Good sounds that last

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Welcome to a journey that goes back in time and far, far into the future. But first let us start with the present. We live in an age of electronics, where electronic gadgets become an ever more integrated part of our lifes. Each year there is a new smartphone that is faster, better, thinner. Every millimeter counts. But as our objects get smarter the same can not be said of our way of designing them. As our gadgets get thinner and more compact they also get more integrated product design under the surface which means that often repair is not an option. So when your phone battery is dead or your Macbook need more memory your product is obsolete. Buy and repeat. The result is an ever increasing problem with electronic waste.

This blog is an open investigation of how to create electronic products that last longer. The focus of the investigation is wireless speakers – a new type of electronic products that have been increasingly popular in the last couple of years. In 10 intense weeks I will find out why speakers don’t last. And try to make some that do.

Final Concept – Business Model

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As described in this post my final design is a speaker rental service. Behind the concept is a a business model with multiple revenue streams. For the business model development I used Osterwalders business model canvas. The result can be seen below.

Circular Spealers - Business model canvas version 1

 

The most interesting thing to notice here is the different revenue streams.

Renting

There will obviously be revenue generated from speaker rental. I propose that the price will be between €4-6 a day depending on duration of the festival. Today it is common to pay for a battery service to charge your phone. This cost €3-4/day. Since the speakers are not an individual purchase (but one shared between the people in a camp) the price mentioned seems reasonable.

 

Sponsorship

Another revenue stream can come from advertisement on the speakers. The obvious think would be that this is from the festivals main sponsors (often beer companies). Heineken recently launched a marketing campaign where users could buy a cheap Heineken wireless speaker. Tuborg is main sponsor for Roskilde festival and a speaker for that festival could like the one shown below. Participants at music festivals spend a lot, so it is attractive for companies to promote their brands to these consumers.

 

Tuborg advertisement

Strategic partnerships 

A third option is to engage in strategic partnerships. At the moment there is a lot of competition in the music streaming market, so it could be obvious to partner up with a new streaming service like Tidal, that could offer free streaming to the users in the period they rent the speakers. Participants at music festivals are especially attractive for music streaming companies as they have an interest for music and have already showed that they are willing to pay for it (buy buying the ticket).

Tidal promotion

 

 

Is it profitable?
The price for the speakers are highly dependent on the numbers produced since there are several injection-molded parts that requires expensive molds to manufacture. The ramp-up costs are therefore high. I estimate that with a run of 5000 speakers it is realistic to keep the production price per unit below €50.

Besides the manufacturing of the speakers that there are a number of other costs associated with offering the service. There is cost for the setup of the salespoint, rental and admission fee to the festival, etc. The good thing about offering such a service at festivals is that it is possible to get people to work “voluntary” in exchange for a festival ticket. I estimate that it will cost around €1700 per day in running cost. So if only revenue from rent is considered 340 speakers need to be rented out to break even. This is before depreciation of the speakers. But as the big festivals have more than 100.000 participants only a fraction need to rent the speakers for the business to be interesting.

 

Final Concept – Circular Design Strategies

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Design a new and more circular speaker. This was the task I was given. Throughout the process I have narrowed down the task and decided to design a speaker specifically for use at music festivals. The reason I took this decision was because I identified a market where it would be attractive for the users to use a product service system. In a festival setting access is much more important than ownership. Changing the business model is key to delivering solutions that will be more sustainable in the end, because it can give control over the whole product life (and afterlife). A product that is perfectly designed for reparability has little effect if the users don’t have any technical knowledge or motivation to repair their own speaker. It is also pointless to design for disassembly if the product anyway ends up in the bin. But in a product service system the manufacturer or service provider can make sure that repair and disassembly will take place. And then it suddenly makes sense to design with this in mind. That is why I choose to design a product service system. I used the circular design strategies in the following way:

 

Design for attachment and trust

The interaction with the product was very important for me. The product should be fun and simple to use and I wanted a more physical and tangible interaction than just pressing a button. This was a challenge, since a simple and sturdy construction also had high priority. The users should find the features and design so attractive that they would prefer the solution instead of bringing their own speakers. The product should be trustworthy in the way that the users shouldn’t fear that it would break or be stolen during the festival. This meant that a sturdy design and antitheft function was required.

 

Design for durability

A music festival full of drunk young people is probably one of the most extreme use scenarios you can imagine. A durable and sturdy design was therefore paramount. The following principles were important in the final design:

  • Simple construction with as few parts as possible
  • Simple use with few buttons and transfer of functionality to app
  • Ruggedized product – that would allow drops and tough use
  • Waterproof – Through tight product enclosure, waterproof drivers with aluminium face and plug cover.
  • Scratch and dirt resistant surfaces – dark surfaces with rough surface treatment to hide dirt and scratches.

 

Design for dis- and reassembly

The product is designed for easy assembly in mind, which also allows for easy disassembly. No glue is used for the assembly and a few standard screws allows for easy disassembly.

 

Design for ease of maintenance and repair

The product is designed with repair in mind.

  • The product is modular, so it is possible to replace a whole module. The battery is in a module that is very easy to change. All the electronics is also placed together in one end which means that it is easy to access and replace.

 

Design for standardization and compatibility

Use of the Bluetooth standard means that the speaker can be used with any phone. The core idea of the product is that it should be able to connect to other speakers, so the speakers together will create a larger network.

 

Design for upgradability and adaptability

The modular design allows for easy upgradability. The battery can easily be exchanged to a larger one and only minor changes would be required to create a whole product family. Furthermore the product features a USB port and an internal memory, which mean that the firmware can be upgraded.

Final Concept – Soundvenience Speaker Service

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Header with logo cropped

 

Summer equals music festivals for many young people. Many music festivals have camping sites and here the music loving participant often bring their own music systems. As electricity is limited they either build their own large stereosystems that runs on car batteries or they bring old ghettoblasters or buy new cheap ones to bring. The result is an increasing problems with electronic waste waste from batteries and broken and left speakers at festivals.

 

Waste problem

 

 

Besides the environmental problem it us also inconvenient that they have to travel with big speakers, there is a risk for theft and damage and there is a cost of batteries. It must be possible to do this in a smarter way.

Soundvenience is a music service that give participants at music festivals a more social, convenient and fun festival experience by renting out durable speakers with unique social features including free charging.

The concept is designed for a circular economy and is aimed as an example to show how new opportunities for value creation arise when companies start to innovate with circularity in mind.

 


So how does all this work?

  1. Before the festival the guests reserve a speaker either together with their festival ticket or at the Soundvenience webpage
  2. When they arrive at the festival they go to one of the Speakerpoints where they pay for the speaker and get registred (each speaker has a NFC ID tag). The user pay €5 per day and €50 is reserved on the user’s creditcard as a deposit.
  3. The user go party with their friends!
  4. When the battery eventually runs out of power after 10 hours of playing, the battery is easy to take out. The user then goes to the nearest Speakerpoint and switch the battery to a new one.
  5. At the end of the festival the user hand in the speaker and get the deposit back.

 

Product design

Speaker in grass

 

Features

Overview with callouts

Soundvenience uses a an originally designed speaker that is extremely durable, and has a minimalistic design and some cool social features.

 

The product has the three following modes:

Modes

 

Besides these playing modes there are a long range of other features:

Other Features

 

Use

The speaker has an innovative, yet simple and intuitive user interaction. When the speaker is on pres down the whole top part to connect to search for new inputs (local devices, other speakers or live streams depending on the mode). Turn the whole top to switch between the three modes and twist the top to turn the volume up or down.

Interaction small

 

 

Design details

Top detail

 

tilting

 

Render battery indicator lys

Render top straigh on

four speakers together

 

 

Components and construction

Exploded parts view

 

Recap of the design process

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After ten intense weeks I can now present my final solutions for how to design a speaker in a more circular way. Here I would like to give a short recap of the whole taught process and how I ended up with the solution I now present to you.

In my initial analysis I realised that wireless speakers are actually not such bad product, when seen from a sustainability point of view. Or at least when compared to the products that they often replace. From an eco-design perspective it can be said that they are compact, so material use is limited and the transport is energy efficient. They also run on rechargeable batteries (and could in principle run on green energy) instead of disposables ones. Using the Product That Last framework it can be pointed out that they use a universal standard makes them compatible with almost any phone and device (unlike earlier iPod docks). So what is the actual problem you might ask?

The problem is that they are becoming so cheap that they are now completely commoditized as you now can buy speakers for 10€. And the lithium batteries, circuit boards and magnets in the drivers do take a lot of energy to produce, uses scarce resources and thereby have an impact on the environment. Especially if they are thrown in the bin as is far to often the case with small electronics equipment. Another problem is that the batteries decrease in performance over time, but in most speakers the battery requires special technical skills to replace. And in general the aim at making smaller and more compact speakers also make it more difficult for repair. So there was definitely a potential for a more circular solution.

When initially applying the 6 circular design strategies I focussed on the following design ideas:

Transparency – make people more aware of the electronic content that is inside their music boks, so they would know that repairs are possible and that they should in the end dispose the product the right way.

Ghost aflang Ghost_cropped

Modularity – Lego brick speakers. Would allow for personalized solutions, the possibility for later upgrades and easy repair. I looked a lot into how modularity would allow for new social interactions. People usually use wireless portable speakers in social situations, so I found that the idea of putting building bricks together and creating a unique hifi-system together was an interesting idea. A lot of these thoughts are visible in the final design.

Customizability – make it possible for the user to customize the casing, either through 3D printing, forming it by hand, exchangeable covers or something else.

3D print

Simplicity – Using as few materials as possible. I looked into the possibilities with transducers that make sound by vibrating surfaces. This would allow for an a very different looking speaker flat speaker where the sound would come from a vibrating glass plate. Another concepts was just having a small soundunit that could then be attached to the window in a room.

transducer

 

The directions above were all interesting, but I felt in order to really make a difference I had to change the business model and play around with ownership models. I found that there could be some interesting opportunities for an access model where speakers would be sold as a service. I found that such a service could be interesting if it could…

… offer a premium product that is so expensive that up front payment is not an option

… remove risk involved with ownership

… be more convenient

… solve specific needs the user has in a short and defined period of time

… offer (social) network effects

 

Based on the above I identified three possible segments:

1. Backpackers and solotravellers

2. Turists at the beach

3. Participants at music festivals

 

I went for the last one. Here you can read about the concept development and here you can find the description of the final concept.

Sketches, cardboard speakers and lots of ideas

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Even though there haven’t been so many updates here lately I have worked hard the last couple of weeks on detailing and defining my final solution for a more sustainable festival speaker. I have drawn a lot of sketches to define the look, made storyboards to define the experience, played around with cardboard models to experiment with forms and sizes, searched through the catalogues of manufacturers to define the components, detailed the final design in CAD software and much more. Here is a little collage with some very early sketches:

Process collage

 

When I made the sketches above it was never the intend to show them to the world (as they are far from pretty), but I think they show in a good way some of the ideas that have passed my mind in the design process. When I started out designing specifically for the the festival setting I first had an idea of creating a modular solution. Later I focused more on a simple compact cube speaker that would function as a building block and I investigated at the same time smaller and oblong robust forms. Underneath is an illustration that shows ideas for the different playing modes.

 

 

Use scenarios first concept

Here are some of the cardboard prototypes closer to the final product design:

Prototypes bw