Kawagoi: In recent years, Sony promotion has been focused on distinctive branding for lines in particular product categories. But suppose you want to create a digital photo album. Needs such as this can't be met with an all-in-one solution. We may therefore see a shift in Sony promotion toward presenting product ecosystems—linking Cyber-shot or a cameras, VAIO computers, digital photo frames, hard disk recorders, and so on. And there's no better place to try these products together than Sony Style stores.
If this happens, it would surely be clearer and more direct to represent people's needs with icons than with verbal product category labels or sub-brand logos. Where people speak more than one language, icons also eliminate the need for multiple translations. This is an advantage of visual communication, which icons epitomize, so we made it a point to use icons at the stores.
Ishida: We developed a single set of Sony Style icons for all stores. In the past we had incorporated existing icons from product interfaces to use in in-store displays and floor maps. But when no icons had been designed yet, stores improvised by creating their own, which led to some inconsistency among stores.
That's not desirable, from the standpoint of visual communication. Similarly, the best icon was unclear in some cases, as for SLR cameras. Should the icon represent "taking shots" or "viewing shots," or should we take another approach? The meaning of icons sometimes varied by country or culture, too. And we must remember that icons make a different impression when they're used in store signage than when they're used in product graphical user interfaces. Even icons that are familiar in user interfaces must be tested and refined when used in retail settings.
Still, store signage based on existing icons is understood more intuitively than newly designed icons. As we monitored people's reactions around the world while preparing icons for optimal visual communication in particular applications, the more product categories there were, the harder our job was.
Oka: Building the Sony Style chain did not exactly follow previous theories in retail development. Normally, strict guidelines of how stores should look and how products should be displayed define how store interiors are created. This carefully defined space is what you must work in when introducing new products or conducting seasonal promotions. At Sony Style, our products play the starring role. Our approach will always be to showcase products at their best, and to do this, we don't mind interior design that's a little different at particular stores or at particular times.
This stance certainly allows some diversity and makes store development easier and more flexible. A good example of this is our "shop-in-shop" retail spaces, where a section of electronics stores is dedicated to Sony products. The Sony corner in European department stores may be next to displays of our competitors, but fixtures and shelving along the lines of our shrine gate (torii) concept set our space apart, ensuring the same ambiance and display quality of Sony Style stores.
Kawagoi: The biggest difference between the process of customizing our retail presence and the process of regular product design is that Sony Style is a joint effort by many people, all over the world. Our success depends on how well those outside our creative department—people in marketing and sales—understand our opinions and design ideas, and how well they perfect stores that are the ultimate places to experience what Sony offers. For us, this process offer a sense of "being there" we might not feel in other projects. Through collaboration, local representatives see things our way. And in these respects, the work represents communication design at its finest.
Once Sony representatives at other sites see model stores or shop-in-shop concepts, they're excited. We're starting to get requests about applying the ideas at their stores. As new stores are established and existing stores are gradually renovated, we're seeing the spirit of Sony Design and brand philosophy in the Store Book go global. Working toward this end will be our ongoing mission.