Education: Product Design
Joined Sony: 2001
Role: Industrial Designer
While majoring in product design at university, I explored what kind of design I really wanted to do. "Product design" is a single phrase that encompasses a wide range of genres, from appliances to cars to furniture. Plus, I’d always been interested in graphic design as well. Because of this I wanted to try all kinds of creative work, so I joined design competitions with my peers and immersed myself in all kinds of creative activities, going wherever my curiosity led me. The turning point for me was when I participated in a scholarship program at an Italian clothing manufacturer’s communication research center. It was a place for young artists from around the world to pursue original and edgy visual expression. Creating artistic works on a daily basis was exhilarating, but the program also awoke in me a desire to "design products that benefit people." I realized that this was my true calling.
Sony is a company that has inspired me ever since I was a child. It all started with my dad’s Walkman®. The design fascinated me, and I began saving up my pocket money to buy Sony products. But during my job search, I felt very conflicted because I was strongly drawn to the world of car design as well. In the end, I chose Sony because it would let me be involved in the design of many different kinds of products, whereas car design would limit me to just automobiles. One thing I’ve learned since joining Sony is that Sony really values product concepts. As a result, the approach to concept formation that I cultivated working on class projects at university, which starts with status quo analysis and moves on to problem identification and resolution, has been extremely useful.
After joining Sony, I first worked as part of the television design team, but was later assigned to mobile phone design and posted to Sweden, where Sony Ericsson (now Sony Mobile Communications) was based. Back in Japan, one designer was usually in charge of one product, but at Sony Ericsson, designers were assigned to form, color/material, and user interface for a total of three designers working collaboratively on one mobile phone. This let me experience the joy of working toward a single goal as a team. After returning to Japan, I was assigned to the design of VAIO® personal computer, which I worked on until 2014. In order to develop a tablet PC with the ultimate portability, I went through a long trial-and-error process with the engineers as we tackled the challenge of combining long-lasting battery life with a slim body.
I think that the true strength of Sony design lies in the fact that designers work together with developers and other engineers to create new designs. For example, when designing a mobile phone, someone came up with the idea to use a cut metal body. Since mobile phones have a built-in antenna, it was generally accepted knowledge back then that you couldn’t use metal because it would block the signal. But we kept on creating prototypes with the engineers and finally found a way to resolve the issue. This resulted in the birth of a design with a body completely coated in metal, which was groundbreaking at the time.
I currently work on commercial equipment like professional cameras, viewfinders, and projectors. The biggest difference from consumer products is that the designer himself or herself is not an actual user of the products. For example, users of commercial-grade cameras are professionals like TV station camera operators and videographers. As a result, the designers proactively go out to sites like TV stations to see the products in action and directly ask professionals for their opinions on the products’ usability and other factors, which are then reflected in the design. For me, the best part of working on commercial equipment is being able to design the product in close contact with the people who will actually use it.
I’m not the kind of designer who can sit still at a desk, so whenever there’s time I go for walks around the building. If I have some free time, I drop in on other divisions and ask them about the status of development and new technologies. It may be a bit of a nuisance to the engineers (laughs), but even if they’re in the middle of working on something they always listen and give me advice. This culture of open communication is at the very foundation of Sony. Plus, the knowledge I gain on these walks is reflected in my subsequent designs.
In my personal life, I value the time I spend playing with my children. Recently, I’ve taken up skateboarding with my son. When he first told me he wanted to try it, I secretly panicked because I’d never skateboarded before, but now I’m totally hooked. I actually fell the other day and fractured my right hand (laughs). But whenever I watch my son, I’m impressed by his enthusiastic demeanor and fearless appetite for challenge. Because I want to treasure moments like these, I pay extra attention to how I allocate my time and other factors that will let me work more efficiently so that I can go home on time as often as possible.
I believe that product design emerges from a genuine understanding of the user. I worked on consumer products for many years, designing products while formulating user profiles and resolving the issues that would come up in user tests. But in those days, I also longed to do work that would let me put my heart into designing products in closer contact with the actual users, letting me listen to their voices on a deeper level. My current work on professional equipment truly puts me in the position to conceive and realize design based on dialogue with users, and I’m experiencing the joys of design to the fullest. In the future, I’d like to make even more trips to see products in action while pursuing design that will truly bring joy to users.
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