VISION-S Prototype Design Story

How Sony's foray into mobility
became a pursuit of "reality"

#2 Exterior design

When Sony unveiled the VISION-S Prototype at CES 2020, the first thing that people saw was its exterior aesthetic—a sophisticated balance of sporty but laid-back,
exhilaratingly innovative but rooted in reality. For the designers behind that gripping exterior look, that balance was key.
What they wanted wasn’t a “dream car.” They were after a “real car,” a practical EV for the next generation.

The “OVAL” concept:
Form as embodiment

Sony had already zeroed in on three components that it saw as vital to the dynamically changing mobility experiences of the future: safety, entertainment, and adaptability, which laid the foundation for the VISION-S Prototype design. The ideas eventually came together in the “OVAL” concept, a geometric representation of a car “wrapping” around riders. With the core concept in place, the design team got to work on an exterior that would convey that core idea in an intuitive, visual form. The VISION-S Prototype was jam-packed with Sony’s cutting-edge technologies, but the team knew that focusing on the technological wow-factor wasn’t the way to go. It was all about welcoming people in a warm, inviting embrace.

Wrapping riders in an oval of light

The clearest, most immediate embodiment of the OVAL concept lies in the loop of light that extends from the car’s Daytime Running Light (DRL). The DRL activates an illuminated brand symbol—similar to a graphic symbol used in an electrical schematic —on the tip of the front when the car’s owner approaches. The light extends in a horizontal band, connecting the turn signals, door handles, and tail light as it circles its way around the body. Not only does the DRL loop symbolize the OVAL concept in actual geometrical form, but it also glows with an intelligent ambience; the car exudes a “smart,” responsive quality that fills riders with a sense of comfort.

The aesthetics of surfaces and lines

The symbolism of the OVAL concept extends past “light,” however. Take the edge lines linking the front and back, for example. Chrome lines envelop the top of the frame in an oval, too. Even the surface of the body, where all those lines draw their contours, is a seamless wraparound. With so many OVAL-inspired elements drawing a unified aesthetic full of smooth arcs and curves, the car boasts a stunning look from any angle—not just a certain vantage point. The beauty stretches every direction in a constant formal flow, giving the car a flowing, inimitable grace in its visual appeal.

How a sense of
reality puts the whole
experience within reach

When the project first got going, the team considered the idea of crafting one of those futuristic-looking cars that turn heads in showrooms—but that interest faded fast, instead giving way to a pursuit of a real car. Why the shift? Because the whole goal of the project was to learn, to understand the essential elements for achieving safety and security, the relationship between the moving car and the city around it, and everything else that goes into making a car, gleaning insights into how everything fits together. Like all the other components of the car, the exterior was a platform for practical learning. The designers knew that they had to gain as much practical knowledge as they could and, at the same time, show that Sony was serious about its mission to create a car. The designers wanted people to see the car and immediately feel like the experience was squarely within reach—a car that people would actually want to ride and drive around town, not just a pipe dream, a “car of the future.” That centered the designers’ focus on realizing a complete ideal without compromising on the essence of reality.

Five-star safety and road-ready compliance

The visual aesthetic is just the beginning of the exterior’s pervasive sense of reality. No car can ever really be “realistic” unless it’s drivable and ready for the road—and that means full regulatory compliance. Recognizing that their creation would need to satisfy every safety standard, every requirement of every applicable regulation, and check every security requirement, the designers made sure that the VISION-S Prototype had everything it needed to be drive-ready, meticulously positioning the lights and turn signals to ensure complete conformance. The team also set its sights on five-star collision safety, the highest possible rating. With all the work that the team put into the safety performance of the model, the VISION-S Prototype appears poised to meet that ambitious benchmark.

Roomy on the inside but stylishly sleek on the outside

Most coupes tend to sacrifice comfort for looks, harnessing their low centers of gravity for eye-catching aesthetics. The VISION-S Prototype is a coupe, too, but the project’s goal of creating a “mobile entertainment space” meant that the team had to balance the need for style and the need for space. The design also had to sit up a bit higher off the ground because of the configuration of the battery, which occupies a portion of the floor. Considering all the conflicting interests in play, the designers had their work cut out for them—but they took the challenge in stride, considering seating positions, the bend of riders’ legs and even their head positions in minute detail. Tweaking packages down to the millimeter, the team eventually carved out a design that would give the cabin the roomy quality it needed and still let the roof lines trace elegant arcs for a sharp, attractive silhouette.

Gleaning insights for the
future through
team-driven creation

The VISION-S Prototype project was a sandbox for more than just actual design elements—it was also a platform for experimenting with “team design.” The project broke the design into multiple individual segments, with the designers in each area working concurrently on their respective tasks. However, due to safety regulations and various limitations posed by on-board devices and the need for interior comfort, the exterior team couldn’t simply go with every idea they wanted to; they depended on co-creation to pave the way forward. The teamwork was tight, bringing a diverse mix of professionals together to learn about their different cultures, understand their respective styles, and, occasionally, work through differences of opinion. Given how new Sony is to the world of car hardware and the intricacies of seeing a car through the development process, the experiences that came out of the VISION-S Prototype project will be valuable assets for years to come.

Ideas in 3D, tests in VR

The team took some unorthodox approaches to their work, too. Car styling normally takes a legion of workers and four full years of work time at a minimum. The VISION-S Prototype project, however, had a mere handful of project members and wrapped up in just two years’ time. Coming out of the project and looking back on how quickly the process had gone, the team started rethinking the conventional methods of exterior design. The team’s approach involved using 3D data as the basis for everything from the initial planning to the final phase; there was no clay modeling whatsoever. Everything was digital. The team leveraged high-quality rendering and VR technology, taking full advantage of their resources to conceptualize the car, make choices, and do verification work. Blazing through all the necessary steps with the aid of cutting-edge technology, the team brought the VISION-S Prototype to fruition with unprecedented speed.

Rooting Sony creativity in a century-long legacy of car culture

The VISION-S Prototype was Sony’s first foray into designing a passenger car. As they worked through the process, the designers could almost feel themselves connecting with “car culture,” an evolving dynamic that traces back roughly 100 years. “Every time I did something with my hands, every time I held a little part in my fingers, I could sense a gravity in what I was doing—the weight of history, I guess,” says designer Shimizu, “That legacy goes way back in Europe; it has roots in the carriages of centuries ago. That made it even more gratifying when an Italian colleague told me the project was like a ‘fusion of classic and contemporary.’” That car culture, though, is now at a major turning point in observers’ eyes. “Faced with the challenge of designing a next-generation EV, the team consistently shared the desire to create something that was both real and exquisitely shaped,” said designer Ueda. “That desire was not limited only to the styling—beauty and functionality are wedded in even the smallest details, from wheels and lights to the side mirrors. Cars naturally evolve with time, so going forward we hope to discover new ideals in tune with those transformations.” According to designer Takagi, the timing of the VISION-S Prototype project gives designers an enormous opportunity. “The fact that we’re in the midst of a major change gives us a chance to experiment with design. We don’t have any expertise in cars—but that’s exactly why we could dream up what we did for the VISION-S. Sony and cars have finally met. Who knows what could happen? We sure hope some amazing sparks fly.”

Master Designer Noriaki Takagi, Art Director Yosuke Shimizu, Design Producer Arinobu Ueda