Sony unveiled its first car, the VISION-S Prototype, to the world in January 2020. Izumi Kawanishi and Daisuke Ishii,
who poured their hearts and souls into driving the project, discuss the thoughts and aspirations of the project members,
the kind of car they set out to create and the potential that exists for next-generation mobility in the future.
Senior Vice President,
In charge of
AI Robotics Business
Driving creation with
the speed of a startup
KawanishiWe made a fairly grand announcement, so I often get asked why Sony moved into car development. As a matter of fact, the move wasn’t triggered by any dramatic decision. Rather, it was more like the time had finally come. At the time, the 2010s—the decade of smartphones—were drawing to a close, and we knew the next decade would belong to mobility.
IshiiThat was around 2018. There was the sense in the automotive industry back then that a once in a lifetime age of transformation was under way.
KawanishiEveryone was talking about how the CASE revolution was going to shape the future of the automotive industry. Sony already possessed expertise in three of the four areas that CASE represented—the C (connected), A (autonomous) and E (electric). In other words, mobility was fast becoming a stage where Sony could play an active role. And I thought that outsiders like us jumping into the fray could very well be part of the revolution.
IshiiThe subject of mobility often cropped up whenever I discussed Sony's future with Mr. Kawanishi, so the anticipation was clearly there. Before we got the ball rolling, we drew a storyboard to help us visualize what we were going after. My assumption was that we were looking at the future five to ten years down the line. When we got together to discuss our plan, it turned out that we were going to aim for two years.
KawanishiThat's because I was sure we could do it. After all, startup companies have managed to do it in two or three years, and Sony already had the C, A and E as well as the basic technology. Since we were jumping in from outside the industry, we needed to work with the speed of a startup, not a car manufacturer.
IshiiSince that was the case, we scrambled to put a team together. Our list included Xperia's UX designers, the camera product designers that created Sony α, robotics designers who worked on aibo, myself included, as well as branding and communication designers. We tried as much as possible to gather project members in the Creative Center who seemed suited for mobility design or for this project. Then we started searching for a concept. Since we were new to car design, each member created their own rendering or UX concept, and we created a single story book containing words and visuals that pointed to the direction we were aiming for. It was put together entirely from the viewpoint of the Creative Center, and it served to clarify what our ideal image of mobility looked like.
KawanishiIt's important to start with a completely clean slate. If I had said, "This is how it should be," then everything would have been decided according to my wishes. However, cars are still mainly owned by individuals, so I wanted everyone to first draw their dream car, something that they themselves would love to have. After all, many of Sony's products can be considered luxury items, so that pure, uninhibited feeling of "I love this!" is extremely important. And that's precisely why I believed in Sony's design capability and trusted the Creative Center with the design instead of using external designers.
Focusing on a "real car"
that meets all standards
IshiiSome of the ideas back then seemed more like something out of a dream or fantasy, but we quickly moved from there to a more realistic direction.
KawanishiWe argued a lot about them, didn't we? We could certainly make a pure concept car, an imaginary product that would never run, but it would be meaningless for us to work on something that was unlikely to be realized. At the end of the day, a car is a means of getting from one place to another. That’s just something you can’t ignore, so we decided to take a more down-to-earth approach. We started with the fundamental assumption that the car would run properly. In the real world, that of course means the car meets laws and regulations as well. Otherwise, it wouldn't be able to reach its destination nor protect people. That's why our baseline was designing a "real car" that would meet all standards and regulations. An imaginary vehicle would not do. Our goal was to design a car in the real sense of the word.
IshiiThat way of thinking is characteristic of Sony—pursuing simple, practical designs grounded in reality. But in fact, this mindset presented the greatest challenge for us as designers. After all, none of us had any grounding in the auto industry. Let's take the exterior, for example. There are many charismatic styling designers in the car making industry. However, for the VISION-S Prototype exterior, we created a layered design that contained not only such styling trends but also the functional beauty, real-life context and UX story that represented Sony Design, which has designed so many AV and IT devices.
KawanishiWe aimed for a style that was clearly distinct from the bold, aggressive designs with a focus on on-road performance that are common these days. At the same time, a nondescript or impersonal design wouldn't work either, so it was a tough process.
IshiiOne of the things we tried to realize with this car was the concept of "wrapping" people. So you could say the design was the stylistic embodiment of the idea of mobility that protects people through sensing. A blacked-out glass cabin wrapped in a sensor-packed case that gleams with a metallic light. The interior was also designed to encircle the rider, almost like a capsule holding people.
KawanishiIt worked out that way because our design concept was "OVAL." Based on that, we held many discussions about emphasizing "light." Starting from the decorative symbol on the front, the Daytime Running Light (DRL) lights up and from there the lights on the car light up in relay. It is the very visualization of the concept. Moreover, from now on the focus in cars is going to shift from machinery to IT and electronics, so I believe light also symbolizes that wave of the future.
Designing a car
that connects with
people and society
IshiiAlthough we had no background in car design, we managed to bring the VISION-S Prototype to life, thanks to the support of the car development team. Looking back, we were able to successfully incorporate the OVAL design concept of wrapping people into everything from the styling to the UI/UX and branding.
KawanishiI think it went very well. We didn't compromise at all on the concept.
IshiiI believe our close cooperation as a team was the key to our success. Right from the outset, we made sure there were no walls separating different sections. We cooperated thoroughly to develop everything from the exterior to the interior and the UI/UX. I think that kind of team structure is very characteristic of Sony Design. I spoke about "light" earlier. We were able to incorporate the car's symbol within that line of light, and in my opinion that idea bore fruit precisely because the product, UI/UX and brand designers all worked on one team at an extremely close distance.
KawanishiAs far as the design and the team building behind it goes, we have been successful so far. However, the important thing is what will happen next. We need to think about not just designing a car but also about designing ways to create relationships and extensions linking that car to people and societies. Cars right now are able to connect to the cloud, but a car originally conceived as a service car must have other capabilities as well. We need to think about the kind of value that Sony offers in that respect, because I think the evolution of mobility in the future will cover everything inside and outside the car.
IshiiI feel exactly the same way. Just looking around our company, we have sensing technology, games, music and even finance, so I believe that we can aim to provide services with a higher level of integration. In my mind, that kind of grand, truly exciting vision is exactly what the VISION-S initiative is all about.
Creative Center VISION-S
Creative Director Daisuke Ishii, Exterior Design Noriaki Takagi, Exterior Design Yosuke Shimizu, Exterior Design Arinobu Ueda, Creative Producer Tohru Kurata,
Interior Design Takuya Motoishi, Interior Design Henrik Erbeus, CMF Design Linda Lissola, UI/UX Design Satoshi Akagawa, UI/UX Design Hidehiro Komatsu,
UI/UX Design Yohei Nakajima, Communication Design Daigo Maesaka, Communication Design Nobuhiro Jogano, Communication Design Kazuki Matsui, Creative Producer Yusuke Murasawa