Sony Walkman: connecting the dots of a trailblazing design
Long before the iPod was on the scene, Sony’s portable cassette player The Walkman changed the way people listen to music back in the late 1970s. The time when Japanese electronics company Sony revolutionized the way we listen to music with its ultra-lightweight personal cassette tape player. “It enabled people to create soundtracks to their lives in ways that hadn't been possible before. The fact that you could use your Walkman anywhere changed that; music had never been so personal” notes the Design Museum.
The first-ever Walkman was designed for Sony’s co-founder Masaru Ibuka, who wanted to be able to listen to opera music on long flights and found that even the smallest of the personal audio players was still too big to be travel friendly.
A prototype was quickly made for him, and the Walkman was born. It had different names in different global markets, including the “Soundabout” and the “Freestyle”, but by the early 1980s, only the name Walkman remained.
Released in 1979, on the 1st of July, the Walkman’s prototype was based on a tape recorder that had been designed for journalists in 1977. The original Walkman was made of aluminum in a blue and silver palette. Sold for around $150, and after a slow first month of sales, the Walkman became one of the company’s greatest hits outselling the company’s own predictions.
Sony organized a press launch for the Walkman and took journalists to a park in Tokyo, gave each of them a Walkman to wear that played a tape explaining the new product, and instructed them to look around the park for certain staged examples of how people might use the Walkman in everyday life.
The Walkman evolved with music’s changing mediums, from cassette tapes through CDs, mini-discs and MP3, and most recently to music streaming. The original cassette tape line was discontinued in 2010, but Sony’s music App is still called the Walkman. And now a funny story:
Circa 1981 Sony decided that its now-iconic logo yet designed in the ‘50s was due for a redesign not by a design team but by the public.
The “Sony International Logotype Design Contest” took in nearly 30,000 submissions from around the world.
“A committee was formed and viewed every single entry before narrowing the list down to 59. The finalists were shown to the board of directors, company executives, designers, and sales managers. As executives were looking through the finalists, Sony must have realized it had made a huge mistake” reports The Verge.
“By putting the entire affair in the public eye, Sony essentially obligated itself to change its logo. Worst of all, the company would have to choose a logo designed by an amateur to be the face of its brand.”
According to Sony's official history, co-founder Masaru Ibuka “decided that none of the designs was better than the original one” and the company decided to split the prize money in three designs accompanied with an ad published in Time Magazine thanking everyone for their submissions.
“Until the time comes in the future that we decide to make a change, the Sony logo will remain the same” noted the company with the public logo design contest lost in oblivion. The ad was resurfaced thanks to designer Greg Prichard, who stumbled across it.
In terms of logo design, the Walkman logo was redesigned in 2000 by Hiroshige Fukuhara, creative director of Sony Design Consulting Inc.
Born in 1975, Fukuhara designed the current Walkman® logo and BRAVIA TV logo, as well as engaged in launching new businesses for the company. He also led the project to create Sony's corporate typeface and developed SST® front for 93 languages in collaboration with Monotype GmbH. He has received many design awards including iF Design Award, Red Dot Design Award, Pentawards, Good Design, and SDA awards. In 2018, he completed the Executive Program at Singularity University.
To celebrate the Walkman’s trailblazing music history kickstarted by Sony’s TPS-L2 which was first marketed in the United States as the Soundabout and in the United Kingdom as the Stowaway, the company opened an exhibition in Tokyo’s bustling Ginza district, aptly titled #009 WALKMAN IN THE PARK 40 Years Since ‘the Day the Music Walked’ on the very same spot that Sony first launched its iconic Walkman 40 years ago in Tokyo’s Ginza district, Ginza Sony Park that stands where Sony HQ once did.
Displaying 230 versions of the Walkman throughout history, as well as custom editions by artists and an interactive exploration of how the gadget affected people’s experience of music. Also asked 40 celebrities and creatives alike to reminisce on how the invention impacted their everyday lives.
Watch the minute-long official video and explore the images from the dedicated Instagram account.