned earlier, and goes through the “Design Shingi” process. That’s what gives our work that distinctively “Sony quality”.
CineAlta VENICE (MPC-3610)
This digital movie camera packs a 36 x 24-mm full-frame CMOS image sensor into a compact body. To deliver optimal performance for team-shoot approaches to large-scale film projects, the camera features control panels on both sides with simple layouts that give all users just what they need. The unit’s full-metal body provides the durability it takes to film in trying environments. Its compact design is perfect for drone shoots and such, and its modular structure delivers flexibility. Offering a versatile tool for efficient operations, the VENICE lets creators pour themselves into their work and explore exciting horizons in visual expression.
The RX100 model that went on the market in 2012 combined a 1.0"-type CMOS sensor with a Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T lens to deliver picture quality that rivaled interchangeable lens cameras. Since that time, successive models (RX100M2 through RX100M7) have kept the design as-is while catering to user needs with various additional features such as a pop-up viewfinder and 24-200mm zoom lens. These models are all concurrently available on the market. Maintaining the same design and building it out into a series of high-performance successors has created brand value out of the product design itself.
Featuring the world’s first full-frame (35-mm) stacked sensor with built-in memory, the α9 is a professional-grade mirrorless SLR that takes high-speed performance into a new dimension. In addition to snapping continuous shots with AF/AE tracking at 20 fps, the camera also eliminates viewfinder blackout. All that functionality comes in a small, lightweight package, giving professional photographers the operability and reliability they need in a convenient setup. Big SLRs used to be the norm in field photography—but the α9, with its range and expressive potential, redefines that assumption.
Cooperation with R&D Department
How do the Sony Creative Center cooperate with the R&D Department? What processes do Sony designers get involved in the product development process?
Y.H.: Designers often get involved in projects right away, sometimes as early as the product-planning and conceptdevelopment phases, and also collaborate with the R&D division on efforts like UX design development. The scope of design covers upstream tasks and everything onward from there, from design research, UX design development, product design development, and product communication all the way to customer touchpoints.
It is said that Sony Creative Center used to have a ID-HI-GR (Industrial Design - Human Interface Design - Graphic Design) developing process, but now Sony carries out ID, HI, and GR simultaneously. Sometimes the engineers work based on the design proposal. Could you talk about the reasons and advantages of doing it this way? If the designers and engineers conflict, which of the two would ususally compromise? Is the final decision on design usually determined by Sony Creative Center?
Y.H.: At Sony, designers and engineers in every field – ID, UI, UX, and CD – are constantly working together to give shape to ideas. The discussions aren’t always smooth, of course; at times, things can get animated and intense. But that’s the dynamic that’s made a lot of new breakthroughs happen. Sony designers and engineers have the opportunity to make each other better, which is a big part of the reason Sony’s so good at creating better products and value.
Sony’s “Design Vision” Project
It is said that Sony Creative Center has a “Design Vision” project. What kind of project is it? How do Sony designers participate?
Y.H.: The Creative Center serves as Sony’s hub for innovation, and we want to continue to create new value. In order to do that, it’s important to anticipate how the world is going to change. “Design Vision” is a research project that looks into the latest social trends, attitudes, and values, and it predicts where we’re going to go in the future. Our designers run the “Design Vision” research project. Over the course of this yearly research project, our designers travel around the world, set off on field studies from a broad range of perspectives to get firsthand insights into how people and societies are changing. Then, it’s time to work the findings into actionable resources. The designers compile their findings into reports about what these trends mean for Sony. These reports provide an orientation for directing their future design endeavors. More than just guiding design, the reports also help establish a shared awareness with key leaders in the product-planning and product-design stages. The process is instrumental in creating new products and breathing life into new value. By doing this, we can create new value, and this is important for Sony in an era where the societal value of corporations is being questioned.
About the BRAVIA® A1 Series
This series of 4K HDR OLED TVs delivers the ultimate viewing experience through OLED technology, which enables sound technology that generates audio via screen vibrations. By integrating the audio and video components, the A1 Series display not only creates an immersive viewing experience but also achieves a minimal, “one-slate” design. The unit also houses the substrate and terminals in the rear support slate, accenting the slim profile of the display. With a fusion of spatial comfort and incredible viewing experiences, the BRAVIA A1 Series elevates the TV concept into the artistic realm.
So could you talk about how the “Design Vision” research plan was carried out in 2019? In addition to New York and Detroit in North America, Sony’s design team also visited several cities in Europe, the Middle East, and China. Could you talk about the findings in each of the different markets?
Y.H.: In 2019, we conducted research in 18 cities across a total of five regions: North America, Europe, China, the Middle East, and Japan. In these cities, we tried out cutting-edge services, visited inspiring exhibitions and events, and conducted nearly 70 interviews with experts. We visited six cities in North America. In addition to making the standard visits to New York and San Francisco, we also visited Detroit, a city moving towards recovery after the collapse of its economy, as well as Portland, a hub for creative people and companies. We also visited Virginia Beach to attend Pharrell’s “Something in the Water” festival, and went to Montreal to participate in “C2 Montréal”, which is regarded as the next “South By South West” of creative conferences.
In Europe, as well as continuing our observations in London, we visited Tallinn in Estonia, which is garnering attention as a leading digital startup nation. We also travelled to Helsinki, which is recognized for its advanced education and wellness initiatives, and for its next-generation Mobility as a Service (MaaS). In China we visited three cities, each one totally unique. In addition to Shanghai, which we visited last year, we also visited Shenzhen, the “Silicon Valley of China,” as well as Chongqing, which is a must-visit in order to research China’s blend of new and old culture. To dig deeper into world trends, and to gain a broader viewpoint, we expanded our research to the Middle East. We visited the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in Israel, a leading country for innovation, followed by visits to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Finally, we visited Tokyo, our home territory, and also the town of Kamikatsu in Tokushima Prefecture, which was the first town in Japan to issue a “Zero Waste Declaration.”
The themes of our research in different cities are different, for example, our 2019 New York visit focused on key concepts such as sustainability and transparency; themes that have emerged from millennial consumer culture of the last few years that currently comprises a majority of American consumer culture. The trip included visits to notable organizations, shops, companies, and meetings with visionary leaders.
Sony brand experience at CES 2020
Sony booth at CES 2020. In order to convey the company message “A Creative Entertainment Company with a Solid Foundation of Technology” the whole space was designed to express a gentle relationship between humans and technologies.
AI Sports Program Enhancement
Proposes new video experiences that further enhance the excitement of sports using various information analyzed from competition video.
China Eastern Airlines Brand Showroom
The Airlines Brand Showroom at the company headquarters located adjacent to the Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport is the fruit of a collaborative effort by Professional Solutions China’s joint task team involving Sony designers to create a one-of-a-kind branding experience for one of China’s prominent companies.
In order to offer visitors the experience of the state-run airline’s history and brand concept, the showroom, inspired by the shape of an airplane wing, has on display a gigantic wooden globe that serves as an iconic symbol, as well as state-of-the-art Crystal LED display system and a mock-up of the Hongqiao Airport, all of which are linked to separate AR contents. The project members provided this total solution, from the initial concept to the space design and AR contents.
Collaboration with External Companies
Is Sony’s design usually done in-house by the Creative Centers? Do you also collaborate with external design companies? If so, what kind of design companies / designers do you usually work with? Please talk about it with examples.
Y.H.: Sony products are generally designed on an in-house basis. We also do work outside the organization, contributing design input to projects with other companies and other collaborative efforts. Take the Possi projects as an example, it is a toothbrush that parents can use to help their children finish off their teethbrushing routines. This project came about through a joint-development program between Kyocera Corporation and Lion Corporation, which teamed up via the Sony Startup Acceleration Program. Our designers took the lead in concept creation and design. Another example is the newly opened China Eastern Airlines Brand Showroom at the company headquarters located adjacent to the Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport. It is the fruit of a collaborative effort by Professional Solutions China’s joint task team involving Sony designers to create a one-of-a-kind branding experience for one of China’s prominent companies.
Sony’s “Perceptual Experience Project”
Sony designers strive to transform functional value and innovation into emotional experience; this encompasses the “Perceptual Experience Project.” What’s this project about? Could you talk about the results of this project so far?
Y.H.: The Perceptual Experience Project is a design R&D projects visualizing a fun and enriched lifestyle for a new tomorrow. The goal of Sony Design is to translate innovation into experience, and provide experiences that are, of course, convenient, but that also touch people emotionally. Precisely because this project is so full of various kinds of potential, we decided to present the prototype where it could be experienced by many people. As for what we’ve done through this project – we participated in the Milan Design Week 2018 and 2019. With the theme of “Hidden Senses” in 2018, we explored new innovative ways to introduce technology into everyday life to develop innovative and enriching experiences whilst interacting with familiar objects in a contextual space. With the theme of “Affinity in Autonomy,” the Sony interactive exhibition at Milan Design Week 2019, we presented our vision of a new relationship with robotics, demonstrating how rich and fulfilling a future of coexistence between humans and robotics can be. The interactions feel organic, revealing no hint of the highly advanced technologies behind them. We’ve already received a lot of valuable feedback.
Hidden Senses: Exhibition at Milan Design Week 2018
The interactive exhibition displayed at Milan Design Week 2018 which presented a trial exploring quiet, comfortable forms of technology that blend in with people and lifestyles. The exhibition is composed of five case studies. Each display gradually shows more of the overall Hidden Senses concept. Interactivity is a main characteristic of the exhibition, as visitors witness eye-opening changes when approaching, touching, and handling displays.
Affinity in Autonomy: Exhibition at Milan Design Week 2019
The Sony interactive exhibition at Milan Design Week 2019 which presented our vision of a new relationship with robotics, demonstrating how rich and fulfilling a future of coexistence between humans and robotics can be. Composed of 5 interactions, visitors can experience step by step of the awakening and the growth of the relation between robotics and human. The relationship is also expressed in the gradual increase in color through the journey. The interactions feel organic, revealing no hint of the highly advanced technologies behind them.
The design works of Sony Creative Center have won numerous international design awards over the years. In your opinion, what is the significance of participating in and winning design awards? Are there any criteria that Sony Creative Center uses in evaluating entries for participating the awards?
Y.H.: We participate in design awards so that we can receive external and objective feedback on our work from third parties, and share some of our designs to the people around the world.
(Source: Package & Design, 2020, May Issue, p. 20-37)
About the Author
With a history of 47 years, “Package & Design” is one of the most influential professional design magazines in China which features packaging design, branding, product design, industrial design, interior design, architecture design, interactive design and design education, etc.