I Want to Design “Brilliant Strategies” That Make People Happy

Photo: Kentaro Sako
Profile photo: Kentaro Sako
Kentaro Sako

Design Strategist/Copywriter
From Fukuoka Prefecture. Joined the company in 2015. In charge of strategy formulation and storymaking in the design field. Plays the classical guitar.

I found my way to Panasonic, looking to forge my own unique presence.

The reason I joined Panasonic as a new graduate was that it seemed like a company where design strategy types like me were still thin on the ground. At university, I majored in industrial design, but as a student I was less interested in designing items with good-looking shapes and more interested in coming up with ideas for completely new products, and considering how those proposals could be presented so that people would understand them well. Then at graduate school, I studied “strategy development” in the design field as an academic subject, completing a master’s degree in design strategy. My aspiration was to join an industry that specialized in the formulation of concepts and strategies, and I completed internships at an advertising agency and in the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. But a lot of the people there had similar orientations to me. On the other hand, Panasonic was one of the companies that really captured my attention: Its products had been deeply rooted in the lives of consumers for many years, and it was growing its businesses globally. So after reconsidering what kind of company would allow me to maximize my potential, I thought that it might be better to choose an industry with fewer characters like me, and made the bold decision to join Panasonic. This might actually be a place where I can make use of my original qualities, I thought. My friends and university professors were a little surprised, though. “It’s not exactly you,” they said.

Photo: Kentaro Sako being interviewed

A life of exploring future ideas begins.

One thing is for sure: I like coming up with new ideas. Generating 100 ideas in a short time gives you a better batting average in the end than agonizing over a single miraculous idea, so, every day, I’m researching my own methods of coming up with lots of ideas within a limited time. During my first two years at the company, I worked on the product designs of beauty appliances for women, at which time I learned about the principles of in-house design, and about manufacturing, while observing the work of my seniors. Then, in my third year, I was transferred to the FUTURE LIFE FACTORY, a new group in Panasonic’s Design Division. With a focus on future insight, our mission is to create new concepts and value, without being bound by existing businesses and products, through a design studio where “life visions” for the future are developed. You might say that we are designing bigger “visions and strategies,” not only products. Although I was surprised to hear that I would be transferred to a team involved in concept work and design strategy so soon after joining the company, I see this as an opportunity, and I am working hard at it.

Dead-serious about giving shape to ideas.

Next, I will introduce some of the projects that I have worked on recently.

This proposal seeks to “create houses that are optimized to their inhabitants at the genetic level,” based on personal genetic data. It is an open innovation project that involves external partners, such as the gene analysis venture Genequest and McCann Millennials, in addition to the FUTURE LIFE FACTORY to which I belong. All of the members were in their thirties, and it was environment in which young people inspired one another across industry borders. Despite my young age, I was given the role of project leader, and we were granted considerable creative and budgetary authority, so I remember feeling very excited about the speed with which our ideas took shape as the project progressed from planning to unveiling in around six months. GENOME HOUSE, for which we actually designed interior components and appliances, was revealed to the public at the RELIFE STUDIO FUTAKO Panasonic showroom. I see the fact that the company has a lot of platforms through which can actually share our creations with the world as one of our strengths.

Photo: Genome House

[Kangaroo Charger]
For this project, in my third year, I formed a team with two colleagues who joined the Design Department at the same time as me, and we set our sights on an overseas design award. The competition we entered was the Design Concept category of the Red Dot Design Award, a German design prize of international repute. This category emphasizes outstanding ideas and concepts, rather than “existing products.” The idea we proposed was a pocket charging device, made from fabric that could generate electricity by solar power, which could keep a mobile phone charged in standby mode by simply placing the phone inside. The name derives from the image of a kangaroo protecting its young. In fact, the department supported us by providing time and application fees for the activities, and this was the first attempt. For this reason, all three of us worked desperately, afraid that, if we failed, the project might be over that year. We were also worried about time, because once we had decided to enter, we only had two months until the deadline. Nevertheless, we somehow managed to come up with a proposal that was well received. It was a very stimulating experience, in which we had the opportunity to think up our own ideas and put them to the test on the world stage, away from our regular work.

Photo: Kangaroo Charger and the award ceremony for the Red Dot Design Award

[Golden Ratio Box]
I took part in design competitions as a student, and I have continued to put my design skills to the test since joining the company. This design, which I worked on with a group of classmates from university, won the grand prize in the design competition at the 2018 Tokyo Midtown Awards. The theme of the competition was “HUMAN.” It challenged our view of human nature. We proposed the “Golden Ratio Box,” which incorporated the “golden ratio,” a universal principle of beauty appearing throughout human history, in a bento box design. We were worried about how to showcase the design in the final presentation to the judges. Simply explaining the beauty and concept of the bento box through slides and models would have failed to make a strong impression. There would have been no surprise element. We eventually reached the conclusion that what we needed to propose was not a bento box product but an “experience,” in which people tasted food from the golden box. We analyzed the work histories and personalities of the five judges and planned five original bento-style recipes tailored to their individual tastes. Then we arranged this food in the boxes, along with five different names, and presented these to the judges as if we were saying to them, “This is a ‘golden athlete’s bento box’ for you.” I think our proposal was evaluated highly because we not only presented a product but provided it in a set along with a backstory. This workplace allows me to secure my own time on weekday evenings, so I want to continue creating things and entering competitions in the future.

Photo: Golden Ratio Bento Box

When giving shape to our ideas, Panasonic’s business fields give us a powerful advantage.

The great thing about Panasonic is that its products cover a wide range of fields, including cameras, refrigerators, bicycles, and houses. The company offers plenty of ways to realize the ideas you have. The GENOME HOUSE was realized because Panasonic is involved in both home appliances and houses, and these combinations make it more likely that your ideas become a reality. The company also works hard to provide opportunities for young people to take on challenges, and the environment here enables us to create our own opportunities as well.

Photo: Kentaro Sako reading a book

An environment of ideas, and work satisfaction

I think that people who feel that Panasonic is “not for me” actually have a greater potential to succeed here. In fact, “being different” can bring “unique value” to a company. The interesting thing about this company is the diversity of the people who work here, and this is conducive to developing our ideas while drawing inspiration from one another. In an environment with plenty of means, and plenty of talented people, I intend to continue discovering themes that interest me and taking action independently to transform these into reality. Recently, I also feel that this approach to work leads to satisfaction, and in the future, I hope to hone my design strategy skills to become a designer who is able to draw out the company’s potential more and more.

Photo: Kentaro Sako looking at the idea sheets