Morisawa: At first, I was uneasy about taking over industrial design for "Rolly" in preparation for its commercial release. Trying to enhance the design of a device shaped like an egg; I didn't know where to start. And working on a device that is required to roll around on a surface meant strict requirements for internal symmetry, to maintain its center of gravity. In view of this, I spent days pondering our design options, with the prototype sitting in front of me.
My starting point was the overall impression it gave. I focused closely on the shape, looking into details that would make "Rolly" inspire more than just any oval object. Its design is made up of sophisticated compound curves: round, but with an organic contour that's gently pointed at each end, like the elongated end of an egg. But above all, "movement" is a key feature of "Rolly," and this movement is integral to its performance.
After some thought, I took another look at the size of the "arms," as I considered their design one of the keys to maximize expression. I wanted to make them as large as possible, however I then ran into a problem. After I enlarged the arms, they exposed internal parts when opened, and at that point in development, the speaker boxes were black. To keep the egg shape intact while the arms were open, I wanted to use the same color for the portion from the "shoulders" to the edge of the speaker boxes. But painting it would affect the sound quality. Still, I was unwilling to compromise, so I decided we would have to redesign the speaker boxes that had been specially developed at the prototype stage. Together with the engineers responsible for the main unit, I went directly to the audio engineers to humbly request their help. Advanced mechanisms are not something that we industrial designers generally undertake ourselves, so we consulted veteran engineers directly. Ultimately, they accepted my design strategy and made the concept a reality.
Look at "Rolly," and you'll see the same color extending from the shoulder to the edge of the speaker box, preserving the impression of an oval, even when the arms are open. The ends are neat and smooth, but we could not make them completely smooth by covering the speakers with a grill because that would affect sound quality. For this reason, we refined the shape around the outside of the speakers to provide an oval appearance even without grills, while making sure the speakers would still be protected in case of impact. It was very difficult to clear these design hurdles. But in the end, we succeeded in creating a player that, whether closed or open, is sleek and oval.
Morisawa: We also applied a little ingenuity in how "Rolly" emits light. Full-color LEDs are embedded inside the shoulders. To keep them out of direct view, we made the gap between the shoulder and the wheel as narrow as possible. Light gently emanates from these slits when "Rolly" is viewed straight on. When it is viewed at an angle, light reflected from the inside of the wheel streams out. With this little trick of positioning the LEDs, it's not readily apparent how "Rolly" is lit. After all, isn't it fitting that this curious little creature glows in a mysterious way?
To keep the surfaces relatively seamless, we formed the top part out of a single molded piece. Such a complex shape as this with precise curves in three dimensions called for a little brainstorming, drawing on experience with "WALKMAN" and similar products. We applied advanced molding techniques and engineering to do it.
Ordinary product development involves initial discussions with engineers to decide generally how the parts will be organized, and then we complete the design work. This time, we faced another aspect of product design—movement. From my perspective, development required repeated talks with engineers in various fields and refinement after refinement as we tried to form so many moving parts into such a simple shape, until somehow we succeeded. One more aspect made this development out of the ordinary. Through this process of refining the design and checking movement, we quickly developed an affection for "Rolly." When those of us working on a prototype sensed it wasn't working well one day, to us it was as if "Rolly" "had a fever." For me, it was the first time I had become so attached to a product. It was like a pet. Maybe it really does have the kind of character that forms a new kind of bond with users, in many respects.