The WOW Factory:
Space and Communication Design

Sony's "ideal factory," a constant source of wows,
keeps the fun flowing

Sony's Founding Prospectus lays out clear purposes for the company, the first of which focuses on creativity:
"Establish an ideal factory that stresses a spirit of freedom and open-mindedness."
With that fundamental goal always in mind, Sony is now training its sights on an exciting, imminent future.
At South by Southwest (SXSW) 2017, the world's biggest creative business festival, Sony unveiled The WOW Factory—a special booth that gave global audiences a peek at how the company is charging ahead with innovation.
We sat down with two designers from The WOW Factory project to learn more about the process that molded the communication and space designs for the exhibit.

Like cells spreading and
growing into a whole

What was the concept behind the communication and space designs for The WOW Factory?

Kita(art director) : For several years now, I've been working on space designs for IFA, CES, and other consumer-electronics exhibitions in Japan and overseas. The main focus tends to be on finished products, obviously, so I usually try to design spatial information in a simple, neutral style that lets the products take center stage.

SXSW marked a departure from that basic approach. Instead of featuring products that were ready for market, Sony wanted to showcase pipeline projects and prototypes using technologies that were still in development. The standard, business-based product exhibition format that you normally see at corporate events wouldn't work, then—we needed to create a space that'd allow attendees to experience Sony's creativity, get a taste of the company's cutting-edge technologies, and open their eyes to future possibilities. Basically, it was all about linking the experiences to real life. To offer captivating experiences that people could make their own and imagine as enjoyable, fun-filled parts of their day-to-day existence, not just momentary glimpses of cool technology, our booth had to capture people's imaginations. Suzuki helped us fill out that vision on the graphics side.

Suzuki(designer) : The WOW Factory project was actually my first time working on space design—I'd never even drawn out a floor plan. Heading in as a first-timer, I wasn't really concentrating on profiling specific technologies in a deep, profound way. My focus was more on using colors and graphics to inspire the fun and wow-worthy aspects of the experience.

When we got to thinking about how to showcase technologies that customers hadn't ever seen before, Kita came up with a great idea: the "cell" concept. As people encountered new, fun technologies, he said, their imaginations would get active and start to venture in new directions—like cells growing and expanding into fuller wholes. The visuals I ended up creating built around that basic design concept, with solid-color "cells" representing new, formless technologies and joining together to create polygons. Graphic designs normally put the products front and center, but The WOW Factory forced me to think outside that box. I had to find a way of emphasizing things without any clear-cut shapes. For me, it was a really rewarding experience.

Photo of the entrance of the WOW Factory Photo of the exhibition space of the WOW Factory Photo of the staff uniforms and caps with the WOW Factory logo Photo of the logo patch of the WOW Factory Photo of the entrance wall of the WOW Factory on which "Welcome to THE WOW FACTORY" is written Photo of the photo space with wooden Sony logo display

Why there's no "Sony" in the logo

What kinds of difficulties did you encounter during the design process? Did you try any new approaches?

Kita : The first step of the SXSW design process was research—looking at what kinds of people would be there and what kinds of experiences they'd be expecting. The hard part for us was figuring out how to make the space exude a "Sony" feel. Following the beaten path wasn't an option, though. We knew that the designs for IFA or CES events probably wouldn't have the same impact at SXSW. We decided to throw conventional approaches out the window and embrace change: If we had an idea that might normally get us into trouble at work, we wouldn't shy away from it—we'd see where it could go. That was the basic mindset.

Suzuki : Take the logo for The WOW Factory, for example. Normally, we'd put "Sony" somewhere in there—but we chose not to. Labeling the booth like a Sony product wasn't the key point; The WOW Factory concept, in and of itself, is Sony's identity as a technology factory. Our goal was to make the space design embody that notion, showing attendees that dreaming up thrills and excitement is what we do.

Kita : For big events like SXSW, most companies outsource their exhibit space designs to advertising agencies or event producers. Sony, however, has in-house teams do the design work. To me, that's one of the best things about the company's approach. Who thinks hardest about how to make our spaces and graphics look great? Who works harder than anyone else to make designs reflect the Sony identity? It's not outside parties. It's us, the designers who work within the Sony organization and understand the company best. As designers, we're so lucky that Sony entrusts us with that responsibility.

Suzuki : One of the things about Sony is that you can't pigeonhole it. We've got such a diverse makeup, one that gives us so many different, distinct facets. With The WOW Factory, I felt like I was adding another piece to the Sony identity: another cell in our ever-growing body of work. It wasn't easy finding new ways to express that Sony character, but it was sure a rewarding experience. I got so much out of it.

The story behind the emblem

Not many Sony employees got the chance to see the SXSW exhibit in person, obviously. How do you want them to share in The WOW Factory concept?

Kita : The people who came to The WOW Factory all looked so amazed, so happy—so wowed! That was so encouraging to see.

Suzuki : Making our visitors happy was the top priority, of course, but we also wanted to infuse the whole experience with a Sony presence. To foreground Sony's passion for creating excitement and give our employees something they could wear loud and proud, we put The WOW Factory emblem on our shirt design.

As we keep working on different ways to capture and communicate the magic of The WOW Factory, I hope more and more employees can embrace the concept and channel that interest into new, exciting endeavors.

Kita : Whenever you're a part of a project that makes someone happy or gives someone a great time, you feel like you've made a real contribution to the company—and done something for the whole community. The project might not be your life's work, but the experience always makes your job more fun. That's how I came out of The WOW Factory effort, at least.

(L to R) Kita(art director), Suzuki(designer)