It's hard to believe that Fujifilm and Kodak were once competitors. Whereas Kodak declared bankruptcy in 2012, following one business failure after another, Fujifilm should be a business school case study on how to deal with tough economic times and a signature product that the world is telling you is obsolete. How does a company that made their name in film stay relevant in the age of digital photography?
We industrial designers can of course appreciate Fujifilm's retro-designed cameras, but there's more to the company's success than that: They've survived and thrived by focusing on the user experience. While they address the physical design of the cameras, they then look beyond it to ask themselves: What role does photography, and photographs themselves, play in people's lives?
To that end, this month they've opened Fujifilm Wonder Photo Shop, a two-story photography boutique and learning center in Tokyo's trendy Harajuku district. Part store, part print center and part workshop, the Wonder Photo Shop's motto is "Living with photography improves one's life." And shrewdly, the store does not attempt to combat smartphone photography; instead, it embraces it. Writes John Sypal, who runs the Tokyo Camera Style blog and has translated Fujifilm's press release into English, "With the increase in casual photography with smart-phones the average woman in her twenties takes an estimated 500 pictures a year, with at least half of all women taking a photo each day." Meaning if you can entice that audience into printing out even a fraction of their photos, that could make for a healthy business.
Thus the Wonder Photo Shop offers workshops on how to improve your smartphone photography, in addition to offering workstations one can directly connect their smartphone to in order to create prints. Users can select from straight photographs in a variety of sizes as well as personalized greeting card formats, with a number of templates provided by the store. For those who want to take the next step, the store provides an Apple-Store-like place for them to toy around with products like Fujifilm's Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic camera. The following TV spot (Japanese-language only) for that product shows the lifestyle angle that Fujifilm is pursuing. Be sure to check out the neat trick that starts around 1:02:
Even as they seek to engage the consumer market, Fujifilm still keeps it real for the pros, retaining that all-important goodwill and credibility in the commercial photography sector. We asked the talented Sean Marc Lee, an American editorial, lifestyle and street fashion photographer currently based in Taipei, why he's such an avowed Fujifilm lover. Writes Lee:
They are one of the few camera manufacturers who listen to photographers. They're consistently updating firmware even for their discontinued cameras. They are always listening for feedback from the community.
They just celebrated their 80th anniversary in concurrence with the release of their newest camera, the X-T1, which blends traditional film SLR dial controls with modern digital technology. It's got a sensor that has been worked on by techs who've been responsible for some of Fujifilm's best film stocks.
These new Fuji digital cameras were also the first time I felt it was like shooting film again. Everything from the feel of the cameras to the color output. Most of my compact 35mm [camera collection] is Fuji, and I also also own a few of their last photographic film cameras. It's just something about the heritage and the staying power. And by the way, I swear I don't work for them.