TEAGUE – Benoit Collette, Adam Kumpf, Tad Toulis
Radioball is a simple-to-use radio that encourages spatial exploration; the non-traditional form of content navigation inspires playful and social interaction. Users find stations as they ‘roll’ through the FM dial, a discovery experience often lost in modern digital interactions.
Benoit Collette – Industrial Designer Adam Kumpf – Physical Prototyper Tad Toulis – TEAGUE, Creative Director
This is both an interesting object and a lovely concept. We appreciate things that recreate the serendipity of analog processes. The interface is interestingly-shaped, amusingly tactile, and simply looks like fun to use. We appreciated the addition of a plug option for storing favorite station information.
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
Digital interaction has become flat and boring. Touchscreens make devices simple to operate, but they also make them visually similar, haptically monotone and uninviting to natural discovery.
Radios make magic out of discovery; stations emerge out of static and noise in a way that’s both enchanting and engaging. Today’s screen-based interactions give us exactly what we want when we want it, but leave no room for chance discovery.
Touchscreens make devices simple to operate but their runaway success has had the effect of making many disparate interactions feel similar. Oddly, as a result of this success, digital interactions are becoming monotonous. A broad range of interactions, that once were rich, have become flat and boring through the incorporation of touchscreen technology.
Enter the Radio. Radios make magic out of analog discovery. A twist of the dial makes stations emerge out of static and noise in a way that’s both enchanting and engaging. Digital radio gives us exactly what we want, when we want it—but leaves no room for chance discovery.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
Our intent was to create a device that was entirely about manual discovery through serendipity—making radio listening exploratory and fun again.
Technological progress has reduced what was once a magical experience to a throw-away feature thoughtlessly included in every phone and computer on the market. The richness of the original experience; analog knobs and hand-tuned reception, is poorly represented in a world of digital excess and pre-programmed favorites. Net result: Radio is losing its place in our lives, becoming just another feature in an endless line of features.
‘Tuning’ has become a bland interaction: stations are displayed by name and relative location on the FM band is lost. Digital buffering replaces the roulette wheel of fragmented noises, with the cold precision of instantaneous alignment between action and reaction.
We believe tuning a radio should be a rich interaction: Turning the dial, we should hear bits of music, pieces of voices, all the rhythms and modulations of humanity itself. These fragments, half a second, sometimes less, are enough to allow the brain to identify what interests it. Episodic discovery is an intrinsic part of the experience.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
Radioball was designed for users who want to return discovery and play to their radio listening.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
Radioball reconciles practical functionality with experiential elements to deliver a design that’s both fun to use and practical. To arrive at the final solution, designers relied on iterative development, intensive rapid prototyping and an in depth materials study.
Prototyping allowed investigation into the potential for the Radioball to roll and shuffle through stations while still allowing the shape to easily stabilize on one of its 96 faces. A 96-faced polyhedron shape for the Radioball was developed to correspond with the number of possible radio stations.
Combining the hardware mockup and the physical model helped designers determine the center of gravity and best location for the internal components. Adding a second speaker increased audio quality and provided an easy way to balance the weight of the driver magnet—the heaviest component in the unit.
A materials study exploration determined the aesthetically and functionally appropriate appearance for the Radioball. Nostalgic materials such as, stamped metal mesh (found in traditional analog radios) was one of the desired effects; however, it created a Faraday effect that interfered with the reception. As a result, the internal structure that houses the arduino components is a spherical structure. The outer structure is a polyhedron with each face exposed to allow the customizable plugs to mark the favorite stations.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
In a world increasingly defaulting to digital experiences, Radioball (anachronistically) entices us into a philosophical conversation. Do we want precise economical sameness or are there still spaces where analog trumps digital? If the decision process becomes thoughtless, we all lose. Are digital experiences as rich meaningful, and memorable as their analog predecessors? Simply because we’re able to produce digital experiences doesn’t mean digital is always the most rewarding or appropriate solution.
Radioball challenges us to consider what it is we want from our increasingly digital future. A smooth sameness or perhaps a more idiosyncratic collection of digital and non digital experiences. Ones that through their imperfection remind us what it means to be alive.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
Radioball ultimately encouraged unexpected social interaction; however, the final Radioball solution didn’t provide multi-user options. Additional exploration into multi-user ‘play’ could’ve produced a more meaningful experience involving multiple users.