How Industrial Designer David Farrage Brought NAD's VISO I Speaker Dock to Life

As the first main collaboration between PSB and NAD, the VISO 1 started simply: a vision of a high performance iPhone dock and digital music system, combining the strengths of sister companies in one mold-breaking product.
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The lack of straight lines in the final design of the NAD VISO 1, offered great acoustic performance and the front iPhone dock allowed 90-degree rotation. As the first main collaboration between PSB and NAD, the VISO 1 started simply: a vision of a high performance iPhone dock and digital music system, combining the strengths of sister companies in one mold-breaking product. But this detour from legacy designs required more than marketing inspiration or even determined audio engineers. The process was one of careful industrial design–a balance of form and function.

For a project where nearly every component had to be custom manufactured, the NAD VISO 1 literally started on a blank page, according to industrial designer David Farrage of DF-ID, LLC. Farrage, who previously served as an industrial designer for Sony before starting his own firm in 2005, joined NAD's Greg Stidsen and Paul Barton in developing the new dock, with the backing of a company hoping to launch its VISO line into a new genre.

“The [Bowers & Wilkins] Zeppelin was already out there at that point, but a lot of the vendors hadn’t approached that market, including NAD,” Farrage explained. “Capitalizing on the VISO brand as a kind of sub-brand of NAD provided a huge potential to spring forward with that into reality. So the right minds, I think, were on the table at the right time, with Greg Stidsen and Paul Barton steering the business side of [things].”

Farrage said that even after a design concept was established, it was difficult to anchor the design process and work with the challenges that the audio goals of the project imposed upon his design.

“First of all, we had to look at it as: where do we anchor the ideation process?” Farrage recalled. “That’s where the fun starts to happen. And a lot of it probably came from working with Paul on a cabinet that was going to be acoustically transparent and Bluetooth wireless transparent.”

The need for Wi-Fi transparency meant that the VISO 1 couldn’t rely on a metal cabinet construction. Instead, the housing consists of an extremely thick plastic wall–almost four or five millimeters, which Farrage said gives it “a very robust inert acoustic chamber.” In addition, Farrage had to work around containing the woofer.

“We spent a lot of time mocking up just boxes of different volume, trying to get the right coefficient between driver and woofer,” Farrage said. “Once we had a volume that Paul was at least comfortable with–and confident that we could actually make this work–we could start designing within that. I’m kind of the catalyst between marketing and manufacturing, and I have to understand how we’re going to build it, and I also have to understand why we’re doing it. That’s a very important frame of context in which to begin the ideation process.”

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Early design concepts for the NAD VISO 1, before the iPhone dock “ring” was implemented.
Once a framework had been established and parameters for the product set, Farrage could begin giving shape to the product. He began with initial hand-sketches. Later, he created actual 3D sketch models that could be rotated and explored on screen. The 3D models helped to give an idea of the look and feel of the product and were important for management presentations.

As a designer, Farrage wanted to avoid the standard mounting set-up of other iPhone docks. “I’m kind of weary of what I call the ‘tombstone dock’ approach, where you just dock the iPhone onto the product. It’s a very ungraceful method of docking,” he explained. “The iPhone is, itself, a handheld product, and it has a wonderful cover flow. I really wanted to have a design that allows the iPhone to become the signature, like the diamond on the diamond ring. It’s really the engine–the platform that drives everything else.”

Liberating the iPhone from the main housing became one of the focal points for Farrage in his design approach, and it also allowed him to keep the woofer almost directly center without compromising acoustic performance.

“Once the iPhone came forward, we got rid of the iPhone docking solution automatically, by default,” he said. “We wanted to have the iPhone rotate 90 degrees, so you could have cover flow and landscape work for it, and a portrait position. And so you would have your hand going behind it, like on a regular iPhone. It was a nice synergy between form and function.”

Another goal, Farrage said, was to design the VISO 1 as a solid physical object that could be manipulated by any part of its form. With a ring defining the structure, that ring became like a grab-handle, Farrage explained.

“It’s almost like picking up a bicycle,” he said. “I wanted it to be like, if you pick up a bicycle by that one part, it can’t fall to pieces. You can pick it up by the break, lever, anything, and it’s going to have to be really robust. So that was a challenge–how to make this such a robust engineering solution from a mechanical point of view, and how to still have the integrity and precision of the industrial design.”

Much of the VISO 1 was conceived early in the process, Farrage said, while the rest of the time in development was spent exacting specifications and working with vendors to get precision-grade aluminum. “The ring is actually formed from a protrusion. It’s a very challenging process at that size,” he added.

According to Farrage, there were only a few vendors in the world able to make the parts to their specifications, particularly the ring design. “Every step that you do, if you make a mistake, it’s a reject, so we had to work with vendors [that] were really exacting and diligent in their own way,” he said.

No straight lines means great acoustic performance of the cabinet, Farrage noted. “If you pull up the grille, its very curvaceous, there are no hard edges. It’s a dream for Paul working with a such form factor like the VISO 1. It’s everything he wants a cabinet to be. There’s an almost avant garde approach to the industrial design of the VISO 1, but it was grounded on acoustic requirements from Paul, who’s really an expert at this.”

The end result, Farrage said, “floored” those who heard the first engineering sample, particularly the bass response and sound stage. “There’s a purposefulness and an idea to this,” he said. “Everyone has a vision, but reality often gets in the way. So you hold onto the vision, and you minimize compromise. The result is a wonderful marriage between the two companies.”

Derek Dellinger is the web editor for Residential Systems and www.avnetwork.com.

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