Reflecting on the last few years its easy to spot the products that have created the most buzz for Sony, and most certainly the hit of CES 2009 was the ultraportable VAIO P lifestyle PC. While it may or may not have been a critical success for the Japanese company, it did once again demonstrate the company was capable of pushing the bar of innovation and design – there simply was nothing like it in the market when it was introduced. Fast forward to 2010, and the VAIO P has received some significant upgrades, and has evolved in appearance.
Lets learn more about this interesting evolution of the VAIO P, courtesy of Sony Design.
Tsuge: We knew that updating the “VAIO” P Series would not be easy. This was the second phase after a successful launch last year, and the design was already quite polished. We couldn’t meddle with what was already fine. And the internal layout was so carefully arranged and highly integrated that we had little freedom in design.
Still, we needed something fresh, with impact. We were also looking to expand the horizons of the P Series, so to speak. These are ultraportables, so they should withstand a little rough handling. We viewed this update as an opportunity to satisfy on-the-go needs.
Toward this end, one theme in development was vividness, literally and figuratively. Vivid colors seem dynamic and full of vitality, and demonstrating a vivid sense of presence through distinctive shapes and functions is also a worthwhile goal for the “VAIO” line. In response to my abstract ideas, Soichi suggested an approach that would take us in quite a different direction in design.
Tanaka: Normally, distinctive structures or functions might be our starting point in design. But this time the shape yielded no clues. So what could we do? I tried the opposite approach—considering superficial instead of structural or functional design. The surface finish might reveal what statement we should make in design.
Luxurious, glossy finishes have graced the P Series so far (as seen in the first generation VAIO P picture above). Although this kind of finish can add an air of elegance, fingerprints or smears bother some people. And especially because this model has a new gesture-based interface and was conceived to be held in both hands in transit, we knew people would touch it more than ever. If so, surely fingerprints would be less noticeable on a matte finish. People wouldn’t need to worry about smudges, and combined with vivid colors, the matte finish would offer a fresh look in computers.
Acting on this plan, however, took a lot of courage. In computers, glossy finishes are everywhere. In fact, we pioneered this trend through “VAIO” computers, seeking richer colors. It was easy to anticipate resistance from within the company if we bucked the trend by adopting vivid colors and a matte finish. Some might complain that it cheapened the appearance, and some would urge us to make it look more luxurious. The only way to convince them and bring my concept to life was to show what this matte finish inevitably led to in design. The moment my colleagues saw it, they must know that this is how it had to be.
Starting with the matte finish, I considered pursuing my design ideas directly, following my intuition. Ultimately, I decided I was seeking the image of soft cloth wrapped around a black, solid-looking screen. Unlike the almost metallic sheen of glossy finishes, matte finishes call to mind the soft textures of rubber, cloth, or leather. And by extension, an action associated with these soft materials is wrapping things up to protect them. In fact, whenever I take “VAIO” notebook prototypes with me, I place a large sheet between the keyboard and LCD screen, and then I roll the bundle up to protect it. You might say that I transferred this instinctive, familiar behavior directly into my design approach.
Tanaka: To convey this image of being rolled up or enfolded, we applied design finesse in several respects. You can see the most obvious touches on the front edge and lid corners. Unlike lids on clamshell devices—which fit closely against the lower section, just like clam shells—the corners of the lid on the new P Series are quite rounded. By intentionally showing how the lid covers the keyboard panel, we give the impression that the unit is rolled up or folded up when closed. It’s an idea we wanted to try for some time, and I think we succeeded in creating the desired effect: different appearances when closed and open, a slim-looking body, and so on.
Removing any elements that now seemed unneeded or contrived was another goal. Anything distracting would kill the appealing “rolled up” character, and these models would resemble the old models with just a fresh coat of paint.
Look at the area around the isolated keyboard, for example. On previous models, the keyboard panel was recessed, as if the surface around the keys had been carved out of the surrounding panel. This time the keyboard panel is flat. If it weren’t, light would reflect from the ridge around the keys, and the effect of a sheet encircling the keyboard panel would be ruined. The side panels, which resemble black strips, also contribute to this effect. We couldn’t interrupt these black strips with contrasting ports or jacks. Similarly, we couldn’t have any distracting protrusions. That’s where in-house design teams are invaluable. After we arranged for development of a few parts, the sides looked just as I had imagined, like sleek black strips. Besides this, we avoided metallic finishes, kept hinge seams inconspicuous, and tried to eliminate any cold, mechanical elements usually associated with computers.
Tanaka: Vivid colors enliven the “layer” that seems to be folded up when the lid is closed. But instead of plain red or blue, we chose warm and cool hues (such as orange and green) and other colors for a fresh, dynamic look that has broad appeal. These colors are popular in kitchen products and stationery. By choosing familiar colors, we ensure that the overall impression from the combination of the matte finish, part shapes, and general color scheme seems natural.
We still faced one basic issue, though. To complete the image I had envisioned, the keyboard and standard battery colors needed to match the body colors. But once parts had been created in a particular color, they would not be interchangeable. So if green proved popular, for example, we couldn’t use extra black keys to assemble green models. And because the lid, bottom surface, battery, and keyboard are all painted separately (with separate base coats, depending on the material), it would be more reasonable to accept some variation in color and give up trying to match colors.
But to convince my colleagues this was important, I prepared an orange mock-up. This defied our usual practice of using neutral colors such as black, white, or silver to prevent color bias from affecting structural decisions. By defying tradition, I wanted to demonstrate the “rolled-up” character of this model and persuade everyone involved that we needed the keyboard and standard battery to match the body color.
The matte colors of the new P Series took as much repeated trial and error to achieve as the glossy finishes did for first-generation models. First, we had to determine the criteria for a perfect finish. Colors had to be vivid and resist fading. We chose durable UV coatings, for surfaces that are satisfyingly rough but don’t easily scratch or develop a shine if rubbed over time. And because individual sites generally don’t paint all surfaces of a computer, it’s a matter of coordinating colors at each site. But if we don’t give up, we find the right way.
Tanaka: Once we had decided on the appearance of the new P Series, we turned our attention to custom cases. Plain old gray cases or pouches wouldn’t fit the image of the P Series at all, so we designed special accessory kits. They’re made of silicone, which complements the matte finish of the body nicely. These are the first “VAIO” kits to include molded cases and straps.
The straps are a reassuring addition, considering mobile needs. But first we had to deal with strict structural requirements that prevented us from opening a hole in the case, for threading the strap. We almost gave up on this accessory, but we can thank our persistent engineers for the solution you see today.
For greater convenience, the cases have no fasteners. It’s easy to put the unit away or take it out. The way these sleek cases fit snugly around the body may remind you of competitive swimwear. You can enjoy coordinating the case color with the body color, which is visible through holes along one edge of the case. In fact, these holes also provide ventilation and keep the case quiet when the unit is removed. The cases are molded, but these holes are created by hand. It’s an accessory that took a surprising amount of effort to create, and we hope you enjoy this traveling companion for the “VAIO” P Series.
Tsuge: Through the years, “VAIO” computers have always introduced something new and special to the market. Glossy finishes were one example. Gleaming, rich colors are only possible with time and effort, as each layer from the base coat to the top coat is carefully polished. Alternatively, a fabrication technique called in-mold decoration (IMD) has become popular in recent years. Decorative film applied during the molding process provides a cheaper way to achieve a glossy finish. That’s one reason why glossy mobile electronics are now so popular.
Still, rich colors are not possible through regular IMD fabrication, and under some conditions, the film tears, creating wrinkles on product surfaces. The technique also imposes some limitations in design. Computers produced this way all tend to have the same, sagging appearance.
In contrast, the vivid spirit and appearance of “VAIO” models represents our ideal of refusing to be followers. In ultraportables such as the P Series, it makes a big difference when products project an image people don’t mind showing others. We want to give people options that are “vivid” in color, shape, functionality, and sense of presence. The new P Series symbolizes our approach in the next phase of “VAIO” mobile development very well. We hope many people enjoy using these decidedly different computers as their main machine, no matter where they are.