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Interviews

The man who built PS Vita

CVG meets Takashi Sogabe, designer of Sony's new handheld (not to mention the Walkman)

Takashi Sogabe isn't a name with which you would be familiar - but he might just be one of the games industry's most unsung heroes.

Indeed, you could even contend that without him, there would have been no Jonathan Ive. Because Sogabe, who runs the Corporate Design Centre at Sony Computer Entertainment, is the man who designed the PlayStation Vita.

And if you're wondering what his qualifications for such a job might be, then it's worth bearing in mind that he's also the man who designed the Sony Walkman - it's difficult to recall these days, but that was an iconic item which revolutionised the way we listen to music and paved the way for the iPod.

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We participated in a round-table interview with Sogabe at the headquarters of Sony Computer Entertainment, in a giant building in part of the Shinagawa area of Tokyo which is actually called Sony City (the overall HQ of Sony is just around the corner).

He came across as thoroughly unpretentious (not something of which you'd accuse any big-name Western designers) and passionate about consumer electronics design, probably to the exclusion of all else. He spoke fascinatingly about the eternal conflict between designers and engineers, as well as revealing the Walkman's fascinating starting-point.

For more read our PS Vita review and PS Vita interview with the affable new president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc Andrew House.

What is your background at Sony?

Takashi Sogabe: I've been in charge of design at SCE's Corporate Design Centre for five years now. I was in charge of the design of the PSP 3000 and the current model of the PlayStation 3. Previously, I worked in design at Sony Corp, where I designed the Walkman and Sony Vaio laptops. I've been at Sony for 27 years.

Can you tell us how the shape of the PS Vita evolved during the design process?

During testing of the PS Vita's shape, we came up with various patterns, including a clamshell one. Then we discussed it with a lot of publishers and came up with this shape.

Why is it so similarly shaped to the old PSP?

We like that you think it looks similar, because we wanted to keep the identity of the PSP, but to evolve the design and brush it up.

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Where did the idea for the rear touchpad come from?

This idea didn't come from the designers, but it was the development teams who came up with it.

Is there a design philosophy that runs through all PlayStation and Sony products?

There is a PlayStation philosophy: the main purpose is to play games, so doing that has to be easy.

[At this point, Sogabe-san, from a bag under his chair, produced a prototype version of the Ps Vita with a completely flat face - the analogue sticks were missing, with touch-pads in their place. The point he was making was that for reasons of design purity, an unblemished profile would have been ideal. Sadly, the massed ranks of Sony corporate PR people ensured the prototype was removed before it could be photographed.]

Do your design ideals sometimes conflict with the functionality of the product you are working on?

Speaking not only about the PS Vita, we always have a battle between engineers and designers. The original design of the PS Vita, for example, was very much thinner than the current retail product. From a designer's point of view, thinner is better-looking, but the engineers wanted to put all the features in.

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