Feature Design “nav-u” NV-U35
[ 2010.12.21 up ]

Find yourself covering more ground with a bicycle navigation system

A portable navigation system handy in cars, on foot, and even mounted on bicycles. That's the NV-U35. Skillful design has translated the Nav-U ethos into a new product altogether. Read on to explore the designers' orientation.

Naofumi Hattori
Naofumi Hattori
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Chief Art Director
Takayuki Wada
Takayuki Wada
Sony Creativeworks
Designer
Hajime Matsuda
Hajime Matsuda
Sony Creativeworks
Designer
Masato Kouyama
Masato Kouyama
Sony Creativeworks
Designer

The new Nav-U doubles as a bicycle navigation system

Hattori: The market for portable navigation systems in Japan continues to defy the lingering recession with surprising growth, and Sony Nav-U units hold a leading share.

The reasons for the popularity of Nav-U are clear. For one thing, they're very easy to mount. Back when most other manufacturers were using double-sided tape, we were the first to introduce an intelligent, quick-mounting suction system. This satisfies both those who want a simple way to mount the unit and those who want to avoid damaging or dirtying their dashboard. Another distinguishing feature is the original gesture-based user interface. A previous model (NV-U75) pioneered touch-screen operation in portable navigation systems and established our reputation as an image-leader in this category.

Touch-screen panels also enable minimalist design, without unneeded layers around the screen. The more embellishments these systems have, the more distracting and visually "noisy" they are on your dashboard. Instead, the NV-U75's simple, flat front surface is clean and unobtrusive. For better windshield visibility, we also kept the sides and back sleek. In these and other respects, the styling will still look fresh after later generations are released.

We wanted to maintain this Nav-U appeal in the new NV-U35, a smaller unit with a 3.5-inch LCD screen. It would be our smallest model, and relatively affordable. We didn't want to rely on the current market growth to guarantee its success; we sought a unit that would create even more Nav-U fans. That's why I refused to treat the NV-U35 as just an entry-level model.

We discussed some initial ideas with the product planners. Wouldn't the smaller size be an asset in some scenarios? And couldn't we help people take advantage of navigation even after stepping out of their car? We decided that the answers lay in an increasingly popular activity-cycling. Some people bike for fitness, and others commute this way. It's also a popular pastime. Surely cyclists would appreciate a small navigation system. We then set to work on this product concept, and it was our job to develop the functionality and design.

Turning a "necessary evil" into an advantage

Wada: Nav-U units are designed not to be distracting in your car. Another premise of ours was that the new unit's silhouette would match that of our high-end model. Yet as a bicycle navigation system, the NV-U35 would also be used outdoors, so instead of just having it fade comfortably into vehicle interiors, I wanted to take the appearance in a new direction.

I focused on the elastomer seal that ensures water resistance. Although this part is especially critical on a navigation system for bicycles, it might be viewed a "necessary evil" for increasing the number of parts and the cost, to some extent. I managed to turn this into an advantage by wrapping the elastomer around the edge of the body. Normally, parts that only serve a mundane function such as this are concealed behind seams of the body, but if we dared to put it in plain sight, it could double as a styling accent.

The result is not only a fresh but reassuring. Above all, the elastomer offers several practical advantages. It absorbs some impact if the unit is dropped, it protects the screen if you lay it face-down, and it forms a grippy, easy-to-hold edge. We often see excessive use of elastic parts on ruggedized outdoor products, as if that demonstrates how heavy-duty they are. Instead of this, we use a single part of this kind on the NV-U35 to impart water resistance, some shock resistance, and other benefits without adding needless elements, which keeps the appearance neat. This was a priority in the product design.

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