Feature Design PIIQ & Jienne
[ 2010.9.14 up ]

User-oriented product development

Shift focus in product development from utilitarian function to stylish form, and what do you get? For a peek at the forefront of this approach, look no further than headphones. PIIQ and Jienne, new headphone series from Sony. Scooping up the elements people want, and distilling the essence. Also a technique that's essential in Sony design.

Joe Wada
Joe Wada
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Chief Art Director
Yasuo Yuyama
Yasuo Yuyama
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Senior Manager
Kanae Fukamatsu
Kanae Fukamatsu
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Producer and Senior Designer
Rui Morisawa
Rui Morisawa
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Designer
Ronald Clark
Ronald Clark
Sony Electronics
Design Center (U.S.)
Manager
Parinaz Zamani
Parinaz Zamani
Sony Electronics
Design Center (U.S.)
Manager

Forget stark, utilitarian design

Wada: Sony is one of the few manufacturers that can develop headphone drivers in-house. Over the years, we've also built up a wealth of expertise on ensuring a good fit. But what makes success difficult in the headphone market is that refined features alone won't necessarily win consumer loyalty. Like genres of music, people's tastes in headphones are amazingly diverse. No matter how impressive headphones sound or how comfortable they are, many people just won't pick them up if they don't like the design. And this is now a growing trend.

Headphones have always piqued people's interest, and they're a product that reflects personal tastes to an extreme. In this kind of product category, the user experience hinges on the thrill and satisfaction of finding and using headphones of your preferred design. That's why, increasingly, designers must shift from traditional, function-oriented product development to design focused on people's attitudes and sense of style. As a pioneer in styling products for sports and fitness enthusiasts, clubgoers, and others with special interests, Sony has responded to a range of diverse tastes for some time.

Two lines that emerged from this kind of development are PIIQ, inspired by urban "street" culture in the U.S., and Jienne, designed mainly with the tastes of Japanese women in mind. Here, we'll discuss PIIQ first, a project based on local market research, and one that brought together Sony offices in U.S. and Japan for design.

Clark: We noticed something interesting when studying the U.S. headphone market. Sony sales were strong, and we hold a leading market share, but at the same time, some new brands were growing fast. In other words, these brands were carving out a new market without capturing Sony market share, which meant there was a segment we weren't serving.

The people in this market segment are mainly teens into urban street culture. For insight on their lifestyles, we interviewed local skaters, surfers, DJs, and musicians. What did they think was cool? What influenced them, when finding out about and buying new products? Acting on what we learned, we worked with our Tokyo design team to decide what products they would like. Designers led all efforts in this project, from planning to promotion.

Bold, defiant branding

Clark: To reach people in our target market effectively, we needed a new brand. By itself, the Sony brand doesn't resonate enough with younger generations who grew up around street culture. They recognize Sony quality but associate the brand with high-end products for older generations, not products this group uses every day.

So, the design team in the U.S. developed the PIIQ name and logo. It comes from peak, as in "highest point." The PIIQ name stands for headphones that are made for younger generations taking on challenges and pushing limits in many ways.

At the same time, this group clearly appreciates the Sony brand itself, which is a distinct advantage in branding. PIIQ style, backed by Sony performance-help people make this connection, and they'll know that the headphones not only look cool but are designed and built well.

Wada: For this reason, PIIQ logos appear in prominent positions on the headphones while Sony logos appear on the inner housing, plug tips, and other areas where they're a reassuring reminder of Sony quality. This was like a slap in the face to our product managers, whose headphones have borne the Sony name for decades. But to establish a brand that stands for new ideals in both performance and style, it was unavoidable.

PIIQ product design was managed in Japan, but only because that's where Rui was living at the time. He has lived in the U. S. for years, where he was immersed in street culture through BMX, DJing, and other interests. His contributions at the planning stage and throughout the project helped tremendously. Even the most seasoned Sony designers aren't qualified to design for teens into street culture, if they've never ridden a skateboard. Under Rui's guidance, we kept a user-oriented perspective to serve a market segment that's hard to reach with traditional Sony design theory alone.

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