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Throwback: NWD-E020 Design Story

Dozens of styles, and one that's all your own

Some colors excite us, and others turn us off—even if the design is the same. It's no surprise that color is a key factor affecting our impression of products. With accent panels running the spectrum in 20 patterns, the new WALKMAN® E series satisfies quite a range of tastes.

Kanae Fukamatsu
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Producer and Designer

Asami Yamagishi
Sony Corporation
Creative Center

Naoki Sugiyama
Sony Corporation
Creative Center

Rest of the full Design Story after the break.

The new WALKMAN®, playing the chameleon

Sugiyama: How could we tempt more people than ever to try the WALKMAN® E series? We found one answer in offering more color options. The first thing you notice about these models is the chance to change the panel to suit your preferred color and appearance. Initially, you'll choose one of the five basic color sets at the store, and then you can apply a panel in one of the two colors provided. One set includes Urban Black and Shiny Silver panels, for example. This way, you're sure to like one of the colors. To make the new E series even more enticing, we worked with members of the Color & Material Design Team from an early stage in development.

More color options than ever

Fukamatsu: We initially imagined a line of five basic colors. One thing we had to consider, though, was how E series models look in a computer USB port when users connect them. People would probably appreciate a color that complements their computer. So one priority was to offer colors matching VAIO case colors.

Still, we wanted the E series to appeal to everyone—from young women to elderly men, and from those with conservative tastes to those with a cutting-edge sense of style. And just a handful of colors is hardly enough to please everyone. That's when we decided to branch out from these five basic colors by developing subcategories, which we described in terms of a particular image or character. As we sought images such as Modern, sharp and Shiny, elegant, we described each style on an "image board" that we shared with members in engineering and planning departments.

This helped us develop ten colors in all for the five basic sets, but this was still not enough colors to satisfy the large segment of users we were targeting. It was then that we decided to introduce accent panels—optional accessories combining colors and patterns for a more individual touch. After this, we had 20 different panels ready by the time the player was launched

Twenty panels, from infinite possibilities

Yamagishi: Kanae and I must have considered hundreds of combinations of colors and patterns. But the hard part was narrowing down just the right colors and patterns that would cover a broad range of user tastes. Depending on the pattern, players in the same shade of pink can look gently alluring or boldly glamorous. Products also give a different impression with a shiny or satin finish, for example. The possibilities are truly infinite, but as we visualized user tastes and lifestyles, we narrowed down the combinations of colors and patterns so that each panel represented a distinctive character, with no overlapping.

Our work was also challenging because of the size of these tiny panels. The Sony logo and player buttons made our "canvas" for design work even smaller. Getting the effect we imagined took repeated trial and error with mock-ups.

When you're shopping, check out the blister packs for a preview of these accent panel accessories. Giving people a good idea how the panels will look on their player required a little innovation, with help from our packaging designers. The dazzling display is sure to catch your eye, in shelves full of mostly white WALKMAN® accessories. Choosing your favorite color may be tantalizingly difficult, but I hope you'll enjoy this experience, too.

A symphony of appearances, but Sony style shines through

Sugiyama: Change the panel, and you can instantly transform the appearance of an E series player. But no matter how you change the appearance, you'll still recognize Sony style—that was a priority for us. To ensure this, we applied the time-honored WALKMAN® language of design in the shape of the player.

Specifically, tiny E series players reflect the aesthetics of the S series. The S series makes a lasting impression, outlined in a silver frame. We preserved this general image in the E series while refining details such as the button layout. The structure supporting switchable panels is actually quite sophisticated, with the panel and buttons assembled into a single component. Panels slide easily onto the player, without increasing the body size. This required careful engineering. Most important, the buttons had to be easy to press. But for a more impressive change of appearance after applying panels, we wanted to keep the acrylic part as large as possible. Balancing these two priorities took the greatest attention to detail.

Raising the bar in quality 

Yamagishi: The E series comes in a generous array of colors, but we also wanted users to enjoy looking stylish carrying it with them. We have discussed many ways to develop accessories in the future. One idea is a leather case.

In itself, a leather case may not be such an original accessory. But the one we're pursuing is the kind of luxurious, fashionable case many women would love to wear. Rather than being worn like a necklace, this elegant case is suspended from a handbag strap, perhaps next to other accessories. Developing these proposals means conveying our ideas to engineers effectively. To make sure our engineers and product planners had an accurate understanding, we ordered Italian leather and used small cases from famous brands as samples. It was a tangible demonstration of what texture feels comfortable, what stitching looks elegant, and so on.

Thanks to this effort, each new prototype revealed a more luxurious model. The E series is positioned for a broad segment of users and should set a new standard as a WALKMAN®. That's exactly why we didn't compromise. We wanted to raise the bar in quality. Check out the case for yourself to see what I mean.

The appeal of Sony design, multiplied by more color options

Fukamatsu: In a market this mature, qualities such as color and texture are more important in design. Consumer surveys show how various colors have a dramatic impact on how much people desire a product, even when the design is identical. To capitalize on this, we hope to develop more color options as a way to pursue the Sony ideal of exposing latent consumer needs and satisfying them through just the right products.

Through the years, every Sony product designer has focused carefully on not only the shape of their products but also the color. Designers can easily apply their own strengths here, and it's an environment that encourages new design work. Still, recent product development, with an emphasis on interconnected product ecosystems, calls for a more broad-based approach to color coordination (beyond particular product categories and design fields) besides conventional design systems.

The design of the new WALKMAN® E series is consistent with the design of products in other categories, such as VAIO computers and Cyber-shot cameras, but the color options also allow people some self-expression. There will certainly be more opportunities to approach design from the roles that products play in our lifestyles this way in the future.

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