Design Research Sony's approach to
design research

We live in an era where rapid technological and societal changes are redefining human behaviors.
As design perspectives continue to garner greater importance in business contexts,
Sony is leveraging design research methodology. It is an approach that aims to identify signs of
change in order to create new value. Learn more about the methodology below.

Why businesses today need
a design perspective

There is a growing trend of applying design perspectives to broader areas of business. Progress of the information age is one major factor behind the shift. The value of design has expanded beyond the narrow definition of simply product form, to include aspects like information, communication, services, systems and other intangibles.

Diversification of society and the advancement of information technology has also created the VUCA (*1) era. In an increasingly fluid world, many deep-rooted business values have reached a turning point. To adapt to this situation, people are taking more interest in design methodologies that facilitate the creation of new ideas or approaches.

(*1) VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity): A business term to describe a situation that is difficult to deal with or predict using existing methodologies due to technological advances and societal change.

Design research as a key
to developing a new vision

As the methodology of design research is still being theorized by design firms and design schools globally, it does not have a clear definition yet. Despite this, people are eager to engage with its ideas and outcomes. In this section, we will explore the reasons for this growing interest, the importance of design research, and its characteristics from Sony’s perspective.

One of the missions of the Creative Center, Sony's design division, is to visualize Sony’s future from a design perspective. But the future has never been more uncertain, and traditional empirical methods are no longer enough to be visionary.

How do we create products, services, systems or ideas that are truly revolutionary? Design research starts with asking that question and then looking for hints. This approach is a departure from established research methods in business.

Marketing research (market research), for example, serves to test the validity of a premise, which can be in the form of a technology or an idea. The hypotheses and statistical data relevant to that premise already exist. Design research, however, extends to a much earlier stage. It involves picking up clues that that lead to ideas, from which one can collect findings and begin designing for the future.

The difference between
marketing research and design research

In marketing research, validating an idea or hypothesis requires us to assume a target audience in advance and to be objective. As that requires quantitative research, outside professionals with expertise in statistical research and analysis normally handle the numbers before passing that input to those carrying out the marketing research.

On the other hand, design research explores dynamics that may lack any hard evidence, relying on observation and insight to derive clues and ideas. The researchers find insights through individual awareness as they experience things from consumer perspectives, which is a subjective process. This approach shares common threads with design thinking, which is one of the practices of design research. It is a qualitative research process that delves into themes with a grounding in empathy and understanding, rather than interpreting findings from data in terms of the greatest common denominator.

This method of observing and understanding people and the world–and extracting inspiration from these insights– has long been a fundamental part of the designer’s work. Design research represents further development of this approach, one that gives it broader applications.

Going beyond research in the narrow sense
to shape the future

Another distinguishing feature of design research is that it goes beyond just research.

Design is an attempt to create a better future by solving the problems of the present. It is important for the problem-solvers to conduct field research and to experience the issues firsthand. By employing methods like ethnography (*2) and in-depth expert interviews, they develop an understanding of the feelings and emotions of people, something that is difficult to capture through quantitative research alone.

The Creative Center offers discussions and analyses based on knowledge from multiple disciplines, including sociology, psychology, cultural anthropology, and philosophy. These are all academic fields that help us understand human beings.

(*2) Ethnography: In cultural anthropology, ethnography is a method of embedding oneself in another culture to understand the behavior, ideas, and cultural context of the people who live there in a comprehensive manner. In recent years, businesses have used ethnography as a survey method (via behavioral surveys) for understanding consumers.

Examples of design research
at Sony

The Creative Center has been undertaking and utilizing design research in a variety of ways.

One such activity is DESIGN VISION, which deciphers the latest social trends and attitudes to provide a story to guide Sony's direction for the future. Designers themselves conduct field research and interviews in selected cities globally, taking their insights and workshopping them upon their return. The results are compiled in a report released annually, titled Design Vision Insight, which is shared company-wide.

The CMF Framework project provides guideposts for future design direction with respect to CMF (Color, Material, and Finish). Given that the CMF elements have a profound influence on the impression and value of a given product, the CMF Framework project aims to detect changes in the sensory perceptions and deeper psychologies of consumers around the world.

We have also implemented design research in a variety of product and service case studies, including a the project to develop VENICE, a next-generation cinematography camera. We are working to create design and value while opening up new perspectives.

Sony Creative Center has always focused on the role that design should play in society.
Our designers are taking the initiative to create the future.
By organizing the unique design research methodology and processes we have developed,
we hope to broaden the application of design's problem-solving capabilities into new areas.
In doing so, we believe we can contribute to a better future.