This fall, VAIO® will be making its return to the US market with the release of its VAIO Z Canvas 2-in-1 PC.
This device has received a lot of developmental attention from the VAIO team, and in 2014 it was submitted to Adobe MAX in Los Angeles. Now we would like to share the story of its creation with you―including the goals and motivations of the VAIO Z Canvas developers.
"It all started from a simple idea after seeing a person carry both a paper notebook and a computer; And I asked myself, why?" Yoshifumi Ito, the product planner of VAIO, noticed how inconvenient it is to jot down ideas quickly on our computers.
There is no argument as to whether or not tasks such as sending emails and creating documents have been made easier by notebook computers. However, the brainstorming process that comes before materializing the work on a PC is mostly done on paper, where we jot down ideas and doodles as they shoot into our minds. Wouldn't the PC become a more powerful device if it could also cater to our natural creative processes?
If only we could make a computer to be used as casually as paper, but with all the processing power needed to carry out the actual work. This is how we thought of incorporating the stylus pen touch interface into a PC. To mimic the open possibilities of paper, with the ability to both write text and draw figures, the VAIO Z Canvas integrates a touch interface with a stylus pen for casual use of everyday tasks. However, after announcing this, we received rather surprising feedback from unexpected groups.
Clever, Creative, CompactAfter reading the feedback on our 2-in-1 PC with a stylus, which was released in Fall 2012, we noticed that illustrators and artistic users (who are particular about their pens), showed great interest despite the model being created for business use.
Our curious development team couldn’t resist delving deeper into the comments of these acquired users. We held interview sessions right away, which revealed a need for compact-sized, comfortable, drawing touch-tools. These would enable users to work anywhere, without being tied to a desk or office. As a result, many people have taken very well to the original model released.
Thanks to this newfound awareness, we departed from the broad idea of general business use to also pursuing the needs of creatives, such as illustrators, graphic designers, and photographers.
We were, of course, aware this would be a smaller market; however, our vision for the future is accommodating each niche creator’s needs in a way that perfectly meets consumer demands.
In an unknown world, there is plenty to learn
Following the realization of our new goals, we immediately began observing professional illustrators and Japanese manga artists. We let them test the 2-in-1 PC and collected their feedback on a monthly basis until we had enough information to analyze.
Had the subjects been business professionals, our development team could have anticipated their response to certain features; but with illustrators and manga artists, this wasn't so easy. These artists don't have clear-cut rules for drawing, as there are thousands of ways to approach production. The feelings and opinions of each person were different across the board. Struggling to understand the 2-in-1 PC's use in an unfamiliar field, our team repeatedly watched interview footage to study subjects' actions. It was also easier for developers to accept honest criticism, because we didn't understand their world like we do the business world.
One manga artist pointed out, “If we had a VAIO Z Canvas, we could even reduce our office space.”
This was another unexpected point that stuck. Professional manga artists work alongside assistants, and drawing currently requires an exceptionally large workspace. Their office spaces need enough room to support desks for each person. The artist quoted suggested it would be easier to distribute work and reduce space requirements if mobile PCs were used for production. His words helped us see firsthand how increased efficiency is tied to lower costs—especially for non-commercial professionals.
Discovery in the details
Our success downsizing the original target market turned out to yield positive effects for the creators’ workflow. We learned that not only were the PC users benefited, but the environment they worked in improved as well. They are all quite particular about colors and the drawing feeling from their pens; yet, they were losing some of the tactile elements of their design process. They were repeatedly printing out sheets of paper, proofing their sketches, and manually making corrections. Studying the daily processes of these artists brought a streak of surprises to light.
“In pursuit of quality, creators are faced with embracing a non-creative environment and an ineffective workflow. This disconnect provides plenty of opportunity for us makers to improve. If we are able to upgrade their current conditions with our product, we can directly connect to increased work optimization and cost reduction. This enables creators to spend more time on the aspects of their creative process that really matter.”
In fact, the colors on the VAIO Z Canvas exterior were adjusted because the color of the frame can effect how colors appear on screen. Though the world of graphics and illustrations seemed different than ours, these artists are very similar to our development team when it comes to attention to detail. We hope to discover more opportunities like this so we can reflect more of our users in our products.
It is important in product development to understand how a product is involved a person’s life, from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed.
Supported by the pros
Initially, we launched the VAIO Z Canvas as a prototype, in a time when it was unusual for a prototype to be fully operational. This would have been unthinkable in previous VAIO models. However, as innovators who always pursue the highest quality, we wanted the world to experience the sensory features that can't be properly conveyed by specs alone. Only by actually trying the computer out can you truly see how it would fit into your lifestyle. We couldn’t wait until it was complete to show it off.
By publicizing this prototype 2-in-1 PC during the development stage, it allowed us to collaborate with real users to refine it. This collaborative process is completely different from traditional product development processes, so it has been a true learning experience.
We listened to the advice of professionals regarding quality and efficiency in the creative process and learned not only about special needs, but also about universally sought-after functionality. Both businessmen and general users value a keyboard that is easy to type on, and crisp, seamless functionality. With this information as the driving force behind our development, we put ourselves in the shoes of a creator with an unfulfilled need, or a businessman who needed a certain feature to accommodate his work. Then, we set out to build it.
In doing this, we were certain users would recognize the value of a product created specifically with them in mind. The VAIO Z Canvas is a tool that has been meticulously designed for productivity and creativity. It's a tool that will persist as a favorite through the years. By focusing on giving a user full creative power, our production team is confident we have discovered the true form of how a PC was always meant to be.
"We're looking forward to seeing how well it is received once we release it."
The future of development is here.
*VAIO and the VAIO logo are registered trademarks of Sony Corporation.
*All photos in this article were taken when the prototype was released in fall 2014, and are not the final design.