Sony’s new Rizzoli-published design book “Sony Design: Making Modern” explores the origins of the company, and traces its path to contemporary success. As most good stories do, Sony’s starts at the beginning with an introductory chapter titled “How Sony Found its Own Voice.” Penned by British writer and director of the Design Museum, London, Deyan Sudjic, the chapter outlines Sudjic’s first memories of Sony’s products, and goes on to discuss how innovations such as the Walkman sparked significant social shifts.
Along with these observations is a practical timeline of Sony’s history, starting with its post World War II founding in 1946. First founded by Masaru Ibuka, the company was originally named Tokyo Tsushin Kenkyujo or Tokyo Telecommunications Research Institute. Perhaps sensing a complementary talent, the then 36-year-old Ibuka partnered with a 23-year-old Akio Morita, whom he’d met during the war while working as part of a military research task force. The duo named their co-business Tsushin Kogyo Company or TKK — a name that would eventually be changed to Sony.
Interestingly enough, Sony’s name change occurred as a byproduct of business expansion. After the founders discovered there was an American company already operating under “Teletech,” and further discovered many Americans simply couldn’t pronounce “Tsushin Kogyo,” they went back to the drawing board. Eventually, they combined “Sonus,” the Latin word for “Sonus” with “Sonny,” a popular way to refer to a young boy in 1950s America.
The first few pieces they produced were items that we might consider inconsequential today: a rudimentary electric rice cooker, a heated blanket with no thermostat attachment, a handful of scientific equipment, etc. However, neither Ibuka nor Morita had any experience creating consumer products, and the pair were working under the constraints of a severely crippled economy. The horrific destruction left in the wake of American bombers had all but leveled former industrial monopolies leaving the country financially hurt, but also providing a slew of industrial niches that needed filling.
In something comparable to the legend of the phoenix, Ibuka and Morita rose from the ashes, heralding in a new age of technology and thinking. And, as Rizzoli illustrates, their legacy holds steadfast today.