Manager of the Advanced Design GroupYoshihiro Katsumata
Working at Yamaha
Fusing high technology and handicraft: attempted in the WX5, achieved in the EZ-EG
When I first started out, I worked on digital instruments such as the RY20 rhythm machine. I still remember how I felt the first time I saw a product that I had designed on store shelves-I thought, "At last, I'm the one doing the producing." In my second year, I worked on the Silent Brass system. This was a kind of muting device that allowed players to practice on brass instruments at home while listening to them with headphones. It was an innovative product of a kind the world had never seen before, and it was extremely worthwhile to be involved with it. After the product was released, I told a younger university classmate, who played the trumpet, about it-he went out and bought one, and was thrilled with it. That was the first time I had gotten such a response from someone close to me, so I was truly happy. After that, I worked on the WX5, successor to the WX7 wind MIDI controller. The WX7 had a thoroughly minimalist, mechanical design, so much so that it was practically a stick that happened to play music, but we decided to use a wooden body for the WX5. We ended up using plastic instead of wood, but it was my own attempt at fusing high technology with handcrafted warmth. I believe that I embodied this concept of pairing a minimalist electronic device with a handcrafted wooden body in a more ideal form with the "light-up guitar," the EZ-EG, which I worked on later.
Learning how to network in London, and Kemble Pianos
After that, I went to the UK for three years starting in November 2005. At the Yamaha Design Laboratory, there was a shared sense that for design to effectively exert its strength in the future, there would be a need for someone who could gather together talents from a variety of fields and oversee projects. My task was to build the human network necessary for this.
After arriving in London, I visited a variety of people to introduce myself, but it didn't lead to any concrete developments. Just as I was starting to get a bit nervous, I was invited to an event called Pecha Kucha Night. In this event, participants gave six-minute presentations about a topic of their choice using twenty slides, and several luminaries of the London art scene were participants. Seeing a chance for possible opportunities, I gave a presentation about the activities of the Katachi Lab, a group of designers that I belonged to outside work. Afterward, many people complimented me on the interesting activities our group was involved in.
From there, my web of connections continued to grow as I met people involved with workshops at the Royal College of Art (RCA) and became acquainted with noted designers whom I would later ask to work with. One thing I felt keenly during this experience was the realization that you can't build networks simply by going around knocking on doors-you have to have something of your own to offer.
One other memory from my London days was my experience working on the design for the Radius, a piano intended for the European market and developed in collaboration with British piano maker Kemble, with whom Yamaha was closely partnered at the time. There in the European cultural sphere, the home of the piano, as I studied the traditional furniture and architectural decorative art surrounding me in my day-to-day life and applied the knowledge thus gleaned in my own work, I succeeded in creating an entirely new vision of the piano, while at the same time preserving the traditional methods of piano-making. I also had the chance to share my joys and sorrows with the staff at Kemble from the very beginning of the design process until after the product was released. It was a very memorable, fulfilling experience.
Offering new visions from a design-oriented perspective
My current job is managing the Advanced Design Group. One of the group's missions is to work with the R&D department to create new visions from a design-oriented perspective for core technologies and products not yet slated for production. Since most of it is still under development, I can't discuss details, but one example is the Speech Privacy technology developed by Yamaha. This unique system uses the latest acoustic technology to scramble the voices of people in conversation, masking them in order to prevent their discussions from being overheard.
Through research we formulate ideas about what kind of products a given technology can be used to create, where those products will be used, and what they will look like. Then, using sketches based on these ideas, we collaborate with the development team in order to come up with product proposals. Understanding cutting-edge technologies, listening to voices from a variety of perspectives in order to figure out what the real issues are, infusing my own ideas in order to create a more attractive vision-my experiences in London and as a designer inform every step of the work flow in the Advanced Group.
One other mission of ours is for the Design Laboratory to take a leading role in using the power of design to create new values. Here as well, I want to act on the realization I gained in London about the importance of having something of your own to offer, and of testing its value as necessary by releasing it to the public.