#interview – designing Xperia Z1

Checking in from the Sony booth: We’ve received a fair few comments, and noticed much of the on-the-ground buzz here at IFA is around Xperia Z1′s design…

I caught up with Xperia Z1 design lead, Keita Hibi, to talk strategy / creativity / inspiration and more – enjoy.

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

I’m Keita Hibi. I’m a senior designer at Sony Mobile, based in Tokyo – I’ve been working for Sony for around 14 years, having joined Sony Ericsson three years ago. My thing is hardware design; previously I worked on WALKMAN, Cyber-shot and Alpha NEX… I was also responsible for Xperia S (notably, the acclaimed transparent element), Xperia Z and now Xperia Z1.

I want to see where OmniBalance can go, with products free from restrictions. “Usability” is just accepted, but why settle for it? I’m keen to explore concepts that bypass that notion – things that just “work” and “happen”.

What is inspiration?

Every day life – I find inspiration in simple things rather than extravagance. Beauty isn’t complicated and it’s usually not too hard to find.

Can you tell us a bit about the design philosophy behind Xperia Z1?

Xperia Z1 is based on our signature OmniBalance design, but in many ways it was about refining our original vision. We felt we reached design perfection with Xperia Z, but wanted to take things further – looking at body construction; making it more robust, easier to hold – we wanted to stretch our capabilities.

Both concept and finished product are based on consistency. The principles are simple but also unique – it’s about blending effortlessly into any environment or situation, and providing a consistent viewing experience from any angle. We had to find a balance between accomplishing this, but retaining a sense of identity.

However, there’s more to design that compelling visuals. During the creative process, I actually spent a lot of time holding the device with my eyes closed. I found this was the most effective way to heighten my senses, emphasize the sensation and appreciate comfort (it was almost like holding a soap). So, the corners are unobtrusive and smooth and the power button has a firm sensation when touched, but becomes subtle when not in use.

We worked really closely with our engineering team, right from very early planning stages – pushing each other and working hard to achieve our common goal.

What were the biggest challenges in conceptualising Xperia Z1 – creating something beautiful, and fully waterproof – without compromising on functionality?

We faced a few challenges in creating the solid aluminium frame, because it’s so integral to the product. Not just expressive, it’s functional as Xperia Z1′s antenna too.

We used a double-anodizing process, achieving a cut finish and a two-tone metal effect – it’s our commitment to absolute craftsmanship with premium materials.

Do you have a design hero?

We have many talented designers in Sony and I learn a lot from them – they’re my heroes. Alongside that, I focus on my abilities and what I’m able to do.

Do you have any tips for aspiring designers?

Believe in yourself regardless of what those around you say – take criticism constructively, but not to heart.

And, have full confidence in your identity and principles!

Thanks to Keita for his time.

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