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UI design is the design
of user experiences

Mitsuo Okumura

Education: Product Design
Joined Sony: 2001
Role: User Interface Designer

Tackling demanding assignments at school
while traversing Japan on foot during holidays

I studied design in high school and majored in Product Design at university. It was a demanding course of study with a lot of assignments, but as my classmates and I took on the assignments, mutual competition between one another brought our work to greater heights. During holidays like summer vacation, I often went on walking tours. Together with a childhood friend, I walked the 60-kilometer length of Kujukuri Beach and the 600 kilometers from Nemuro to Wakkanai. We met a lot of people on the road and had many unexpected adventures. I was even asked to do things like help paint a roof and draw someone’s portrait. At first, my motives were to challenge my own limits, but we had such interesting encounters that my motivations became more external. Traveling across Japan by foot helped balance the day-to-day pressures of assignments and allowed me to enjoy a fulfilling school life.

I challenged myself in a new area of design
because I was interested in the actions
and feelings of human beings

I’d always wanted to work at Sony because I felt that it was the place for product design, and some of the most accomplished students in the classes ahead of me had joined the company. But the reason why I changed my number one choice to User Interface Design (UID) was because I wanted to test my abilities in a new field. This sense of design as something without borders might have been influenced by watching my father, a graphic designer, engage in a variety of work such as book design and newspaper advertisements. In my third year at university we were given the chance to come up with our own assignment topics, and that was when I realized that I was more interested in the actions and feelings of human beings than in the shape of a product. After that, I began to examine Communication Design more closely, and as an extension of that, I became attracted to a new field, UID.

α E-Mount Series Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera SAXES Series Mounter / Checker / Printer

Realizing the importance of imagining
a user’s behavior
and state of mind,
and pursuing that in UID

UID consists of organizing information into visuals on a screen so that users can operate a product without any confusion. The ability to imagine a user’s behavior and state of mind is essential in order to smoothly guide them to the next action. One of my hobbies is taking photos and movies and editing them on my computer, so when I was in charge of UI for preinstalled computer software, I was able to apply that experience in the UI design.

After that, I began to handle more work dealing with "personal content" such as photos and movies. I was put in charge of GUI for the first camera in the α E-Mount series. Because it was the first mirror-less interchangeable lens camera produced by Sony, I wanted to do something different with the UI and went through a lot of trial and error with the producers and ID designers. There are many E-Mount cameras on the market now, but all the UI are still based on that first camera. It’s a project that has left lasting results in UID and given me a great sense of accomplishment.

With the commercial equipment UI that I oversaw next, I once again felt the importance of understanding the operator’s behavior and state of mind. The actual uses of commercial equipment vary in the field, so you can’t design the UI unless you have a grasp of the operator’s behavior and mentality. I paid visits to where this equipment was being used in the field to observe the operators in action and to gather their input. It was a valuable experience of a kind that isn’t possible when working on consumer products. Something I try to do when designing UI is to represent concepts pictorially whenever possible. As part of the UI creation process, I use a computer to sort out problems and issues on the spot during meetings. Not only is it more efficient, visualizing the topic right then and there apparently makes it easier for engineers and planners to understand the problems and solutions.

Applying my UID experience
to a new field –
"Service Design"

I still work on commercial equipment these days, but I’m also in charge of "Service Design." "Service Design" consists of identifying problems facing companies and organizations, and solving them through the power of design. These solutions are sometimes design areas such as products or UI, and sometimes extend beyond the scope of design to things like business and sales operations or employee training. Although this work spans a wide range of fields outside the domain of UI, what it has in common is the process of identifying problems by imagining a user’s behavior and state of mind, visualizing those problems, and proposing solutions. I’m working together with a variety of companies and organizations while exploring ways of applying the approaches I learned in UID to Service Design.

Pursuing my passions to the fullest
through cooking –
an appeal completely different from that of design

I’ve become so passionate about cooking lately that I renovated my house to create my own specialized kitchen. I buy ingredients at the supermarket and prepare breakfast and dinner every day. My cooking’s even received pretty favorable reviews from my family. Day after day, I seek the perfect recipes, combinations of ingredients, and pairings of food and drinks. Cooking is similar to design in some ways, but it has a certain appeal that can’t be found in design: you can do everything on your own, and you can enjoy the finished product that very day. Just like how I balanced my busy school life with walking tours of Japan during my student days, my pursuit of cooking may help me balance my work as a designer.

My job is to create a story –
an exciting job
that touches
on the essence of humanity

I consider my role within Sony design to be that of a storyteller. In UID, we come up with a story that tells how a user thinks or behaves when interacting with a product, and design the UI to guide the user along that path. Service Design is no different. When customers show up on the sales floor, what do they see? What do they think? What do they end up doing? Based on that story, we design ways to guide customers to a certain endpoint. Being a storyteller means both doing the actual work of laying down conduits, and designing the experiences of customers and users. Exploring UID reveals the true essence of humanity, and I think that’s the most exciting part of UID – the work of designing experiences.

A day of a designer

9:00 10:00 11:00 12:00 13:00 14:00 15:00 16:00 17:00 18:00
Arrive at the office, check email
New project discussion
Regular team meeting
Lunch
Meeting with outside company on movie production
Idea brainstorming session
Finish leftover work
Leave work