The SWAN

The SWAN

Take an ugly duckling, and turn it into a swan.  Gareth gave us a box of old, defunct electronic devices, as a starting point, to take something ugly, explore it, and redesign it into a swan.  Back that truck up a moment!  Old, defunct devices!  As far as I’m concerned – I am old and defunct myself – these items are basically new on the market!

The 'classic' ntl remote control
The ‘classic’ ntl remote control

I chose an old ntl remote control, a device I remember having and thinking it was poorly designed at the time, to sketch and model.  To ensure I got the best results from my soft model, I took several measurements to enable me to recapture the true dimensions of the item, but crucially, I explored it my hands only, eyes closed, feeling for the obvious draw points of the device – the central, oval button cluster – and any parts that I didn’t appreciate with my eyes.

To redesign the device – sans push buttons, touch screens or pressure pads – I went back to the box of remote controls to see what key buttons were really needed: volume, channel up and down, on/off and individual 0-9 channel selectors.  With this in mind, I tried to think of instinctive ways to interact with objects – volume wheels, ball/scroll wheels, sliders and joysticks – along with old technology that has been replaced by touch screens – rotary telephone dials, toggle switches.  

Two early designs
Two early designs

My first design used a volume wheel on one side, a toggle / click wheel on the other and flower arrangement of individual buttons on the face with a finger hole selector that you push towards the buttons to select them (using metal on metal contacts).  I then looked at a completely unusual shape – a sphere – adding a joystick on the top, surrounded by individual numbers, (push the joystick towards the number to select).  At the bottom of the sphere was an electrical contact patch; when you touch it you can push the joystick forward / backwards to change channel or spin the sphere to adjust the volume.  To turn the device off, simply pull the joystick upwards.  

Another early design using spring sliders top and bottom
Another early design using spring sliders top and bottom

I also looked at a completely interactive device by using the idea of a string on a guitar, where a single string is attached to a mobile phone sized base – the fret board.  If you pluck the string at the top of the device – along a metal contact patch – you can flip channels left or right; slide your finger up or down the string – again, along a lengthwise metal contact patch – to adjust volume.  On the side are individual contact patches for 0-9; hold any combination of these patches, in the correct order, and strum the string to select that channel.  To turn the device off, hold the two contact patches – one at the top, one at the bottom – and pluck the string.

Presentation of the final design
Presentation of the final design

I decided to go with a combination of the first two designs, feeling the string idea was strong, but too conceptual given our instruction to make something that was obvious in its use, (perhaps this could have been done using clever visual arrangement of the contact patches).  I took the idea of a joystick for the main control, a large dial / joystick for individual channels and a toggle switch for  on / off.  I decided to make the device out of wood – saved from my woodburner – as I wanted the device to age with use; to gather dents, scratches and shinny spots where it is used the most, rather than plastic that has no ‘warmth’ to it.  During the build, I added a textured top to the joystick to give the device a bit more grip and an obvious reference point when using the remote in the dark.

The final presentation, alongside selected others
The final presentation, alongside selected others
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