When We Zero in on the Essential Issue,
the Design Reveals Itself

Daigo Maesaka

Sony's design philosophy spoken
by a communication designer

When I think I’ve given it my all, I take one more step.

What are your thoughts on the Sony Design Philosophy?

The Sony Design Philosophy, to “Create New Standards,” is followed by three keywords: “Visionary,” “Integrity” and “Empathy.” I see these three elements, not as separate concepts, but intertwined and deeply related to one another. To be “Visionary,” we inevitably have to demonstrate “Integrity.” Then, as we search for the essence of designs in “Integrity,” we discover stories. Finally, those stories turn into “Empathy.”

At Sony, 'Integrity' has been handed down
from generation to generation
This video is a computer graphic representation of what Sony’s designer Daigo Maesaka said about "Integrity" of the Sony Design Philosophy.

Of the three elements, I believe “Integrity” is a crucial keyword in demonstrating Sony’s uniqueness. This culture of “refining our ideas into a distinct essence” has been passed down from generation to generation at Sony, and every designer brings out their best to achieve this goal. That’s the kind of company we are at Sony. I had always thought I was being conscious of what integrity and essence are, but when I joined Sony, I came to realize, time and again, that my efforts were far from enough.

Soon after I joined the company, I had a humbling experience that I remember to this day. I was working on product communication for the BRAVIA series and designed a key visual that had a young girl standing next to a TV. At the time, I thought it was a high-quality visual, but unfortunately no one used it outside of Japan. That was because the message of the visual itself was vague, and more importantly, it didn’t take diversity or the cultural contexts of international communities into consideration. Looking back on the project now, I understand that this was about identifying the true essence of “Integrity” and it also posed the question of whether there was enough “Empathy.”

If you aim to create something 'Visionary',
you will inevitably be challenging to create 'Integrity'
This video is a computer graphic representation of what Sony’s designer Daigo Maesaka said about "Visionary" of the Sony Design Philosophy.

I think a particularly important aspect of “Integrity” is identifying what the essence of the issue is. So when I start a new project, I first read through tons of information, like proposals, to thoroughly contemplate what the essential issue is. After all, without fully understanding what the issue is, it’s hard to determine what the essence of the design should be.

I believe zeroing in on “Integrity” in this way eventually leads to a certain phenomenon: the designer no longer has to spend time drawing designs. The ultimate design, in my view, is one that reveals itself naturally once we give shape to “Integrity.” For example, the VISION-S Prototype. The car’s design concept is “OVAL,” which is symbolized by two decorative lines of light along the front and rear of the car. By incorporating those lines into the logo, we thought we could create a new brand image suitable for an electric vehicle. From there, we saw that the lines that make up the electric circuit appeared to form the letter S. Once we settled on that concept, the logo design pretty much completed itself. This is what I meant when I said designers don’t have to spend time drawing designs—the designs reveal themselves. I believe this is what lies at the bottom of Sony’s designs and what we, as designers, should aim for.

The key is figuring out how to design added social value.

What do you value as a Sony designer?

When I create designs, I always try to add an extra element, no matter how small, that will please or surprise users in a good way. After sorting through mountains of information, zeroing in on the essence of the issue and finally coming up with the design, I want to add a tiny drop of explosive nitroglycerin in there. It goes without saying that we should accomplish whatever mission we were tasked with and meet expectations. But there’s no element of surprise by doing just that and presenting users with something they expect from start to finish. That’s why, when I think I’ve given it my all, I take one more step and go the extra mile. It’s easy to stop without making that effort, but if we don’t, I don’t think we can reach a design that is deserving of the Sony brand.

Do you have any fond memories of a Sony product?

Around 20 years ago, there was a series called QUALIA. It offered high-end, made-to-order products like projectors and audio devices that cost several million yen. Samples were exhibited at the Sony Building in Ginza and I loved just going there and looking at them. Since the products were high-end, they were obviously equipped with advanced technologies, but even more striking was the series’ concept of appealing to the human sensibility. The quality of the products and the way they were communicated to consumers were amazing. I believe creating products that deliver value just by owning them is an approach that is all the more relevant today.

QUALIA
'Affinity in Autonomy' exhibition at Milan Design Week 2019

How can design contribute to the world in the future?

The world today is overflowing with functions, so trying to compete with advanced specifications alone inevitably leads to a price war. That’s not where we should be focusing. We need to be asking ourselves, “What meaning does this product have?” and “How will it appeal to the users’ sensibilities?” Without focusing on those central issues, I don’t think we stand a chance of winning.

To be more specific, I mean creating and communicating products that target society more directly. For example, aibo created a market for household robots. The VISION-S Prototype anticipates a future of autonomous driving and brings sensing technologies and entertainment to the forefront of the mobility field. To carry on in this way, Sony designers need to take a closer look at society and the environment going forward. I believe that is what’s being required of us at Sony.

Daigo Maesaka

Maesaka joined Sony in 2008 after working at an advertising agency. From 2010, he spent three years working in the UK office, where he studied package designs and the promotion of products aimed at European consumers. After returning to Japan in 2013, he worked on communication designs in the corporate, mobile and robotics fields. His recent projects include branding for aibo and designing the logo of Sony’s electric vehicle, the VISION-S Prototype.