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New COOLPIX S-Series Design

Judging from its favorable reception in the marketplace, the COOLPIX S-Series is the shape of sophisticated style to come in compact digital cameras. We invited an industrial designer who has been instrumental to the development of the COOLPIX S-Series to provide insight into the visual and market appeal of these slim cameras including the Wave Surface Design.

Product Design Section, Industrial Design Department, Imaging Company, Nikon Corporation
Joined Nikon Corporation in 1988 as a product designer for development of compact cameras, SLR cameras, binoculars, Fieldmicroscope products etc. Now mainly in charge of COOLPIX S-Series product design. Believes that his role in developing Fieldmicroscopes right from the planning stage greatly influenced later development of S-Series design. Emphasizes the importance of beauty and market trends on new product designing. Loves fly-fishing and jazz.

The S-Series captures the new style of COOLPIX and emphasizes design as its core value. Its designers' passion pushed its development forward.

You are in charge of product design for the COOLPIX S-Series, which radically departs from more conventional COOLPIX camera designs from the launch of the S1, the first of the series. How did you come to introduce such a bold new design concept?


Before the launch of the S-Series, COOLPIX cameras shared a nice, grippable shape which became established as a distinctive design point in terms of branding. A strategy to differentiate COOLPIX from competing brands was based on the strength of our brand image as an authentic camera manufacturer and the market appeals of “nice grip” and consequently, “easy to shoot with and easy to hold.” But with the spread of digital cameras, slim, fashionable cameras and mobile phones with built-in cameras have entered the market. We noticed that new values regarding cameras were taking hold among consumers. The feeling that Nikon should produce digital cameras by following new trends was gradually gaining strength in the design department. So we started to suggest designing small and fashionable digital cameras within the company, which led to the development of the S-Series.

So, you designers sowed the seeds for developing the S-Series?

S-Series development started with sketches and design proposals.

Definitely. To get people excited about our ideas in the Company, we made various design mock-ups, including a very compact one. But at the same time, we thought that it would be impossible to interest people in the Company by virtue of design only, so we always introduced a technical aspect in our plans, as well. For example, along with an idea for an extremely compact design, we also suggested a plan for an optical system that could realize small shape. This style helped us to involve engineers toward developing a design-oriented digital camera.

I see.

Another thing that we've been especially attentive to from the start of the project is to create a unique S-Series “world”. There is a strong general impression of Nikon products as “robust” or “for professional use,” which is far from “fashionable.” So we felt a great need to create a strong identity for the S-Series and appeal to consumers that the product, as well as the “world” or style of the S-Series is unique. To clearly communicate to consumers from that world's perspective, we got our heads together with the marketing team and used various methods including creation of visual cues based on the assumption that we would collaborate with a famous interior brand to define the S-Series identity.

Was the redesign of the COOLPIX logo part of such efforts

Yes. Actually we even proposed not showing “Nikon” on the product, since we were very enthusiastic about the idea of creating a new COOLPIX series that was totally different from earlier products. After discussion, we decided to regard the Nikon brand as our asset and the proposal to not show it was not acceptable, but the COOLPIX logo has been changed to create a sharper impression using thinner typography.

The S-Series “Wave Surface Design” seamlessly integrates beauty and function, and is elemental to compact digital camera evolution.

Now, the “Wave Surface Design” introduced in the S5 establishes the COOLPIX S-Series design statement. How was this design conceived?

When S1 was launched as the first S-Series product, most competitors' camera designs appeared to create a “mechanical” or “sharp” impression. As an alternative, we pursued a more streamlined approach, giving the S1 a uniquely “warm,” “cute,” “easy to fit in the hand,” “soft” and “mild” identity. For the launch of the S5, which followed later, we needed a novel design, so we again discussed how the design should express evolution while retaining the S-Series identity that had been developing since the S1 launch. Our “Wave Surface Design” was the answer.

What characterizes the design, specifically?

At first, we established several abstract themes, such as “elegance” derived from “mildness.” In the process of translating the themes into design, we planned to modify the slim lines of the S1. Despite being easy to carry, the S-Series cameras were not shaped perfectly for shooting, and easily slipped out of hands. It would be simple to address that problem by putting a grip on the body, but that risked ruining the simple, soft design identity of the S-Series. I wanted to find a way to make an easy-to-hold design while keeping the simple shape. I reconsidered an old rough camera design sketch which I did long before the S1 launch, featuring a streamlined grip section for secure holding. The “Wave Surface Design” came from that. I then realized that I had always had a simple, yet easy-to-hold design in mind.

What inspires you to sketch or create a design?

I often refer to interior design, starting with furniture. For example, many chairs seem to express pure beauty and deliver superior sitting comfort. I'm attracted to such design.

You mentioned that the S-Series design concept you seek to realize is more fashionable than that of existing COOLPIX Series concepts. In developing “Wave Surface Design,” did you intend for it to depart from conventional camera design?

The S-Series “Wave Surface Design” seamlessly integrates beautiful, simple shape and easy-to-hold ergonomics.

As people get familiar with taking pictures and viewing movies via mobile phones, they increasingly demand that cameras go beyond conventional shooting to perform the newer functions of storing and playing images and movies. Considering this, we don't believe that it is not necessary to adhere to conventional camera styling with shooting function as the highest priority. This shift in perception has given birth to the S-Series and the “Wave Surface Design” which followed. Naturally, we wanted to apply a new attitude and depart from convention in camera design.

But since it's still a camera, don't you need to retain a substantial measure of shooting functionality? It must be difficult to seamlessly integrate beautiful design, functionality and ease of use.

Of course, there are many issues for us to consider. “Wave Surface Design” is a good example. First, we wanted it to be as slim as possible, considering that the camera's actual depth needed to accommodate the respective depths of the lens tube and LCD. Then, we went through exhaustive discussion and trial to deal with these requirements. In the process, we arrived at the idea of thinning those portions of the camera where the lens and monitor do not overlap each other, for more streamlined shape and more secure camera gripping. After establishing a design approach, we had to develop a technical approach to ensure that the desired design could be properly engineered. As you can imagine, completing the design is a long, tough process.