Design Icon: Sony Walkman


Design: Sony Walkman

Date: 1979

Designer: Nobutoshi Kihara (1926-2011)

Country of Origin: Japan

Background: Although contemporary people might associate Apple’s iPod with the revolution of portable music, one need look over twenty years earlier for its true origins: The Sony Walkman. Portable music had been available for some time prior to the Walkman’s release, but never in such a distilled, easy-to-use, minimally-designed package—something that literally put music in the palm of your hand. With nary a superfluous design element in sight, the Walkman was a beautiful amalgam of form and function. Barely larger than the cassette tapes it held, the original Walkman featured a precise layout and elegant lines—a surprisingly high-end look for a mass-market product. (Check out this fabulous deep-look at the Walkman on the Minimally Minimal blog.)

Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg.

  1. Stefanie says:

    While I admire the simple, clean design of the Walkman, I’m from the previous generation, and for sheer small size and amazement, it was hard to beat a transistor radio. We could also ‘plug in’ and privately listen to our favorite hits, with scarcely a bulge in our pocket. Twenty years before the Walkman. You can find some amazing designs here:
    Of course, it was a radio, and not a media player. And of course, there were so many. But still…. awesome!

    Thanks for sharing another timeless design, Max. I always enjoy your posts.

  2. aly says:

    I love the subjects you’ve been choosing to feature in the “design icon” posts. This one is especially unexpected!

  3. Jennifer says:

    So funny you posted this today. My husband and I were just talking about Walkmans and wondering when hipsters will start using them. Ha!

  4. Great pick for this feature! The Minimally Minimal post is fascinating.

  5. Leigh says:

    This is pretty hilarious – Kids React to Walkmans:


Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.