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.


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.


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


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