The Sony Walkman was a game-changer when it hit the market in 1979.
It was the world's first portable tape player, allowing people to listen to music on the go.
But before it even launched, it sparked controversy. It had no recording function. It may be hard to imagine in a post-iPod world, but back then the only comparable device was the tape recorder.
Many thought a tape player without the ability to record wouldn't be successful.
But Sony founder Akio Morita had a vision for the Walkman.
He wanted it to be a high-quality, portable device that would deepen the connection between young people and music.
Morita staked his reputation on the success of the Walkman. Sony’s design team had actually already mocked up a version with recording functionality. Morita scrapped it.
The Walkman went on to become a global phenomenon, selling over 150 million units by 1995.
The key to its success was its simplicity.
By removing the recording function, Morita made it clear exactly what the device was for - listening to music on the go.
In the end, Morita's decision paid off.
The device changed the way we engage with music—not by doing more, but by doing less.
Morita’s walkman traded increased functionality for a greater potential to change behaviour, and in doing so, created a new market for portable stereo systems.
This is a great example of the technical design term "affordance: a product's ability to communicate its purpose and function to the user.
Make your value clear, and you’ll make it easier for the word to spread.
Sometimes you have to sacrifice potential to achieve the exponential.