The Dreyfuss Special Version 2
This is the second version of a recycled portable speaker system that I designed. The following is the design process:
In 2009 I designed a set of portable speakers using old telephone handsets. Here’s a picture:
In 2011, my business partner Justin and I applied to exhibit our design at the Consumer Electronics Show Las Vegas in 2012. Much to our surprise, they accepted us. I can only assume that they set the bar quite low that year.
I should have been happy; but I wasn’t.
You see, I wasn’t completely satisfied with the original design of the Dreyfuss Special. So, three months before the show, at a time when everyone was enjoying the end of year festivities, I decided to re-design the speakers.
It’s around this time that I learned one of the hardest things to do is to re-design something that you thought was pretty damn good the first time around.
After a week of being stuck, I began the process with the following list:
So of course I began to tackle this list one by one.
1. The Grill:
I decided to give the grill a bit of a 60’s/70’s vibe. I imagined that this type of aesthetic would better suit the nostalgic look of the handset. So I recessed the center part of the grill compared to the surrounding edge, as this seemed to be a recurring tactic used by designers of that era. Of course, I saved the googly-eyed look since that’s my favourite part of the design.
So here's what two of these new grills look like:
2. The On/Off/Volume Knob:
I have a fascination with mechanical watches (of course I’m kidding; I have a fascination with digital watches as well). My dad and I used to build mechanical clocks together, so this may have had something to do with it.
So, I decided to re-design the on/off/volume knob like the crown of a watch (the crown is the bit on the watch that looks like a crown).
However, here’s my twist. Instead of having the volume knob hanging off the speaker grill like a normal crown, I decided to place my crown at a jaunty angle:
I equate this to when certain people wear their hats a little bit off-center on purpose, thus letting other people know that they are ‘cool’ and ‘ready for procreation.’
3. The Jackbox:
The jackbox is this box on The Dreyfuss Special where you plug in the adaptor, and, when not using bluetooth, a 3.5mm plug to your music source. Sometimes I get asked why this box is necessary, why not just drill holes into the handset itself. There’s a simple reason for this. When I designed these speakers, I wanted there to be as little modification to the original handset as possible. That way, many years from now, if someone wanted to recycle our speakers into a new product, they would have an unmolested handset at their disposal. This jackbox connects to the handset using the existing hole where that coiled wire used to come out of. And that’s the reason for the jackbox.
The first version of The Dreyfuss Special also had a jackbox, the design being a simple box with round corners. The original design looks this way because I had about an hour to design this box and send it off to the prototype makers:
With the new jackbox, I didn’t want the design to standout too much, since the other elements of the design are far more important. So, I simply re-shaped the box to follow the lines of the handset.
So, what’s with all the foam models?
If you’ve read up to this point, you may have noticed that most of my design work is done with foam. In case you’re wondering, I am aware of the invention of the computer, and its use as a powerful design tool. I am also well aware of the limitations of designing a product on the computer. In my years on the job, I’ve watched too many designers using the computer throughout the whole design process. They then produce the most gorgeous computer renderings of their designs. But here’s the dirty secret about designing on the computer: even really shit design can look great as a computer rendering. And all too often, these renderings will go straight to the manufacturing stage. This is one of the reasons why we are surrounded by such bad design.
A foam model doesn’t look as sexy as a computer rendering, but you can’t touch a computer rendering. Nor can you play with a computer rendering and interact with it. You can do all this with a foam model, and it will give you a much better idea of what the final product will look and feel like.
I’m not suggesting that the computer doesn’t have its place in the design studio. All I’m trying to say is: sketch models first, then the computer rendering should come at the end of the design process, for presentation and promotional purposes.
On a more technical note, working with foam as opposed to the computer allows me to create more kooky shapes. Current computer software still feels restraining, and the shapes created on a computer program seem too perfect and clean. I like my designs to have a little less Martha Stewart, a little more Willy Wonka in them.
4. And All The Other Little Things:
Apart from the speakers themselves, there were all these other details I had to design. While I won't bore you with all of them, here's an example of an afternoon spent designing the 3.5mm jack cables that would connect the speakers to an MP3 player or any other source of sound.
The Final Design:
And, for the sake of comparison; the old design vs. the new design:
Promotion of The Dreyfuss Special 2:
Armed with the new design, my business partner Justin and I went to CES. We met a lot of people at our booth, but also walked around the convention with our speakers, explaining the design to anyone who would listen. Here's me being interviewed by the Discovery Channel Canada (later replayed on Canada AM):
So Where Can I Buy These?
Of course, our goal was to get these speakers on the market. And we didn’t think it would be difficult. After all, we had received a design award, gotten some good press, and every time we’d exhibited, people kept asking where and when they could buy the speakers.
The original plan was to go into production ourselves, but after some number crunching and various consultations with wise business-type people, we knew this was a bad idea. So, we approached several speaker companies (many, many, many of them). And some of the companies showed real interest. I designed a presentation package, and gave the sales pitch to companies in the US, Europe and Asia.
Every time the idea was presented, we kept running into the same snag: no one wanted to mass produce a product that used a recycled component (the handset part). It was too risky, they said. It was too expensive, they said. No one’s done it before, they said. As a solution, we even offered the idea of having two models: one that re-used the old handsets, and another line that used brand new ones. The recycled line would cost a little more but would act as a halo to the whole brand. Unfortunately, this wasn't enough to sway them.
So, to this day, the Dreyfuss Special remains a great learning experience for me, but not quite the Disney ending I worked so hard for. But I have not given up. If anyone is interested in manufacturing these speakers, please do contact me.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this little design story.