The Un-p3 Project Part 2: Prototype Samples

Edit: Re-formatted the layout of some text and images.
Yep. There is no point me blogging about doing good industrial design or design theory if at the end of the day I don’t walk the talk and produce something to show, right? Well after starting, stopping, re-starting, hacking and spin drying my ideas, I have finally succeeded in creating sample prototypes of my Un-p3 Mp3 player! Can you say that five times in your head?
Please do check it out after the jump and please leave me all your hard hitting ego killing feedback? No hang on, my ego is fragile so please be gentle? Heh-heh.

If you have not already do have a look at The Un-p3 Project: Part 1, for some of the background information behind the build up to this project. Anyways without further adieu, here it is in its full glory!

What do I get when I try to design an mp3 player out of wood?
Oh yeah baby, check it out plugged into my B&O headphones.

Well these samples have shown that the design is currently not quite ready as things don’t fit well, for example I made the housing 3mm too big for the circuit board! I don’t think I would have spotted this if I did not make a prototype.
Actually, prototyping or functional models are one of the design tools I hardly see a lot off these days, both in a work situation and inside portfolios. With realistic computer rendering software packages these days, I see many designers rely on said renderings as a cheaper and quicker communication tool instead of models or prototypes. Furthermore, many clients in Asia try to drop the model making phase completely just to save on overall project cost.
I think this attitude is wrong and should change if possible. Model making and hand building designs gives you a certain sense of reality and quickly brings a designer very close to the product. Sadly these days I almost have to “whip” time starved designers to get back into the workshop!
From the client stand point, many rely on the first tooling trial shot for the first taste of the product. Therefore in both cases both designer and client lose a chance to “play” with their object to get a “feeling” of it very early in the development phase, and most importantly have the time to make the experience just right. Finally this also allows you an opportunity to work closely with your manufacturers if your test models and prototypes can come from the same source. (Many manufacturing companies also provide prototyping services.)

Check out the electronic guts I installed inside, unfortunately I made the interior about 3-4mm too big, oops! Better get back to work still lots more to do.

Anyways back to the discussion at hand. Briefly, the 4 equal semi-circles are the controls (volume and play direction) and the center circle is the play/power switch. The Lithium-ion battery runs for about 5-8 hours, and the product plays most digital music formats off a SD Memory Card (not included). It’s meant to be very simple and easy to use, but the focus is on creating a “haptic” product that can form a strong emotive relationship with the user. Well all in all, I think I’m only about 60% there, but with the pictured sample models you and I can roughly get a good feel of the product. I still have a few proportional issues (like the key hole etc.) to refine, mounting/alignment points and user graphics to finalize and I should be about there.
My plans are basically to create a limited run of 20 pieces for this design, and sell them at about USD$ 60-70 bucks each. I estimate I should be done in under a month if my work load remains at the current level. So what do you think of the design work so far?

  • gautier

    October 29, 2007 at 5:33 pm Reply

    don’t change the concept.
    it has to be made of wood – every part.
    i’ll buy one!

  • drew kora

    October 19, 2007 at 8:10 pm Reply

    Wow, that’s a great idea…a thin piece of sheet metal running through it…wow, that would defintely turn it up to eleven. Man I can’t wait for an update.

  • DT

    October 19, 2007 at 11:57 am Reply

    Hi Jeremy,
    Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving your comments. You are spot on in your observations covering a lot of what I wanted this product to represent. Especially your “patina” part which I had struggled to describe.
    Also your observations on the keyring is spot on! And actually you help me externalized what was actually nagging at the back of my mind. One idea that came to me was to change a layer of plywood into a layer of sheet metal that extended into the keyring profile. I think that metal layer sheet could be located at the same level as the ear piece plug giving it a stronger feel, “killing two birds with one stone”.
    I’ll be sure to put you down for one and let you know when I do get a limited run going! Once again thanks for your great feedback.

  • Jeremy

    October 19, 2007 at 3:12 am Reply

    Hello there,
    I just came across this linked in a comment here:
    I definitely love the concept you have here – I think bringing back some more solid and traditional materials (ie. wood and metals) for and object so closely associated with plastic – as most electronics are these days, is a great idea. I think the form is great, and really want to hold it in my hand. It would develop a nice patina and wear from use, as wood does. While it would have a handmade feel, I think that association enhances the product and would give it more value, rather than detracting from it.
    I do have a couple of comments – While I think the wood is an appropriate material for the case, it seems simply inappropriate for the keyring – this could be metal which would interface better with a keychain. It needs to be thin, yet strong. The metal-wood connection then could be an interesting detail. Perhaps wrapping around the whole block, and forming a ring at one point?
    Other weak point is to look at how the mini-plug interfaces, as this is always a weak point on mp3 players. I know the electronics don’t give you much room to move it, but maybe it can be handled in a way to give it more strength, or make it look less tacked on.
    I would also love to get one of these if you do produce a limited run – so if you start up a wait list, please let me know how to get on it!
    Great work!

  • Design Translator

    May 25, 2007 at 7:41 am Reply

    It is amazing is it not that we all have different views? That’s what makes sharing ideas so bloody interesting!
    You are correct, about the chain hole. I originally had it about 1/3 as thick in another design. However after talking to my manufacturers, they suggested against my other design and I had to head back to the drawing board to specially re- design it so that the key hole could accommodate a thicker section and yet look integrated.
    Also it’s funny how you say that the iPod Shuffle is something you would feel comfortable to knock around and you would preserve my Un-p3 instead.
    I had originally chose wood as a material because:
    1) The ability for me to approach the design in a graphical angle. As plastic cannot do the same because of molding issues.
    2) It is naturally giving material. The ability of the wood’s patina to accept knocks and hits, and as a result, instead of making the product look worst (eg. scratched iPod), it would look much better! Hence it

  • drew kora

    May 24, 2007 at 9:48 pm Reply

    Interesting to see the many different viewpoints on this design. Personally, I love the wood and I love the circle pattern. The key chain hole isn’t bad, either. It has to be beefy so it doesn’t snap. Overall…a beautiful device. I’d love to see more photos of it with other objects to put it in perspective.
    My big concern is that the nature of the materials makes me wonder how fragile it is for everyday use. I mean, this to me is a competitor with the iPod Shuffle. I’d gladly take a Shuffle to the gym and work out…clip it to my sweaty clothes, etc. But this almost seems too nice for that.
    Some of my concerns may stem from the fact that un-p3 player is a hand-made, few of a kind device. So no matter how hardy it is made, I still will view it as fragile since it’s not replaceable (and doesn’t have a warranty…ha).
    So I’m not casting a judgement yet, especially since I haven’t held one yet and DT has said he’s taking the hardiness of it into consideration. So for now, it’s just my concern.

  • Design Translator

    May 24, 2007 at 11:50 am Reply

    Hi HS,
    It’s been awhile! Yes I always love feedback particular from people like yourself and KK as I do know both of you in real life.
    Anyways great comments, and you are right, and I will consider more the inherent value of the material in relation to design.
    Also it’s always good to show your work, good or bad, for a few reasons:
    1) You work so closely on the product you get over-familiar with it, and will miss out things. Many designers, even at senior levels, bounce ideas back and forth for feedback and sharing. This way you would uncover things you did not previously see. No design is perfect out right from the beginning; it takes a few re-iterations and feedback.
    2) I’m a firm believer that ideas are meant to be shared. Ideas are seeds, and sharing is like the sun. Put both together it will grow into better things. Many people don’t see that and tend to be protective over their work. It takes a few years in the industry to see that Einstein was right when he said its 1% inspiration 99% perspiration. Everybody has good ideas, the ones that become that genre breaking idea, takes a lot of hard work.
    So don’t be shy, most people are in general polite about feedback. As they say you would not scold a stranger, and familiarity breeds contempt.
    Please keep in touch, and it’s always nice to hear from people I know.

  • HS

    May 24, 2007 at 10:48 am Reply

    Hi DT,
    Cool project u have here, and i see kk has open the floodgate of feedbacks.. but well, no design process is complete without some CONSTRUCTIVE criticism right? hah
    Heres my 2 cents( think you probably have a dollar by now.. heh):
    As far as i can see the “wood-ness” of the product at the moment lies only in its aesthetic value. and since you mentioned Scandinavian bent veneer furniture.. maybe bending plywood instead of machine cutting might help push the nature of the material a little further, and applying furniture design to CE design might be a more deserving theme to this project. I like your idea of carving patterns, but not so much the current graphics.
    Anyway, applause to u for so bravely putting up ur work.. i for one will probably think twice(ok.. maybe more)before putting my design up for “slaughtering”, especially for someone ur level of seniority (i mean design wise not age.. really)

  • Design Translator

    May 23, 2007 at 9:02 pm Reply

    Hahah Aen,
    You are an Apple fan true and true. I only wish I had access to Apple’s electronics design, and if I do, there will definetly be a super slim one in the works!

    Hey Drew,
    Non-taken and a very good question. The standard drop test is a drop from about waist height. (Same for mobile phones, pdas etc.) If I’m not wrong it’s about 1 meter or so onto a hard floor. So this product will be tested to this usual standard. The good thing is the housing wood material is naturally soft and has some shock absorbing qualities. So far this prototype is pretty good, and I will continue my testing accordingly.

  • drew kora

    May 23, 2007 at 8:42 pm Reply

    Aen, from what I can tell in the images it looks no bigger than a human ear. Look at it next to the headphones and the screw drivers. I imagine it being more in the iPod Shuffle size range.
    …I do wonder abotu durability. DT, don’t be insulted by me asking you, a seasoned product designer, this question: but how hardy is the device?

  • Aen Tan

    May 23, 2007 at 8:28 pm Reply

    It looks pretty big but I don’t feel any “wow” in it. I probably wouldn’t use anything as a portable mp3 player unless it is at least as portable as an iPod Nano. I’m the slim, sleek, minimal, basic, white, black, silver kind of person so this doesn’t attract me. Looks cool though.

  • Design Translator

    May 23, 2007 at 6:26 pm Reply

    Hi Heyuti,
    That’s my plan, I will eventually create a range of personal entertainment products such as radios, headphones etc.
    Also sorry about the giddiness! It’s intentional! But you are right on that heavy feel. I am still working on the proportions especially the hook and hopefully will fix it all in time. Thanks and please keep in touch.

  • Pietro

    May 23, 2007 at 5:44 pm Reply

    Creativity emerges only where there are constraints…

  • Heyuti

    May 23, 2007 at 1:16 pm Reply

    Ha when u design with constrains you get to really show off your creativity and skills. What fun is there when u can do whatever you want? Anyway i just wonder how are you planning to make your buttons work? How about your earphones and accessories? Ha will be cool if the whole product is in line with the language right? Wooden jet, bamboo earphones. Somehow maybe due to the perspective, it looks really heavy. The hook being just a hook catches too much attention. Don’t know issit me, but the concentric circles makes me giddy.

  • Design Translator

    May 22, 2007 at 10:53 pm Reply

    edit: some typos
    Hi KK,
    Hah-hah! Thanks for taking the time to comment.
    No you have made some great and valid points. But I think you might have missed a little of the background, my target market etc. Did you have a chance to look back at the links to my previous posts?
    Also I think you might need to re-look how we define “Haptic”. Something that is Haptic does not necessary mean, soft, organic, or tactile. I would define “Haptic” as more of obtaining a sensorial

  • kk

    May 22, 2007 at 10:03 pm Reply

    Hi DT,
    Wood is certainly a very interesting material to work with – the natural tactile feel, the grains, the patina that it gains after long usage – all these factors help to make many outstanding designs in wood enduring classics.
    For me, the form felt contradictory to the direction and material chosen. You mentioned the emphasis on haptic and tactile feel in the player design. While the player does have a characteristic silhouette, the extruded-form with the rather sharp edges looks more like something to be encased or perhaps placed against a surface, rather than being fiddled or played around with.
    As for the concentric circles, to me they looked really modern and structured (concentric, regular spacing). The circles, together with the overall physical form, actually reminds me more of the Sony Ericsson W880 – technology, metallic, modern – quite a contrast to wood’s natural characteristics as being more natural/gentle.
    Also, the geometric-ness (if there was such a word) – perfectly slit circles in perfectly rounded rectangles – seemed to be a representation of a polished consumer product. A chip/nick in a perfectly cut object would look more like a damage to a pristine form – whereas a similar damage in a less “perfect” form may be more forgiving and indeed like you mentioned, grow with the user.
    I was thinking, perhaps some interesting things to look at would be the natural patterns of tree rings – they are concentric, but also at the same time organic, poetically reflecting the season’s blessings as a testimony to time. There are some good works in Japanese traditional wood craft too, for instance works by Monacca.
    Perhaps I didn’t *get* the design as much as others have –
    Just my 2 cents~

  • Design Translator

    May 22, 2007 at 9:55 pm Reply

    Hi All,
    Thanks so much for the wonderful comments. Apologies for the delay in my reply as I was stuck with work to clear up. So let me address each of your concerns as your feedback is important to me.

    Pietro said:
    …how much dependent from the electrical components is your design? and…how do you the face the situation where you have to adapt a super-cool design to other factors that you cannot control?

    Very very dependent. Unlike Apple or other Mp3 manufacturers, I don’t move sufficient volumes to justify my own custom electronics design. I had to work with a few available circuit board templates, and developed my design from there. I hope it’s a testament of my skill as a designer to over come the electronic constraints and make something totally different from the main stream. It’s not easy, you just need to have a strong concept, and treat your constraints as a fixed “canvas” of which to explore your art.
    Thank you for your suggestion of tagging the circles with mood values. I certainly will explore this as it gives my design even more meaning.

    Drew said:
    What are the dimensions?

    Hi Drew, thanks for your constant support, and will reserve a special one for you! The dimensions minus the key ring are approximately 42mm Square and about 15mm thick. It should get smaller after I tweak the dimensions.

    Mizuri said:
    Nice work DT, I like the way you explored with circles, creating some kind of movement and illusionary focus of the center button.
    If the graphics are enhanced with lights, that will be nice. Like a moving graphics?
    One thing I am concern is that the loop design part looks abit raw to me, right now. (maybe the size?) kinda looks big from the photo taken.
    Keep on going!

    Hi Mizuri, thanks very much for your encouragement. You hit my graphic exploration objective on the head and spot on. Also as part of my refinement I will need to create some display lights, so I will definitely take your advice on the moving graphics. You are absolutely right on the key ring. I’m not happy with it as it’s pretty unfinished, and everyone I showed it too, also made the same comment. I will be working with it. Please keep in touch!

    Bob mentioned:
    …But maybe it could do with some iconography or texture or other usecue indicating what buttons do what exactly.

    Hi Bob, that was a forehead slapping moment for me! I had totally forgotten about it, as I was too focused on getting the interior and exterior shape out. However I will work on it and continue the illusionary movement theme with the icons. I do agree usability is a big question mark at the moment eh?

    fashiongeek said:
    …You can later use the same design and production process and change the outlook by using different type of wood. You could use wood from famous, old and torn down structures…
    How about a stone version? Different type of stones, old building structures, …. I am afraid I get carried away now and better shut up.

    Hi Fashiongeek, yes you are right and that is my intention. I plan to make a whole product range based on this process and design thinking (radios and maybe even a TV!). I love the idea of a stone version and will definitely see what I can do. I heard of cement paper material, and might try it out. Regardless this project is still in the experimental stage, and a lot of work still needs to be done. However you have made all great suggestion and I will look into them all. Thanks.

  • fashiongeek

    May 22, 2007 at 8:33 pm Reply

    I am flattened by this design – no really. What I hate most in life is mainstream and me-too. Your design rocks. You can later use the same design and production process and change the outlook by using different type of wood. You could use wood from famous, old and torn down structures….
    How about a stone version? Different type of stones, old building structures, …. I am afraid I get carried away now and better shut up.

  • Bob

    May 22, 2007 at 3:32 pm Reply

    Nice work! Ik like the way it really fits the material and I love these slit-in-continuous-surface-type buttons.
    But maybe it could do with some iconography or texture or other usecue indicating what buttons do what exactly.
    And what is it going to do for feedback?

  • Mizuri

    May 22, 2007 at 9:56 am Reply

    Nice work DT, I like the way you explored with circles, creating some kind of movement and illusionary focus of the center button.
    If the graphics are enhanced with lights, that will be nice. Like a moving graphics?
    One thing I am concern is that the loop design part looks abit raw to me, right now. (maybe the size?) kinda looks big from the photo taken.
    Keep on going!

  • Pietro

    May 21, 2007 at 8:39 pm Reply

    Actually it would be very nice to have a different interface. I was looking at the concentric circles you carved on the material…what about something like this ? A year ago, I’ve been working on a concept about a mp3 player with different controls, based on the mood of the listener…these circles are like a space that could be tagged with different mood values…how does it sound to you? (I know this would be a different design, but still it is interesting!)

  • drew kora

    May 21, 2007 at 8:18 pm Reply

    Looks awesome. I was thinking about buying an iPod shuffle in the next month, but maybe I’ll buy this instead? The prototype looks awesome!
    What are the dimensions?

  • Pietro

    May 21, 2007 at 8:17 pm Reply

    ok, but then the question is: how much dependent from the electrical components is your design? and…how do you the face the situation where you have to adapt a super-cool design to other factors that you cannot control?

  • Design Translator

    May 21, 2007 at 4:22 pm Reply

    Hahahaha, no I’m just kidding. This board is something I got through my contacts in the consumer electronics industry.
    This whole article and the rest of the series is all about the design process, so I hope you do enjoy it!
    Please keep do in touch yah?

  • Pietro

    May 21, 2007 at 3:58 pm Reply

    eheh ok. I just wanted to know if it’s something you can find on the market or not 😉 anyway, it seems a promising work. I like the idea of showing the whole design process. thanks

  • Design Translator

    May 21, 2007 at 1:28 pm Reply

    Hi Pietro,
    Thanks for stopping by. Sorry, I cant let you into all my secrets right?

  • Pietro

    May 21, 2007 at 1:14 am Reply

    what about the circuit? where did you get it?

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