Computer graphic representation of what Sony’s designer Pop Zhang said about “Empathy” of the Sony Design Philosophy. Computer graphic representation of what Sony’s designer Pop Zhang said about “Empathy” of the Sony Design Philosophy.

“Create New Standards” Means Showing New Value to Future Generations

Pop Zhang

Sony's design philosophy spoken
by a communication designer

Portrait of Pop Zhang

Seeking out originality
is the key to “integrity”

What are your thoughts on the Sony Design Philosophy?

When we unveiled the “Create New Standards” concept a few years ago, it was like a vague, blurry idea that I’d had in my mind suddenly came into focus. What’s important to me is that the phrase has a forward-looking, future-oriented sound to it; it’s dynamic, not static, which I think makes it signify a commitment to embodying new values on a continuing basis. We’re going to keep updating ourselves, learning, and making our way toward our goals—and what we gradually piece together along the way will form into those new standards we aspire to.

Maintain your own originality

“Visionary” and “integrity” are practical concepts, which makes them relatively easy to incorporate into design work. Personally, I don’t have any problem understanding what they’re all about. The idea of integrity goes beyond just being genuine, following through, and striving for perfection, too—it’s also about finding your own, unique identity within Sony’s design landscape. It’s about more than following guidelines and regulations. You have to make sure you’re original and true to yourself, designing things in a way only you can.

Empathy: An element that
hinges on understanding others

I think “empathy” is a new value. It’s an idea that’s a little broader and more abstract, which makes it harder to define, but what I do know is that design always has to put people’s interests first. It has to do something for people—and that’s why it’s so important for designers to have a deep understanding of the contexts surrounding what’s going on in the world, the dynamics of society, and the people in it.

The COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping the environment, creating differences in people’s values, attitudes, and lifestyles from place to place. If you look at China right now, you’ll find a lot of younger people taking pride in the nation and its traditional culture—but that doesn’t mean they’re only interested in traditional colors and patterns. They’re looking at things from a more global point of view.

What I’m trying to say is that we have to understand the deeper reasons and values underlying everything going on in today’s world if we want to embody a philosophy in design and create new standards. Only when we really know ourselves and understand others can we define the value of design and pass it on to users.

What do you value as a Sony designer?

I think that designers’ roles are expanding fast. When I joined Sony as a graphic designer, I had one core responsibility: designing packages for use across the global market and making them look as good as possible. Now, though, my design work involves everything from project planning and research to storytelling and design production. There are so many more parts for me to play.

To me, what matters most is communicating well with everyone on a project. Our ultimate goal is to use design to create solutions for people, and every project has to orient itself toward that objective. The people on the project have to start with a solid grasp of what the project’s targets and aims are, spell out the goals, and talk through the best approaches to getting there. Once that’s all set, the process moves on to thinking of all the different ways to get the message across to the target audience as effectively as possible. That might involve making adjustments to a given product’s visual identity, for example, or applying graphics in different media formats like screens, animation, or motion graphics. I’ve also gotten the feeling recently that we’ll have to convey our messaging through both visuals and text.

Visual Communication for Sony Expo 2021 exhibition in China

Do you have any fond memories of a Sony product?

My first favorite was the Walkman®. I used to love offbeat design styles, aesthetics that brought in lots of color and diversity. But one day, I was at the old Sony History Museum in Tokyo* and saw a classic design with a timeless, chic look—and that transformed my design perspective. The item that did it was the CHOROCCO, a toy car that would sit on top of a record and play the sound by physically moving along the grooves. While a standard record player spins records under a fixed needle, the CHOROCCO flips that conventional concept around. The record doesn’t spin at all; the car does the work, pulling the needle along and reproducing the sound as it goes. The CHOROCCO was the result of an internal contest that Sony organized in 1976. Seeing the result of that initiative with my own eyes was a kind of creative jolt.

* Sony History Museum closed at the end of 2018


Creating a sustainable future through the power of design

How can design contribute to the world in the future?

Society is developing at such an incredible pace right now, and new technologies are popping up everywhere. For designers and the design field as a whole, it’s our mission to fuse those technologies together, take advantage of what they offer, and translate the results into user-friendly solutions.

Up to this point, Sony has captured people’s imaginations through designs that foreground a cutting-edge, state-of-the-art identity—and I think there’s still plenty of room to explore new ways of doing that. As we evolve those approaches, I’m excited to come up with messages that can enhance people’s conceptions of technology, change how they see innovations, and help usher in a more sustainable future. The way I see it, Sony will have lots of opportunities to make that happen.

Photo of Pop Zhang sitting in front of the fall in winter
“Keep calm, and think first.” This is how ideas come from in my mind.

Pop Zhang

After joining Sony in 2010 and providing support for communication and design on the local and global levels, Pop now works as a design producer. His recent projects include local marketing for Sony Expo 2021 and research into the needs and values of today’s younger generations.