SUNNY CHEUNG: Hi, my name is Sunny Cheung. I'm curator at the design and architecture department of M+.
ANDREW GOODHOUSE: And I'm Andrew Goodhouse. I'm an editor at M+.
SUNNY CHEUNG: Today, we're going to be talking about these three fantastic objects from the My First Sony range.
ANDREW GOODHOUSE: So these objects were released by Sony in the late 1980s as a line of electronics aimed at kids, for like a younger audience. I think one of the interesting things, for me especially, is to, you know, look at the design of these products in terms of the consistent scheme of like primary colours and how this kind of invites you, as you're using it, to understand and explore the different functions.
SUNNY CHEUNG: The marketing collateral, which we see here for the cassette recorder, has this open window here which enables you to clearly see the product. They knew exactly what they were getting for their kids.
ANDREW GOODHOUSE: It's advertising that you can record your voice on a cassette, play it back, play your favourite music. I think maybe one of the most special things is, with these sound pads, you can drum along to the sounds.
ANDREW GOODHOUSE: And then there's even like an animal setting, so you change the drum sounds to animal settings. It’s especially exciting.
SUNNY CHEUNG: I mean, I think it's too small. [chuckles]
ANDREW GOODHOUSE: Yeah, you're a little bit big for it. [laughs]
SUNNY CHEUNG:Just freestyling.
SUNNY CHEUNG: Like you see here, this My First Sony badge, which is on all their products. It was obviously a conscious decision for Sony to build this idea of brand loyalty through adults purchasing. These are not marketed necessarily as toys, but as actual Sony products, like these quality products which were just encased in plastic.
SUNNY CHEUNG: They didn't want to go into the toy business, but they knew that there's this idea of life-styling a product.
ANDREW GOODHOUSE: I think that's also interesting to consider in terms of the Walkman, which Sony originally released in 1979 and really put the company kind of at the forefront of consumer electronics in Japan and also internationally. Around ten years later, we have this sort of kids' version of the Walkman that somehow—as Sunny was saying—comes with the kind of promise of Sony quality. You become a Sony consumer as a kid, and then eventually you get older and perhaps you start buying other Sony products.
SUNNY CHEUNG: It's also got radio, FM–AM radio. So obviously recognising that a child's hearing is very delicate at the early stage, they've put something in it called the AVLS. The AVLS was actually in the first version of the My First Sony.
SUNNY CHEUNG: It's really a case of an innovation happening in, you know, what's perceived as a toy, but something, you know, serious for the future that adults can also use.
ANDREW GOODHOUSE: I think with all of these products, what you're getting as a user is kind of like this idea that you can explore. There are different ways to interact with the products. You can play music, record music, add to music, following an interface that is very easy to use and very friendly.
SUNNY CHEUNG: They've definitely got this cohesive design language where they focus more on the red and the blue and the yellow. When they did market research, they discovered that in general boys' toys seemed to be a black and yellow colour, and for girls at the time it was a kind of pinky-purple. So they deliberately wanted to steer away from this idea of genderising their toys, which if you think about it, in the sort of late 1980s, 1990s, was really forward thinking for the company.
ANDREW GOODHOUSE: So, we're here now looking at some other products from exactly the same time, more or less: the late 1980s. And you can see we have three products here. One is sort of sound-based cassette playing, recording. But there's also a vacuum cleaner and an electric toothbrush.
ANDREW GOODHOUSE: You could say, kind of adult ideas of children's activities. The packaging is very inviting. I mean, you have the sort of robot logo. In this case, you have a picture of a vacuum cleaner. For kids who are still learning to read, you have the kanji written here and then above it in smaller type the hiragana. If you haven't learned the character yet, you can still understand how to pronounce it.
SUNNY CHEUNG: We noticed that here, if I turn this around a bit, you get these screws. And the idea is that you can unscrew these. So for a curious kid who perhaps may just want it all green, for instance, you could take two of these green panels—these modular panels—and put them together and have a completely green kit. And also to learn how to brush your teeth as well.
ANDREW GOODHOUSE: Yes, we have here the electric toothbrush body. There are some heads that you can place on there. Again, in the . . . in the sort of Sanyo ROBO colours: red and green.
SUNNY CHEUNG: These are two examples of how two companies, Sony and Sanyo, have approached children's products from the Sanyo ROBO range to the My First Sony, and the sort of diverse and different products that you can get.
ANDREW GOODHOUSE: Their design history is obviously positioned within the design and architecture collection at M+, but also their material history. I mean, looking at these two sets of objects together, you really see a difference in the plastic. I mean, whereas My First Sony has the sort of shinier plastic, the Sanyo ROBO series doesn't.
As Sunny was saying, there's a corporate history that can be told in terms of the late 1980s in Japan, but there's also for sure the design history and then you have material history as well.
In the late 1980s, Sony and Sanyo each pioneered new lines of children’s electronics, featuring cassette players, audio recorders, walkie talkies, and even vacuums and toothbrushes. Encased in bright, primary-coloured plastic, they were made to be safe and easy-to-use while still rivalling their adult-oriented counterparts in quality.
M+ Design & Architecture Curator Sunny Cheung and Editor Andrew Goodhouse unbox items from My First Sony and Sanyo ROBO in our collections, discussing the innovations, branding, and fun that these products brought to their young users.
Note: Some of the museum objects featured in this video were unable to be turned on for demonstration at this time. To illustrate their sound quality and function, we rented several identical items from the market, which did not require gloves for handling. This video was originally published on M+ Stories.
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