Designer's Voice Vol. 2
Sep. 28, 2020Product designer
Creating designs that directly resonate with people's hearts
Product designer Masayoshi Ueno.
After studying product design at university, he entered Nikon Corporation in 2016.
Involved in the design of several Nikon products, he continues to passionately pursue the ideal form of product design.
I want to make a product exclusively for "you"
"I'd like to create designs that touch people's hearts directly.
In a nutshell, that means creating a design that makes a person who sees it intuitively feel, "this was really made for me". In particular, I strongly believe that a "creative tool" like a camera should fully satisfy this requirement.
These days, everything is converted into data, and that data reveals a lot about human behavior. You can use it to quantify what kind of people are living and what they want. So, in a sense, we live in an era where it might be considered quite easy to derive the "correct answer" for a design from the data.
However, humans are three-dimensional.
Some things are visible on the surface, and can be expressed directly by saying, "I want something like this". Some are vague and fuzzy notions that cannot be clearly verbalized. Human beings display a complex mixture of such feelings.
What the data shows me is just something "flat". That is, as if an object that was originally three dimensional has been simply squashed onto a flat surface somehow.
Unless I rack my brains to think about something in a different dimension from the data, rather than where it is connected to that data, I don't think it's possible to achieve a design that reaches directly into people's hearts".
"Design is not the shape, but an act of problem-solving"
When I was in high school and vaguely aiming toward product design, I thought that design was the "shape". The portable music player I had when I was in junior high school, and the smartphone that so quickly spread around the world — both of them were striking in their shapes, and at that time I felt that was why they were accepted by so many people.
I also wanted to make "something cool" and deliver it to the world. With that in mind, I entered an art university. What my professor said to me soon after I entered was unforgettable.
"Everyone thinks design is shape, but it is not. Design is about solving a problem."
It took some time to understand these words. To look at one example, the cameras of Nikon and other companies don't share the same shape. The reason for that is because each company takes a different approach regarding how to help the user capture images. The differences in how each camera looks are not determined by only "coolness".
Approaching things from this perspective, products around the world began to look completely different to me. I started to think I'd made a big mistake in how I understood design within my life.
The music players and smartphones whose shapes attracted me were "cool" designs that seemed to be ahead of their time. However, I don't think that was achieved because their designers were clairvoyant. I think it was achieved by their focusing deeply on the functions of "listening to music" and "communication with people", which is to say it was the result of "solving a problem".
Beyond problem solving
At university, I worked on several product designs, including headphones and speakers, and I always kept myself aware of a single point: "What kind of problem does the design solve?"
On top of that, after joining Nikon, what I felt during the actual design process was the importance of taking "a feeling that cannot be described in words" and transforming it into a physical form.
Shortly after joining the company, I took over the design of the COOLPIX P950 camera from a senior designer.
At first glance, I was struck by the camera's handsome design. Then I began to feel strongly that I wanted to commercialize this shape somehow. I repeatedly asked myself why I was so moved.
Was it because I could solve the problem of capturing a small subject from a distance? Or was it because I could picture a user easily carrying a super-telephoto lens equivalent to 2000 mm in 35mm format? Of course, things like that were a large part of it.
However, I finally came to a more complete answer. It was because I could feel something different from the data, such as the belief, thought and pride projected through the design.
I was also involved in design work on the Golfer's Laser Rangefinders COOLSHOT series, which is another product that still has a strong place in my heart.
When I was considering what would be an appropriate design to carry beneath a blue sky and into a green grassy space, the image popped into my mind of a white ball, small but standing out strongly in a vast space.
By advancing the design while rediscovering the meanings of colors and shapes from such images, I think we evoked the world and atmosphere of a golf course — lining up a shot with a white ball, surrounded by nature".
Understanding people, doubting what's "obvious" and creating fresh new values
Currently, as a Nikon designer, I want to focus completely on the camera. I have a strong desire to design something striking that will go right to the hearts of all users who enjoy their photography.
To fully realize this, I'd like to deepen my understanding of people's feelings, not just improve my design skills.
Listening carefully to the voices of people who enjoy cameras through research is one way. Listening to the feelings of my own heart while enjoying my hobbies is another.
In my case, taking pictures is nothing but expressing my ego. I rarely give priority to my self-expression during my work, but photography offers me endless freedom. I can cut out what is in front of me and express whatever I want. Maybe I'm enjoying the time as a way of freeing myself that goes beyond just taking pictures.
I also get a lot of hints from my other hobby, road bikes. My bike features a curved shape and is asymmetric. Of course, its functions are attractive, but I'm also fascinated by the dynamics and special feeling that cannot be experienced anywhere else. This shape transforms the act of riding into something much more valuable.
Humans are three-dimensional beings and hobbies symbolize that fact.
I'd like to make new proposals by studying and understanding ambiguous ideas in an ambitious way and transforming them into designs. I also want to challenge the notion of "common sense" without hesitation. In addition to this, I think it is an important job of mine to share the fascination of hobbies to as many people as possible. The Nikon Design Trials event* was one of those attempts.
I'm not sure if the products I've made have been able to touch or move everybody. Still, I'd like to create as many products as possible that will give people that great feeling of "this camera was really made for me". Please look forward to more to come".