Product Design Favorites

As the economy continues to struggle to find a path to recovery, the specialty CE and CI markets also have experienced significant challenges and changes.
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As the economy continues to struggle to find a path to recovery, the specialty CE and CI markets also have experienced significant challenges and changes. The housing collapse has forced the custom channel to radically rethink its business model and with that, the very products it carries. 

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John Sciacca chose the Kaleidescape Cinema One, an all-in-one DVD movie server that will place your entire DVD movie collection at your fingertips

Hard-wired systems are giving way to wireless, streaming, and remote solutions. Computer audio and iPod-centric devices are becoming the norm while more products are being created for the DIY enthusiast. And with each introduction of new models, products continue to push the envelope of performance versus value.

Throughout this multi-year economic triage, what hasn’t changed though is the demand for attractive styling, simplicity of operation, ease of installation, pride of ownership, and perceived value. If anything, these attributes are more important than ever, even on entry-level products.

With all that in mind, we decided to ask the experts who write for Residential Systems for their ideas of products that they feel represent excellent industrial design. They were asked to consider all the types of products they have come in contact with, be it a review or feature or perhaps something they use at home or in their business. Their choice could be based for any reason–cosmetic, ease of installation, simplicity of use, unique features, wowfactor or a combination of the above. Here is what they came up with:

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Anthony Grimani said that the increasingly popular category of high-performance in-wall subwoofers, specifically JL Audio’s Fathom IWS, is a great example of cleaver design solving a problem for both the installer and client.

Dennis Burger, a long-time reviewer and contributor to RS, as well as other respected publications, enthusiastically chose a remote control, which is one of the most important applications of good design. “To me, the mark of excellent industrial design is–in addition to aesthetics, of course���a sort of synergy that’s hard to nail down with words. How, for example, do you convey with text alone just how easy it is to operate an iPhone? You can’t. The proof is in putting it into the hand of a child and seeing just how incredibly intuitive it is.”

That’s how Burger says he feels about URC’s TRC-1280/MX-5000. He calls it “a lovely looking remote,” but beyond that has a tough time describing just “what a joy it is” to hold in his hand. “You’d never know from looking at it just how perfectly it fits into the hand–any hand, be it my massive Wookiee paws or my wife’s dainty digits. And that’s mostly due to the sculpted grooves on the back of the remote, which stand in stark contrast to the crisp, clean, rectilinear lines o f its façade. Whether you’re gripping near to work the touchscreen with your thumb, or down low to operate the hard buttons, though, those sculpted channels positively beckon the fingers. And no matter where you hold it–no matter which element of the remote you’re interacting with–it feels almost magically balanced.”

The beauty of the TRC- 1280/MX-5000’s design, Burger said, is that it combines the best elements of touchscreen and hardbutton interfaces with none of the disadvantages of either. “Touchscreen interfaces are wonderful for their customizability, but there’s always a disconnect– they’re difficult to operate by feel alone. And while wand-style hard-button remotes win the prize for simplicity and ease of use, they come up lacking in terms of flexibility and personalization.”

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Dennis Burger calls URC’s MX-5000 “a lovely looking remote,” but beyond that has a tough time describing just “what a joy it is” to hold in his hand.

Burger said that he hesitates to say that the TRC-1280/MX-5000 is the perfect remote because as soon as he does, URC is sure to design a better one. “But for now, there’s simply no other control interface I want in my home,” he stated.

In addition to his regular RS column, Gordon van Zuiden is president of cyberManor, a home and systems integration firm based in Los Gatos, CA. For his design selection, he chose one of the most visible and frequently used products in the home–a TV.

“Samsung’s new ultraslim TVs and soon-to-be shipping 0.2-inch bezel TVs represent one of the greatest achievements in industrial design to affect our industry,” van Zuiden said. “The problem that this product solves is the ultimate desire by our customer to enjoy the best of their audio and video entertainment and not see the product that delivers this experience. In-wall speakers that are trimless and paintable fall into this category. And so do TVs that hang on the wall like a picture and almost have no real estate around the picture to detract from the purity of the image.”

van Zuiden noted that, increasingly, the art of custom installation is not just the integration of hardware products with each other, but the integration of hardware products with the home itself. “Those that blend in the best with the home’s décor become our best installations– and the new slim-line Samsung TVs make us look good.”

Anthony Grimani, one of the industry’s foremost experts in acoustics and home theater designs, is president of Performance Media Industries in Novato, CA. He went with a product that would rather be heard, make that felt, and not seen. The increasingly popular category of highperformance in-wall subwoofers is a great example of cleaver design solving a problem for both the installer and client.

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Geoff Morrison said that with its secondgeneration Apple TV, Apple merged an inconspicuous, tiny, sleek case with an intuitive, easy-to-use interface.

“JL Audio’s Fathom IWS, is a shallow but potent in-wall subwoofer that can fit inside a 2 x 4 stud bay,” Grimani noted. “Despite a very thin footprint, it puts out tons of clean low-frequency energy. The grilles are paintable, so the client can paint them to blend into the décor even more. The Fathom IWS solves the perennial problem of how to hide subs and allows me to locate four of the units in a room to get smoother bass with consistent seat-to-seat performance without the aesthetic challenges of large in-room boxes.”

Geoffrey Morrison, formerly the technical editor of Home Theater and editor of Home Entertainment magazine, is now an in-demand freelance writer and reviewer for various CE magazines and websites. His choice reflects how a great design can gracefully withstand the test of time and even become a classic.

“Matching design and functional simplicity is something Apple has long mastered,” Morrison pointed out. “With the second-generation Apple TV, they merged an inconspicuous, tiny, sleek case with an intuitive, easy-to-use interface. Instantly rent TV shows and movies, watch Netflix streaming content, all from a device smaller than the DVDs it so effortlessly made obsolete.”

Morrison said that like many of Apple’s great products, the Apple TV wasn’t the first in the space, but it succeeded while others stumbled because of its focus on its core features: rent and watch movies and play content from your computer. “This latter feature, allowing playback of anything in the iTunes library though a home theater system, made many complex network streaming devices obsolete. Not bad for $99,” Morrison concluded.

In addition to being a frequent contributor to RS and Sound & Vision, John Sciacca is known for his prolific blogging. For his day job, he is a principal with Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC. His product design favorite is a high-end component that demands ease of operation.

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Gordon van Zuiden believes that Samsung’s new line ultra-slim model TVs, and soon-to-be shipping 0.2-inch bezel TVs, represent one of the greatest achievements in industrial design.

“Anyone that reads my columns and blogs knows I love Kaleidescape products,” Sciacca said. “The Kaleidescape system is like a perpetual motion happiness machine that just sits there doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing while almost never needing any service or care. They look awesome, are easy to set up and simple to operate. In fact, one of my blogs features my four-year-old daughter, Lauryn, talking about how easy they are to use. Now if I could only get my suppliers to pitch their products as well.”

For a specific product that exemplifies great design, Sciacca chose the Kaleidescape Cinema One, an all-in-one DVD movie server that will place your entire DVD movie collection at your fingertips. “What I really like about it is the GUI is world class. It reduces an entire media library to up/down/left/right/ enter control with movies that start in about seven seconds (with Blu-ray).”

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Jeremy Glowacki credits TRUFIG for taking a common switch plate for a lighting dimmer, or around electrical outlets, HVAC vent grilles, and even iPad wall mounts (pictured) and making them essentially invisible.

RS editorial director Jeremy Glowacki is a pioneer in the custom installation field having launched the magazine back in 2000. He also created the Resi, the first and still the only award dedicated purely to industrial design. So his selection has special significance for both the product and its designer.

“There are a lot of well-crafted AV components out there, as well as evolutionary speaker designs that come to mind when I think of my favorite industrial designs in the AV business. If I had to single out one product line or manufacturer, however, it would be the Dana Innovations (aka the parent company of Sonance and iPort) and its TRUFIG brand,” he said.

While admitting that it is a “low-tech” niche product geared primarily at the interior design and architecture community, Glowacki credits TRUFIG for taking a common switch plate for a lighting dimmer, or around electrical outlets, HVAC vent grilles, and even iPad wall mounts and making them essentially invisible by flush mounting them on the wall. “I’m a bit of a neat freak, so I truly appreciate how TRUFIG has taken the goal of removing clutter or ‘wall acne’ to another level,” he said.

For these six experts, they get to see dozens, if not hundreds of products each year, and many are up close and hands-on experiences. While great design is highly subjective, their choices and the reasons behind them are certainly worth noting. Their diverse choices reflect how design touches both the dealer/ installer and the client in so many ways.

Peter Hoagland is an industry marketing consultant based in Warrenton, VA.

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