Cross-divisional project engenders new ideas for the beauty business: Skin Analysis System BeautyExplorer™

Case:07 Cross-divisional project engenders new ideas for the beauty business: Skin Analysis System BeautyExplorer™ Skin Analysis System BeautyExplorer™ is Sony's first attempt to create original products and a new business model for the beauty business areas. We interviewed the people who brought the project to fruition, including their attempts to incorporate uniquely female perspectives along with a wide range of opinions from outside the company.

Incorporating women's perspectives into a technology oriented project

Tsuzuki : Sony is strong in the imaging sensing technology it has developed for its cameras and smartphones, and the image analysis and signal processing technologies it has developed for its TVs and cameras. The desire to make the most of these technologies and grow the sensing market for human and other applications underpins our initiatives in the skin analysis business. We want to use Sony's imaging sensor solutions to enable people to enjoy greater health and beauty in their lives.

Hashimoto : Initially, most of the project members were men, with only two women involved. While there is no difference in the way men and women consider business models and operational policies, it was essential to incorporate the viewpoints of women -- the main target users -- when it came to envisaging usage scenarios and finalizing designs. By assigning women from various related divisions to the project, we steadily built up an organization that could integrate a wide range of opinions from diversified viewpoints.

Tsuzuki : From a woman's perspective, cosmetics and skin care are of daily importance. On the other hand, the number of men using skin care products has been increasing recently, but for most of them I don't think it's a matter of daily routine yet. Each individual's experience and sensibilities are important, so I believe it was good to involve a wide range of people with diverse views and varied perspectives in the project. Some made the most of their own daily experiences, some participated from a purely technical point of view, and others took a more detached, longer-term approach.

Incorporating the opinions of a wide range of women
proved to be a shortcut to developing an excellent product

Igami : As the project advanced, we reflected the opinions of our female members as users in the methods we used for showing the results of skin analyses. It is technically possible to measure the skin and show the result numerically, but the really important thing is how to interpret these results so that they can be translated into information that the customer can benefit. It would be impossible to do this without asking the opinions of women because they think of their skin constantly as they use cosmetics on a daily basis. In fact, our engineers frequently thought that certain information should be made more precise from a technical perspective, only to find that female users gave greater priority to other measurements.

Miyakoshi : The male engineers often asked me what women really focus on. They also checked whether the expressions used in text displays were difficult for users to understand. I was delighted to see how proactive they were about getting women's opinions. To incorporate a wide range of opinions beyond those of the project team members, we also set up a demonstration corner next to the staff canteen for a month, and interviewed employees to get an idea of their impressions and wishes. The opinions we got ranged widely, from the design and usability of the skin measuring equipment to the application's user interface and the content of the displayed results. The strongest impression we got from women was their wish to look at a mirror when analyzing their skin. When women indicated that they wanted to measure their cheeks, for example, the places they actually wanted to measure differed subtly from one person to another. Many of them wanted to use a mirror to check whether the sensor was actually measuring the right place. We therefore incorporated a mirror mode to display the image from the tablet's front camera on the screen so that they could use this like a mirror while taking measurements. I believe we succeeded in creating a much better product by listening to every possible opinion instead of leaving it to the development side to decide what to concentrate on.

Solving problems by eliciting free opinions
without departmental or ranking constraints

Tsuzuki : This was the first time the Device Solutions Business Group had ever tackled a product based on a business model for providing a solution as a system developed from scratch. Developing the hardware design, applications and cloud systems all from nothing is not something that the Device Solutions Business Group can do alone. We therefore gathered personnel from across several departments, including Akita-san of the Creative Center and Miyakoshi-san of the RDS Platform, and everyone worked together to move the project forward.

Akita : While our members had their own expertise, this was the first time any of them had anything to do with the beauty business areas. For this very reason, we were able to exchange opinions freely irrespective of our individual specialties as we proceeded with development. For example, buttons located on the main unit were initially the only way to shoot images using the skin measurement device. But as we continued to experiment, we found that these buttons were used in different ways depending on the scenario and the equipment operator. We all met together to discuss other possible approaches to the buttons themselves, and decided to change the specifications dramatically by locating large buttons on the tablet as well, allowing users to shoot images using both the main unit and the tablet. This enabled us to make the unit easier for a variety of users to operate under various scenarios. I believe improvements like this were possible because our workplace encouraged free exchanges of opinions among team members.

Hashimoto : As we were tackling a new business project, I think that gathering together members from different backgrounds facilitated straightforward discussions that were not biased towards one particular approach or fixed idea. Generating many new ideas enabled us all to genuinely aim for the best possible product, thereby creating something that was closer to perfection.

Lessons from partners such as aesthetic and beauty care salons,
and cosmetic manufacturers

Hashimoto : With this project, we will continue to offer services after delivering the product as part of our challenge to create a business that provides profits on a recurring basis. The opinions we continue to receive from partners such as aesthetic and beauty care salons and cosmetic manufacturers are extremely important because they will help us build up our relationships with customers over the longer term. In fact, we have been visiting our partners for interviews for almost two years. Since the project presented new business challenges, I believe we adopted the right approach to improving our product little by little by inviting feedback from our partners who are closest to the end users.

Igami : For example, we would not have been able to set standards for judging results that indicate skin condition without the opinions and feedback from our partners. It is not easy to judge whether the results of measurements indicate that the skin is oily or dry, or set thresholds for the two conditions by simply viewing the data. The precision of the numerical data is very important, of course, but for the beauty business to be able to use them properly, the question is how to ensure measurement results yield more valuable information. The solution to this is very important. In that sense, I believe this product was only possible because we were able to include customers' opinions.

Tsuzuki : To be honest, there was considerable argument within the company as to whether the product should be called BeautyExplorer. The product's original technical name was SKKEP (Smart Skin Evaluation Program), and some of the male members doubted it was necessary to create a new product name. But as we continued to discuss the matter, we eventually reached the conclusion that in order to persuade our partners -- beauty salons and pharmaceutical manufacturers -- to use our product in their outlets, and enable them to understand our approach to beauty treatment, it was essential to use an easy to understand name with which they could quickly become familiar. In the end, we decided to call our product the BeautyExplorer. The decision had nothing to do with male or female points of view. Our primary goal was to please our partners. Whenever we had to incorporate perspectives of various kinds, that was always our most important criterion.

Member diversity creates new value

Akita : We were not particularly focused on diversity during this project. However, I believe that diversity became a natural outcome as we all did our best to push the project forward. The atmosphere that resulted from open exchanges of ideas through discussions ultimately helped to create a great product.

Igami : It is really quite a challenge to adopt new approaches that have no precedents. However, I learned we can accomplish great things if we gather people from diverse backgrounds to work together. Looking ahead, I am sure we can create new values for customers if people with diverse values cooperate.

Miyakoshi : The project advanced not because someone decided something, but because we mutually recognized the validity of other people's thinking and accepted their viewpoints. It's great fun to be in a workplace where all sorts of ideas are flying around. A diverse environment provides the motivation for this kind of work.

Hashimoto : Sony's corporate culture allows candid exchanges of opinion irrespective of gender, rank, career or background, and reflects the fact that anybody can come up with good ideas. Looking ahead to the possibility of establishing more new businesses, I will always value an environment that allows frank discussions among members with a wide range of views, as happened in this case.

Tsuzuki : Diversity is not just a matter of differences between men and women. There are many different opinions even among women. It is important to ascertain what sort of experiences other individuals have had, as well as their points of view. The very fact that a variety of people work for Sony opens up various possibilities for individual projects.

Product introduced: BeautyExplorer™  Skin Analysis System