To design for the real world requires questioning assumptions. Take flatscreen TVs and how people integrate them into their homes, for instance: In our movie-driven notion of what a modern home looks like, flatscreens are things that live on walls. You could be forgiven for thinking it's only you that hasn't gotten around to mounting yours. But when the design team at Sonos conducted consumer research and conferred with global TV manufacturers, they found that nearly 70% of flatscreen owners did not wall-mount them, but had them sitting atop a piece of furniture.
The Sonos team used this research to inform the design of a new product, a powerful home theater speaker intended to be so good that it would also be used to play music when the TV was off. They had already conquered this space with their well-reviewed PLAYBAR, a wall-mounted speaker that fits the bill for the 30% of folks with wall-mounted flatscreens:
But the research indicated that there were more than twice as many consumers who needed a speaker that complemented a furniture-dwelling flatscreen, and the designers had to figure out where it would live.
What they came up with is the PLAYBASE, which they unveiled just this morning:
You might be thinking, "I don't get it. Where's the speaker?" It's right there, hidden in plain sight. Yes, that slim thing underneath the TV.
Standing just 58mm (2.3 inches) tall, the PLAYBASE nevertheless contains acoustic architecture supporting a ten-driver speaker system (a woofer, six midrange and three tweeters). Despite the delicate innards it will support 75 pounds, "which covers just about any TV that comes with a stand," the company says.
Speaking of what the company says, we had a chance to ask Tad Toulis, Sonos' VP of Design, a few questions about the project:
Core 77: How did you discover the 70%-not-wall-mounted figure?
Tad Toulis: From a few different sources, including insights from global TV manufacturers we worked with as well as our own consumer research conducted with movie and music lovers around the world.
What made you settle on the under-TV base form factor?
What's most interesting about PLAYBASE is that we didn't set out to create an under-TV soundbase. We identified a design problem that exists within the majority of homes around the world and were inspired by the opportunity to provide great sound – both for TV and music.
What are some of the challenges of designing a sophisticated electronic device that needs to bear the physical weight of another sophisticated electronic device?
We knew it needed to be incredibly durable to give customers confidence their TV wasn't going to break or topple over but thin enough to essentially disappear within a room.
The design team resisted the obvious for a while. We were was anxious about being "under" something — it's hard to make a statement as a "doormat." But as we got deep in the problem, the problem started to tell us, "You just need to make it the best damned plinth in the world."
When we embraced that, we could get on with the business of being thin and being understated, all of which pushed hard on acoustics and manufacturing.
The other variable here is we wanted to impact the viewing experience with the nominal height so the viewing angle didn't change much for our customers.
We imagine that during the design process, you went through multiple form factors before settling on the final one. How did you know it was "right?"
A: Sonos products are meant to live together within the home, all while blending seamlessly into their surroundings and PLAYBASE is no different. This meant a seamless, monolithic design that appeared as though the speaker was cut from granite. It was deliberately constructed within a 2.3 inch height constraint to remain visually unobtrusive within your TV space.
We knew we got it right when we arrived at the right tension of "this is as thin as we can go" and still blow minds on sound expectations.
Approximately how many people in total worked on the project, and how long was it in the making?"
PLAYBASE is the result of years of collaborative work between all teams at Sonos. Really, it's an entire company effort. Without the culture here, PLAYBASE wouldn't be possible.
On that latter note, take a look at the significant design and engineering challenges the PLAYBASE's development team had to tackle and see why, in Sonos Industrial Design Manager Youjin Nam's words, "Making a simple thing is never simple:"
The PLAYBASE rolls out this April, and you can learn more about it here.