#interview – designing Xperia Z Ultra

Xperia Z Ultra pushes the boundaries of industrial hardware design – the world’s slimmest smartphone, with the largest Full HD display. Social media chatter and Sony MAE booth-goers have been discussing and challenging this accomplishment – so, yesterday I sat down with Jun Katsunuma, design lead on Xperia Z Ultra, to talk challenges, inspiration, design…

Enjoy.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself – who you are, where you’ve been and where you’re going…

I’m Katsu. I was born in Tokyo, Japan and now live in Beijing. I work in Sony Mobile’s global design team, focusing on smartphone hardware. Previously, I designed TVs, laptops to name but a few.

The future is: me continuing to do what I love – design, and all the opportunity for collaboration and cross-thinking that comes with it. The future of smartphone design is exciting and challenging – what will the next mobile communications device will be? How we can continue to create and innovate around that?

What is inspiration?

Inspiration is anything and everything. You can draw inspiration and creativity from physical objects, nature, art… Sometimes, people almost look too hard for inspiration, when I believe it’s about appreciating the little things all around you.

Can you tell us a bit about the (Sony) design philosophy behind Xperia Z Ultra?

Sure – Xperia Z Ultra showcases our OmniBalance design language. The “OmniBalance” concept is the expression of simplicity and beauty from any angle – it’s a form based on consistency.

The idea is to spark an emotional impression when different use scenarios or viewing angles don’t affect or detract from the beautiful aesthetic.

Xperia Z Ultra’s design is very much based around the concept of “the journey” – in that, you have this large-screen device (the same width as a Passport) that’s comfortable and portable, allowing you to enjoy content and experiences as you go from one place to the next.

Xperia Z Ultra will be available in Sony’s flagship colour scheme variations: Black, White and Purple. Black is the sea under moonlight during a quiet night; White is the reflection of sunlight on snow and Purple is the twilight sky during late sunset.

Xperia Z Ultra is a beautiful device; the world’s slimmest smartphone, with the largest Full HD display – how did you go about creating / finding the balance between functional and expressive?

We wanted to create something beautiful with premium materials and textures throughout (e.g aluminium side panels and Sony’s iconic power button), but we had every user (and every conceivable use-case) in mind at all times, so it was all about balancing specs and size…

What were the biggest challenges in conceptualising Xperia Z Ultra – realising the slimness, screen size and water resistance – without compromising on functionality?

The main challenge was in creating a super-slim smartphone, and realising this with premium materials was difficult. To overcome, we worked closely with our engineers to define direction – and really pushed each other in the terms of what was possible from a design and component footprint perspective.

It all comes down to collaboration and thorough creative planning sessions. Collaboration is always a necessity – our hardware, software / UI teams are in constant contact throughout the entire project process.

Who is your design hero – and why?

When I was a design student I had many influences, but always admired a certain German designer who focused on “simplicity”.

People around me are my “heroes” – I draw inspiration from people and the way we interact with each other emotionally.

Do you have any tips for young designers?

Be bold, and challenge yourself! Don’t hide your work behind closed doors, and make sure you can present :-)

Also, seek inspiration – go outside, do something you enjoy, have a personal experience. I’m pretty big on surfing; there’s nothing quite like waiting in the water for that next wave… forgive the poetry, but the calm of the sea balanced with pure anticipation of the unexpected is completely compelling to me.

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