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.
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.
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.
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.