What inspired Paul O'Connor, creative director of Ziba Design, and his team to revive the boombox, in the form of the new TDK Life on Record series? The chance to explore its cultural origins and its place in our collective history. O'Connor, David Thorpe, Oved Valadez, Mike Lemmon and Kaitlin Paul embraced the opportunity "to connect with those who get it at the expense of offending others," as they implore us to take out our ear buds and play music out loud. Among their inspiration were "mixed tapes, the act of creating, sharing, socializing music" and "people who still care about their s**t."
The Mix Tape and the Art of Creation
We had to start with mixtapes--they're what TDK was originally known for. Those of us over 30 or so have this deep emotional connection with the art of making mixtapes. Tapes are kind of crap. We'd never go back to them, but they do contain this powerful reminiscent connection to a place and time. That gives them meaning.
Making a tape was an act of creation and sharing. It was a very different way of engaging with music than what we've become used to. To make a mixtape took time and effort, and if you did it right, it told a story. We wanted the new TDK products to capture that spirit, and tell a story of interactivity and engagement. They had to be products that you would gather your friends around (the boomboxes and turntable) or immerse yourself in (the turntable and headphones) to listen to music.
The Bedroom DJ
We conducted research in five music-obsessed cities: San Francisco, Berlin, Manchester, Sydney and Tokyo. The first picture here is of a guy we talked to in Berlin. You immediately notice how particular guys like this are about their music equipment and their living spaces--it becomes almost a shrine to the act of listening to music. We called people with this kind of passion Music Prophets. They have a deep understanding of music and music culture, and they want to share it with everyone. So the question became, how do we create a product or experience that would allow anyone to get in touch with their inner Music Prophet?
The other images demonstrate the kinds of spaces Music Prophets inhabit. The first one's from The Selby, and the second is from this amazing book called Bedroom Rockers, that captures the interior living spaces of DJs from around the US.
Collections and Curation
There are certain things that people recognize as special, or worth bestowing status onto. People collect and cherish things that connect with them deeply. We felt like TDK was the kind of brand that could offer those kinds of things. It's a high bar, but we didn't want to just design more things to fill your shelves, and we felt the brand had the chops to pull it off. These products were going to be so gorgeous and so dear, you'd want to keep them around, build your own story with them, put them on a pedestal. That's where we got the idea of putting the boombox on a tripod.
Best store name ever? From our visit to Tokyo. There is a counter-trend against the onslaught of digitizing everything in our world. We're all going digital to some degree--its driven by convenience and access--but it's happening at the expense of the experience. The spirit is lost when the medium is entirely handed over to ones and zeros. We wanted our products to offer the ability to interact with something tangible again.
This image became our reference for the perfect marriage of digital and analog--something that became so central to the project we abbreviated it to "Digi-log." This is a Numark iPod mixing station. It's making some attempt to bridge the gap between the digital and analog world in that you bring your iPod and its 10,000 songs, but you get to have some physical control over them. When you see these knob and slider interactions replicated on an iPad it makes you wonder, how authentic can that be? Touching a piece of glass is not the same, it's lost its soul.
Tangible & Tactile
Classic knobs from Hi-Fi gear. We loved the spun metal detail that catches the light just right. Leica cameras have an amazing feel to them. They are mechanically precise, and give you this decidedly tactile, rewarding feedback. Leicas capture this ultimate union of design and engineering. This 3D screen graphic to us was about seeing your music. The result was the interactive EQ on all the products that gave you control and visualized your music.
Reduction and Simplicity
This Epson DVD projector by Sam Hecht captures the simplicity and reduction in form that we strived for. Turntables from Braun and Clear Audio became inspiration for mechanical interaction and the focused experience of listening to vinyl. Amadana does a nice job bringing elements of craft to otherwise smart digital products. The motorcycle helmets we loved because of their contrast: this beautiful hard shell on the outside, but tailored and lush on the inside. We used this notion of crafted leather details on touchpoints on all the products, but the headphones especially.
The boomboxes generate a lot of attention just by being boomboxes. For us as a design team it was a great opportunity to play cultural historian. Without gaining a true respect for where boomboxes came from and knowing why they went away, we would not have been able to capture their essence.
This Is Offensive
This image from the NYC subway really says it all. Boomboxes are as offensive as littering and smoking. They made the short list of things you can't do on a subway. Boomboxes were villainized. This image reminded us that playing music out loud had been driven out of our culture, and we all went along with it. We plugged those ear buds in and became isolated, lost in soundtracks that nobody else could hear.
LaSonic Boombox circa 2008.
This thing has an alarm clock and cost $258. It's probably the cheapest-feeling product I've ever laid hands on. It actually docks iPods inside a "cassette door." This inspired us to not do this. We realized that for TDK, the couldn't become just another vessel for iPods/Phones /Touches. The TDK products stand on their own, yet are also happy to invite iPods to play as well, just without the "Apple Throne" that has become entirely ubiquitous across the competitive spectrum of audio gear.
Check the "over-the-head-opposite-shoulder grip" on that massive box. Do a Google image search on "boombox" and you find an endless collection of cultural artifacts, and a kind of history of urban America from the 70s to the 90s. This one caught our eye because it captures the attitude, the swagger, the fun, the style of these guys on the street. Don't be afraid to go big!
All through the design process there was pressure to compromise, to make our product a more acceptable size, to gear them for "mass market appeal." But that's exactly what killed the boombox in the first place.
John Cusak + Boombox + Peter Gabriel + piece of shit Chevy Malibu = Best apology ever.
This is such a classic 80s image: holding music in your hands, high above your head, to say something to somebody in a way that's louder than your own voice. Music used to be this way. This may have been the last time a boombox was cool. While it's strayed far from its hip-hop roots, it captures that time when there were boomboxes for just about everyone. That might have been part of the problem. Clearly this boombox is nowhere near large enough.