"I work in R&D. What's the subject of my research? It's not technology. Rather, I research what pleases people." These are the words of Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda.
What pleases people? Soichiro aimed to make things that made people feel good, things that earned people's affections. Utility and convenience are also an important aspect, but Soichiro's primary concern was, "What makes people fall in love with a product?"
It's with this question that all creative activity starts at Honda. Design, of course, is no different. Honda Design is about understanding what it takes to be loved.
What kind of designs are we looking for? The search for new ideas starts with discovering what people — including ourselves — will want.
Understanding the latest findings from market research is certainly important, but Honda puts more credence in what its designers feel. Instead of holding them inside the studio, Honda pushes its designers out into the real world, into town and cities, even across the ocean to learn valuable knowledge. Young designers will occasionally spend time abroad with an order from their supervisor to "go experience something." Don't know—Feel. This might sound like fun, but it's harder than you think.
As they interact with different cultures and find ways to "live as the locals do", these designers come to learn and experience what they cannot extract from data alone: people's feelings. And this has a way of expanding their imaginations. What they discover through these experiences become the seeds of creativity—the birthplace of all Honda Designs.
There's one other source of inspiration: the drive that lies within the designers themselves. Learning what people want through research and providing something that matches their needs can result in good products, but it may not give way to new and exciting designs that people will love.
Wouldn't it be amazing if there was something just like this?
This is the kind of design I like!
When Honda designers truly feel something, they sketch it out on paper, or they test it out in detail. They indulge their curiosities and let it drive them to experiment. Experimentation leads to experiences, experiences yield new ideas, and new ideas lead to a fresh surge in curiosity.
Over the years, Honda has continually created unique products with cutting-edge designs by constantly placing an emphasis on doing what's fun. That attitude continues to this day—and most likely will never change.
In product development at Honda, design and engineering work never proceed independently from each other. You can't seek to make something when understanding only half of the problem.
Designers join engineers in the early stages of development, such as planning and concept creation, where everyone shares their visions for the final product. As team members work together they compare and contrast ideas, ironing out inconsistencies about what kind of products they are making, who their users are, what functions and performance the product will have, and what forms it may take. In this way they build a shared vision.
The higher the hurdles they overcome in reaching their vision, the more passionate they become. At Honda, designers know no other way.
Honda has a culture of tearing down hierarchical barriers based upon position and age, to allow ideas to flow freely top to bottom. At some point in time this sharing openly came to be called waigaya, meaning to chat boisterously and incessantly (from the Japanese onomatopoeias waiwai and gayagaya). Today, this form of discussion is just another part of our creative work.
Waigaya not only happens during meetings but can start spontaneously in many unlikely places. If there's no place to sit, associates may squat right down on the floor and chatter away, bouncing ideas off each other and organizing their thoughts.
Their reflections sometimes end up as images. A 'sketch' may be too generous a word to describe what they jot down during waigaya. Yet from these deep expressive discussions, developers start turning their ideas and visions into the beginnings of physical creations.
Sketching is the primal mode of creation. The creative mind guides the hand at will over paper, and not always in the design studio—sometimes in the margins of a daily planner, or upon a dining hall napkin.
No matter the location, designers keep their expressive hands moving, always bringing forth new designs, much like the novelist who builds his story through the outpouring of words. The designer's sketches are the products of his artistic language.
Illustrating one's ideas can also yield new discoveries. In this digital age, design is still ultimately born from a connection between mind and hand, even if done through the use of technology.
Compared to a sketch, which is a rough pictorial representation of a design idea, a rendering of the design is a complete illustration that will then be used as the image from which to build the actual object.
Renderings are the guideposts that indicate the trajectory of a product's design. This is why designers have such a large responsibility: from their piles of sketches, they must decide which way the design progresses, and provide this more complete illustration of the final product.
At Honda, a successful rendering doesn't only depict the physical shape of a product. It also conveys impressions, such as how the product will run or what it will feel like when using it.The rendering's role as a guidepost lies in its ability to project the designer's feelings and to communicate his or her vision for the final product to all other members of the development team.
No matter how exceptional the performance may be, a product will not be successful if it is difficult and/or uncomfortable to use. The human-machine interface, the aspects or parts of the product where people and the product will continuously interact, are crucial to its success.
Therefore, the designer has an important part to play here as well. He or she must decide many times within a millimeter, the shape of objects such as the steering wheel and the resulting locations for its buttons and levers, making sure they can be operated with accuracy and ease. The designer is also particular about the products texture and touch. For example, when motorcycle designers want to understand what it feels like to sit astride a motorcycle seat they've imagined, they will sometimes actually construct one and sit on it to prove the design and feeling they wish it to have.
In recent years, information equipment has become an increasingly important part of any vehicle's design and operation. The ability to keep track of various types of information while driving or operating a machine without turning one's gaze improves the overall safety. Connectivity needs—the need to connect to the internet, smart phones and other external devices—are also growing. Designing products to be easy and fun to use while integrating these new technologies is very challenging, but is it not worth it?
The tandem seat on motorcycle models like the Gold Wing, need to be designed for optimum comfort for both the front and rear passengers.
Revolutionary products typical of the Honda brand are not only visually unique but also dramatically different at their core. That's because the nature of products made for people, need not only an outer design, but one that is matched to an inner structure that makes them easy and fun to use.
The packaging design unit in Honda's automotive design division symbolizes this very concept. Honda is the only automaker in the world that has packaging designers placed directly within the design division.
Packaging designers, along with the designers making decisions about a vehicle's exterior and interior design and the positioning of its various devices and components, embody Honda's "man maximum, machine minimum" philosophy, which prioritizes the user in the allocation of space to each aspect of the final design.
Designers also take on the important task of selecting a product's colors. In the automotive design studio, expert color designers choose exterior body colors as well as the designs interior materials and seat fabrics.
Motorcycle and power equipment designers do much of the same work as the color designers for automobiles. Who will use the product? Where, and for what purpose? Color brings excitement to the dimensions of space and design flow, so the designers make these decisions carefully for each specific product. All of the colors and materials used in Honda products around the world were chosen with good design in mind, but perhaps even more importantly the user in mind.
Scooters in Thailand are a good example of how we show off the bold color preferences of local designers.
Ideas illustrated on paper and computers are next expressed in three physical dimensions, this is the most important step in the development process.
Advances in digital technology have made it possible to do most of this process by computer. But, as indicated by genbutsu in the Honda motto ("genba, genjitsu, genbutsu," meaning to focus on the actual place, circumstances, and thing), Honda designers prefer to work with real materials. Making something you can actually touch, feel and experience can help you find solutions and come up with new ideas.
For example, automotive packaging design involves constructing a full-size model vehicle body. Designers then experiment with the dimensions of the model and its space by making numerous small changes. For relatively smaller products such as power equipment, they sometimes make a mockup, the three-dimensional analog of a sketch.
When developers start working with physical models/elements, they become even more focused and engaged in their product design discussions. For this reason, they many times may even decide to start over at this advanced stage. Honda Design culture embraces the possibility of making an actual model and then realizing you need to go back to the drawing board.
In the process of converting two-dimensional designs into three dimensional models, industrial clay is often used to give the product its more defined form. This step is called clay modeling and is performed by specialists called clay modelers.
Clay models are eventually made full scale or 'life-sized', but sometimes a number of scale models are made to investigate the form and design first. The modeler interprets the shape of the product from the designer's renderings, and with the skilled gestures of a sculptor, modifies and brings the shape out, cutting away or adding clay as they go to reach the desired form.
Seen in this way, a designer is also someone who makes illustrations that will eventually be translated into three dimensions, becoming more and more real. Collaboration with the clay modeler has the effect of breathing life into the designer's renderings.
No design, however imaginative, is worth much if it can't be mass produced in a factory. Even if it can, it won't satisfy users if it's difficult and costly to build, or if it causes problems by being too heavy or breaking easily.
For these reasons the designers, engineers, and plant managers come together to examine the product's design while thinking about the eventual actual mass production of the product. This step is called a feasibility study. Participants in feasibility studies debate ideas, processes and/or build techniques that may be used while looking at a clay model or design drawings. They all have a passion for creating something revolutionary and valuable to customers, so by combining forces early they can find better answers.
Once the design has been formed with a full-size clay model, the next step is to build a life-sized mockup.
Just about everything that would be on the product in mass production is replicated on this life size mockup, right down to windows and small interior parts for an automobile, to the separate materials and surface textures on a motorcycle or power product. The mockup is crafted to look almost exactly like the real produced product would, but of course it can't power up or move. However, the average person would never know this by just looking at it.
The sales and PR divisions join the project at this evolved stage. Ideas about the marketing strategy can begin to enter the discussions as the design starts to factor in the "reality of consumers."
The final design of the mockup model is then measured and fed back into a computer. The design is converted into three-dimensional data through a process called "class A surfacing". This data is then passed on to the engineering and production teams where the design will be honed and perfected. Attention is paid to every last detail, not on a scale of millimeters but "microns"—thousandths of a millimeter. Once this data is all in order, the factory then begins preparations for mass production.
After a long process of evolution based on the ideas and solutions of many people, team members and even real potential users, the designer's sketches, originally the result of sole personal experience and inspiration, at last are realized as a real product. Sometimes the designs may have been scrapped midway and the process began all over again, but that's because here at Honda, quality really matters from beginning to end.
Created in this way, the designs of Honda products reflect the development teams' many wishes to bring satisfaction and joy to the people who use them.