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One element that is essential in talking about VIERA is the pursuit of perfection in its design. The 2012 VIERA was the first product to give shape to Panasonic's recently announced Future Craft philosophy. The form that we have today was further guided by an overall design concept called Glass and Metal. Behind this strikingly beautiful form and elaborate detail was a strong desire to transform user's lifestyle through design.
Glass and metal are the basic materials that make up a TV. We wanted to preserve their natural texture, while achieving a form that is efficient, simple and high quality. This intention is reflected in the concept Glass and Metal. The essential function of TV is to show images as beautifully as possible. To allow viewers to become immersed in the image, it's best to eliminate everything that isn't absolutely necessary. To match a variety of rooms, we made the frames as thin as possible so that their presence will be minimal.
There are four concrete principles of Future Craft: Aspiration, Craftsmanship, Human Focus, and One with the Earth. The philosophy embodies the spirit of cutting-edge innovation and craftsmanship inherent in Japanese manufacturing. Human Focus is about universal design that considers as many people as possible, and One with the Earth is about sustainable co-existence and eco design. The VIERA 2012 models gave form and direction to this design philosophy, as Panasonic aims to become a green innovation Company.
The four key principles combine together to form the overall design philosophy, but if I were to choose one, it would be "One with the Earth." One of the requirements of this principle is to reduce environmental impact. It was a challenge to not add any unnecessary things to the design, and express the natural materials - glass and metal - in their simplest form. I'll describe this in depth later, when we talk about the product design of specific models.
We were still in the CRT era when I joined the company in 1992. I worked on TV designs throughout the period when CRT was evolving into plasma TV. In the middle of my career, I transferred to the home appliance design section for 3-years to broaden my scope of experience, and then returned to TV design in 2007.
The design development and decision-making processes have dramatically changed in recent years. Decisions used to be made based on the Japanese market. Today, concepts are gathered from the Americas, Europe and Asia for decision-making purposes. You could say that it's an obvious approach to manufacturing from a global viewpoint, but it can be extremely difficult to reach a consensus with so many viewpoints. Still, it's definitely worth the effort, because it leads to better output.
Yes. In the 2012 lineup, there are more than twelve LCD and plasma series in all, with various screen sizes for each one. On top of that, there are specific, exclusive models for various market regions and distribution channels. For each model, we produce around 250 specification documents. Our team is also in charge of all of the peripheral accessories, from remote controls and Skype™ cameras, to 3D glasses.
Together with another senior designer, we are responsible for deciding on the overall design directions. Once the design directions are determined, we are responsible for controlling the design quality and consistency throughout the numerous models in the lineup.
We begin with conceptualization and ideation. Heated discussions and brainstorming take place that include proposals from our design development centers in the North America and Europe. In the beginning, all team members bring their ideas to the table in images and sketches that evoke their concept. The proposals that eventually start taking shape are then scrutinized by the Design Company top management. The finalized design directions are relayed to each department within the company, including executives.
Indeed. We understand critical elements like technical feasibility, mass production capability, and cost. On the other hand, we won't give up so easily, knowing that the design trends and the latest market needs require a Panasonic TV to attain a certain level of design quality.
We sometimes make a proposal to the manufacturing department, asking whether a certain production method would give us the result we want. As you can tell, the job of a product designer working for a manufacturer isn't limited to just proposing designs. The point is to exchange knowledge with everyone to see how we can come up with a product that's as close as possible to the ideal. This involves a kind of shared thinking that goes beyond the borders of company departments.
Yes. In order to come up with a good product, we need to keep an open flow of information between us and to lead everyone to the best solution regardless of departmental borders. If everyone involved shares as much information as possible, it can result in the birth of an entirely new concept. This is why I often manage and negotiate beyond my departmental borders.
For the LCD models, we developed a design that would blend into room interiors based on the theme "High Quality Metal" and "Weightlessness." For the WT/DT Series in particular, we aimed for simple, beautiful proportions that make the picture the focus of attention. In order to achieve this, we set to work on design development which extended the design work all the way to the basic construction and interior structure of the products.
Yes. We got rid of the plastic cabinet that covered the LCD module on previous models, and then we made the module frame itself as slim as possible, so it functions as a part of the exterior design. As a result, we were able to create an attractive metal frame to focus the viewer's attention on the image. This is also an example of lessening the impact on the environment, as I mentioned earlier. Since it reduced the number of parts, it helped to lower the environmental impact and simplified recycling.
You're right. Because it's so simple, the quality of the finish is essential. For example, when the frame is narrow, the corner joints have to fit smoothly or they'll stand out. So we had to figure out how to achieve that level of precision. The frame will lose its beauty if it gets scratched, so we had to think of new ways to handle the device itself on the assembly line. This design was only made possible by close collaboration with all of the production sections right from the start of the project.
We envisioned a levitating screen in a living space, through this lightweight pedestal design. We aimed to bring the metal material to life, keeping the design simple while maintaining its excellent textural quality. In the same way as the frame, we eliminated the unnecessary plastic cover to make it more streamlined while bringing out the natural beauty of the metal. This quality makes it a good match for just about any room interior.
As you'd expect, many of the customers who choose plasma models are going to be discerning about picture quality. For this reason, we applied the design concept One Sheet of Glass to make the picture, the only center of focus. Especially in the VT Series flagship model, we achieved a luxurious finish that combines a single flat pane of glass with a high-precision metal frame to add even greater emphasis to the all-important TV picture.
In order to create an exterior that imparts that feeling, we had to clear the structural hurdle of physically supporting this giant pane of glass. As a result of trial-and-error together with the engineering department, we ended up making the glass itself thinner and stronger, and developed a new method for mounting the glass to the device frame. By arranging the speakers in a wide configuration that extends across the bottom front side of the TV, we achieved the functional beauty that is inherent in an AV device, with excellence in both picture and sound.
We minimized the presence of the frame on the TV facade to keep it from cluttering around the picture. By using mirror-finished surfaces to reflect the environment of the room in which the TV is placed, we aimed for an effect that seems to blend the TV into the surrounding room. Actually, this aluminum frame supports the large pane of glass while also protecting the TV from lateral impacts. As you can tell, we paid careful attention to every detail in the plasma design to maximize its functional beauty.
Earlier, we talked a little about showing images - which is the essential function of a TV - in the most beautiful way possible. That idea hasn't changed since the days of CRT TV's. On the other hand, I have been asking myself lately if we ought to really start looking for something new.
Sometimes I think we may eventually have to change the basic concept of what a television is. This is going off the track a bit, but I like to cook. And I get the feeling that cooking is similar to design in many ways. You try to do the best you can with your ingredients, you use various methods and skills, and your ability to successfully present everything on a plate adds to the surprise when someone finally tastes the finished result. Doesn't that sound a lot like a designer's job? Today, some distinguished chefs are moving toward methods of scientifically analyzing the flavors in various dishes. By creating cuisine based on scientific data, it may be possible to come up with recipes that shatter conventional wisdom. We need to go back to the basics of living, and reconsider how we cook (design) a picture-displaying device into our lives. All of this might sound a bit abstract, but it's the kind of thing I've been thinking about lately.
Well, instead of being bound to the idea that "product design = object," we have to shift our perspective from "objects" to "lifestyles." Then, from this new perspective, we need to evolve our designs into what it should be, through an iterative process.
I want to appeal more to people's senses, move people emotionally, and create new experiences and values. By providing this level of design, I want to encourage people to recognize Panasonic as a partner in making their lifestyles more fulfilling. I think people become fans of certain brands only when those brands are able to give them fulfillment.
Our aim for 2012 VIERA was to design a TV that would enhance any room, simply by its presence. This is the quality that we envisioned for VIERA, and we believe that we achieved it. I hope you all have a chance to see it for yourself right in your home.
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