Feature Design x-Application
[ 2008.1.25 up ]

Designing the Intangible: Experiences

What experiences do we want to offer users? How can hardware, software, and services interest and excite users in new ways? Experts involved in Sony interaction design take on these questions to create x-Applications, a unique suite of media Applications. Catch a glimpse of Sony product development behind the scenes from a new angle and see design traditions at work.

Kazuto Mugura
Kazuto Mugura
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Producer and Senior Designer
Ippei Tambata
Ippei Tambata
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Senior Producer
Shingo Utsuki
Shingo Utsuki
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Senior Designer

Taking design from usability to enjoyability

Mugura: x-Applications are a suite of Applications developed to offer users satisfying new experiences. Our design work for x-Applications goes beyond just the graphical user interface (GUI), of course. We design the overall user experience, something intangible that reflects how we want to entertain, engage, and pleasantly surprise users. Times have changed, and our focus has shifted from better usability in interface design to greater interactivity. Now, the user experience must also be enjoyable.

Kazuto Mugura

At Sony, it's something of a tradition for designers to play an active role in software development—even taking the lead at times. In this regard, the VAIO launch marked a turning point in our role as designers. At that time, no computers had ever promoted entertainment as the VAIO line did. We needed Applications for users to enjoy music and video, but engineering alone could not solve the issues of what to give users and how to implement it. Designers had more work in store too, and we had to offer more than just an intuitive GUI. Our software suggestions and decisions had to be based on the standpoint of interaction. For us, interaction design became inseparable from software development. And at Sony, designers are the ones who must find new ways of entertaining and exciting people.

This is certainly the age of the network. People are just as likely to be interacting with the device in front of them as devices or people over a network; what happens on the screen may look the same, either way. Interaction is truly diverse, and where the content or data happens to be when users access it is only one consideration. There are as many different scenarios as there are users or ways of enjoying content.

In times such as these, we must rethink what interaction is all about in the first place and ask some basic questions. What do users want to do? What activities please them? It calls for higher-level design to provide user experiences that respond to these questions. We could say that x-Applications represent some answers from Sony, developed with these aspects in mind.

Overcoming limitations of conventional product development

Tambata: As designers, we have taken on greater responsibilities. Once, we focused on refining the on-screen display. Then we strove to simplify functions. Now, we want to excite and entertain users. But as the scope of our work expanded, we sensed the limitations of our regular approach to UI design.

We have taken a different approach to x-Applications, an approach conceived as an attempt to overcome these limitations. It starts with a little introspection. What activities would we ourselves want to do? What would we enjoy doing? This inquiry leads to software Applications, which in turn are expanded into devices or products. You might say it's the reverse of the regular process, and one that encourages freer thinking to offer new user experiences.

For this reason, we don't develop x-Applications knowing they'll necessarily be provided with particular products. The suite currently includes apps such as x-Pict Story that are already bundled with products and others such as x-Time Line that are freely available "standalone" apps. Both the development stance and the release format are unusual for Sony. As we create this exceptionally entertaining and engaging software, we enjoy a spirit of playful exploration. We hope users feel the same way, creating exciting new media experiences with the apps.

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