Feature Design WALKMAN W Series
Feature Design WALKMAN W Series

Tracing out the Zappin soundscape

Sato: Zappin playback can be set to either short or long excerpts, and each mode gives a different impression. Short mode plays excerpts of about four seconds each, which really does feel like you're enjoying a music countdown program. Long mode plays 15-second excerpts, and this gives the impression of listening to a DJ mix. Our aim was straightforward, but implementing it required deft sound design involving simulations of the listening experience.

Fujiki: Zappin fills in the blank periods for listeners. Seamless, constant playback was the goal, but sudden shifts in tempo or pitch between tracks would be unpleasant to listen to. We needed effective transitions, to prepare listeners for whatever sample comes next.

We studied a range of tones and spoken phrases as potential transitions. A key consideration here was the frequency band, or sense of pitch. Transitions at a distinctive pitch would be unsettling if they didn't match the previous and next track excerpts. And the sound of transitions based on the musical scale would vary depending on the volume level. Our research led to a tone created from modified white noise. This tone gives no impression of pitch, and it sounds consistent regardless of the melody played before or after or changes in volume. Most important, it's a neutral effect that doesn't distract from Zappin playback.

After this, we considered how to have excerpts fade in and out nicely. In the crossfade between tracks, how could we handle the build-up and dissolve of transitions? Satoshi and I carefully fine-tuned the sound down to the level of tenths of a second, over the course of listening to several hundreds of tracks to sample the effect.

In design work that was clearer, we were careful to provide reassuring feedback for operations on this screenless player. During regular playback, the tones you hear assure you it's a Walkman. During Zappin playback, you hear tones with a sense of speed. A benefit of the wearable format was that we could arrange the optimal sound for a specific set of headphones. In turn, we could seek a refined, high-quality auditory user interface.

Design reveals the way products should be used

Komiyama: With our user interface discussions underway, I finally got to work on industrial design. From the start, we sought a light, secure-fitting player, integrated in headphones connected by a spiral neckband. But it seemed as if something was missing, or we were taking development the wrong way. I couldn't quell these nagging doubts. If we continued along these lines, I doubted the player would be anything more than a set of headphones, no matter how stylish it looked. People wouldn't sense the potential of Zappin from the appearance. I was also concerned that it might be unclear how to wear the headphones, because of the spiral neckband. If it's true to the Walkman tradition, anyone should intuitively know how to wear it correctly.

One day, a designer's offhand comment led me in the right direction. Walkman players are clusters of various shapes, he said. And that's accurate. Models to date have been simple conglomerations of flat and cylindrical parts. This observation inspired the flat surface you see when the left and right earpieces are magnetically linked.

When stored, the Walkman W maintains this classic, composite appearance. When worn, the two earpieces are split apart. This action of separating them has the strange effect of revealing to new users how to wear the player. And when the earpieces are joined, a magnetic sensor automatically pauses or stops playback. It makes sense, this chain of events from separating the earpieces to listen, wearing them, and joining them again when you're finished. It's not just a matter of styling; we orchestrated the way you use the device itself, the series of events from beginning to end.

| 1 | 2 | 3 |