Please tell us about yourself
After enrolling in an Industrial Design course of study at Kyoto Institute of Technology, I learned about not only product design but also interior and graphic design. In school, I felt a lot of pressure from the assignments, but I enjoyed creating projects and completely immersed myself in drawing. With the influence of my older brother who worked for an industrial design office, I learned professional approaches while going through my own process of trial and error. I couldn’t get the results I wanted with the art materials designated in the assignment, so I would buy my own materials and rehash the assignment in whatever way I felt like before turning in my project (Laughter). My current work as a product designer is something I thought about starting in those days.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
As a student, I became aware that Sony products had an aura and bearing that was completely different from the products of other manufacturers. Instead of just playing around with shapes and colors to make products stand out from competitors, I felt like Sony Design was focused on a clear goal: to optimally deliver a certain function or utility to the user. I was captivated by this kind of design and when I began my job search, I thought, “It has to be Sony.” Since joining Sony, far from having those expectations overturned, I’ve experienced the joys of real craftsmanship anew.
Tell us about your work at Sony
After joining Sony, the first project I took the lead on was a design update of the 8-millimeter video camera. I initially thought I’d be able to exercise a great deal of freedom, but at that time the grip took up half of the video camera and there was almost no room to change the layout of the operating buttons. I was shocked by the number of constraints on the design, which was nothing like what I’d imagined as a student. But I watched the work of the senior members of my group, and saw that they were creating their own prototypes to convince the engineers and bringing new products to life one after another. Having this kind of work right before my eyes, I realized, “This is what being a designer really means.” That’s how I discovered the true joy of designing.
The first model that adopted a design that was mine from the start was the BRAVIA™ ZX1. All previous TVs had been integrated with their speakers, but I proposed a TV that moved away from those conventions for unparalleled slimness. I adopted elements like a wireless base station to achieve a TV only 9.9 millimeters in thickness. With the next model I pursued even more extreme slimness, but I also wanted to create something that would smash preconceived notions of a TV. As part of that development, I headed overseas for research and experienced the lifestyles of various countries firsthand. Based on these experiences, I proposed “Monolithic Design,” a concept for a “single-panel” design that stands elegantly in a living room. In practice, there were elements that were still unsettled from a technical perspective, and material manufacturers rejected us, claiming it would be “impossible” (Laughter). But the engineers created everything down to robots for the prototype, and we somehow managed to commercialize it.
Since then, I’ve also been involved in proposals for peripherals and accessories, including the design of mobile devices such as tablets. Previously, tablets had usually been talked about as single items in a product series, but we proposed designs by thinking about how and in what kinds of situations we wanted users to enjoy the tablets, and by imagining usage scenarios for a variety of users.
What is your approach to design?
Here at Sony, although we frequently use existing products as launch pads for the next stage of design, we rarely carry out design based entirely on a written proposal. When designers submit a proposal, they first visualize it and engage in discussion with relevant staff such as engineers and planners, and finally work with engineers to commercialize it. Mutual trust between designers and engineers is essential, and as designers, we can’t convince the engineers unless we have technical knowledge of our own, so we always keep our ears perked for chances to make new proposals. In the past, designers would sometimes make drawings alone, but the work procedure these days involves everyone contributing ideas jointly, and a variety of opinions are incorporated at an early stage in order to create a more complete final product. I think this kind of craftsmanship that reflects the intent of the designers is a unique aspect of Sony’s corporate culture.
I’ve always been interested in interior design, and it’s also a starting point for my design concepts. When I came up with “Monolithic Design,” what I wanted to design wasn’t a TV like an industrial product, but a TV that doesn’t feel out of place in a room. This required changing the very shape of the TV to blend with an interior. I adopted an exceedingly simple, leaning “single-panel” design to achieve a TV that coexists in perfect harmony with a room. I sometimes worry that I can’t distinguish work from pleasure, but there’s nothing better than being able to watch movies on a TV that you designed yourself (Laughter).
What do you love about your job?
Sony possesses both engineers who make designs into a reality, and the soil in which the seeds of craftsmanship can grow. When I start a design from nothing and watch its functions condensed into a cut mock-up (prototype) and a finished product emerge, I feel truly glad that I became a designer. I’m surrounded by people with high aspirations who love Sony products, and I really enjoy my work. In terms of my goals for the future, I’d like to take on the challenge of designing a product that changes the very shape of daily life, just as Sony did with the Walkman®. In the future, I hope to continue to pursue craftsmanship that shows people “a global Sony.”