Its enticing movement amplifies fun with music. Listen from a fresh perspective, and even old favorites seem recharged. In a nutshell, that is "Rolly," breathing new life and value into audio players. The quality that clearly marks it as a Sony product also reflects the designers' uncompromising approach. Here, the designers recall their challenges on the way to perfecting the final product.
Sawai: One role of Sony Creative Center is to propose design concepts with the potential to become successful products, and I have personally been involved in many such development projects. We often draw on a variety of ideas from within the company, and "Rolly" was no exception.
About three years ago, the engineers involved in "AIBO" development paid me a visit and put an unusual egg-shaped object on my desk. As I reached to pick it up, it suddenly started playing music and doing an amusing little dance. This pleasant surprise was my first encounter with an early "Rolly" prototype.
Just one look and I was hooked. Few things can capture people's interest this way. At the same time, I couldn't visualize a starting point for designing such a product. The more I examined and learned about it, the more I realized this little "egg" was inherently and strangely captivating. But how to capture this quality and enhance it through design? At that stage, the prototype elicited mixed reactions from people who had seen it for themselves. Some were utterly uninterested, and others couldn't get enough of it.
Would the proposal end up being just a nice idea that never materialized? Or could we turn it into a viable Sony product and share it with the world? The key to its fate was concept design. We started by taking a closer look at the "Rolly" prototype and carefully sorting out the inherent qualities that made it so intriguing.
Sawai: One step in the concept design process was to express in concrete terms the latent messages the prototype was communicating to us. We held intense discussions with the developers to define exactly what the model and its behavior represented. We also carefully observed people watching this spinning and dancing "egg." In doing this, we put aside our preconceptions and investigated all the reasons for their reactions, even seemingly obvious.
From our experience with "AIBO" and "QRIO," we knew that devices that express "movement" evoke emotion among users. In the same way, with "Rolly," its movement is the first thing you notice and what holds your attention. We realized that, by design, "Rolly" is an audio player you will enjoy watching. It's straightforward, but it's a quality you don't see in other players.
To apply our observations in design, we focused on the themes of "movement" and "watching." While we pursued a simple, oval shape, we also created a form that is satisfyingly luxurious and textural. The user interface also draws upon movement and light.
We began by developing CG simulations and prototypes to explore our initial impressions about how to refine the original model. Through these, we developed our ideas regarding shape and illumination. For example, we created animated sequences showing how it could be used. Here, we sought design in line with our key concepts. At one point, when our model was reaching a size that would have been inconsistent with these concepts, we made some proposals to keep "Rolly" small enough to be comfortable and easy to operate in your hand. If necessary we were willing to take a few steps back in the engineering process to achieve these aims.
After developing small yet high-fidelity speaker boxes, and mechanical engineering for high-precision mechanisms that wouldn't interfere with audio performance, we were ready to prepare "Rolly" for commercialization. That was about a year ago. But this was also when I took the decision to hand over the project to another designer, and let them work independently, without contact from me. I wanted us to take a fresh, objective look at the "Rolly" design, evaluating it as a product. Freer thinking would make it an even more polished device.