Our favourite piece of product design from last week's D&AD New Blood multi-institution grad show was Michael Harper's BeatCity – and it was the only one that's I'd describe as having commercial appeal in its current, fully-finished form. BeatCity a series of speakers for use with mobile phones such as the iPhone in the shape of buildings. Each building represents a different type of music from the already-architecturally named House and Garage to the more symbolic Heavy Metal – and Michael displayed them as complete city on a street with trees and streetlights (right).
The houses are intricately and harmoniously designed – but most of all they're great fun and just the type of thing I could see sold through Bouf or Made in Design (and on a acoustically appropriate shelf in my house).
As well as designing a pleasing product, Michael clearly has one eye trained on the practicalities of distribution and promotion. Each house is laser cut from a single sheet of wood into pieces, which would be packaged flat for cheaper distribution and shipping. The buyer would pop together the components to build it themselves.
Alongside the speakers, Michael has designed the concept for an accompanying iPhone app, which would allow higher-end buyers to order a customised house – the kind of service that's as important for good PR as it is for the revenue it brings.
We caught up with Michael to find out how he designed the houses and what his plans are to turn these into real products. Use the slideshow controls above and right to read the interview and see more photos of Beat City's design and development.
NB: Tell us a bit about yourself and BeatCity
MH: "I have just completed my BA Hons in Graphic Design at Middlesex University. I can gladly tell you that I will be leaving university with a 1st class degree in Graphic Design, which I’m extremely happy about.
"I’m the first one out of my immediate family to go to university and complete the course. If it wasn’t for them I probably wouldn’t have followed my career and taken it so seriously. I realized from a young age that I was into design, because I was constantly found drawing or doodling anywhere and everywhere.
"BeatCity was my final major project. We weren't given a brief for this project – we just had to select an area that we were personally interested in. I chose 'Branding', as this area allows you to explore lots of different areas of design."
NB: How did you develop this?
MH: "I designed the buildings on the way home from university on the London Underground heading to my part time job. I always use the time on my Tube journeys to come up with ideas, and in this case Icame up with a mechanism that I knew could work for the city: simple linework sketches became a real life product.
"One of the key influences I had on this project was a 1,000-piece puzzle called Wasjig. I have childhood memories of spending weeks working on 1000-piece puzzles. I found that I loved the challenge and still do: trying to figure out which piece went where not knowing what the outcome was.
"I purposely designed BeatCity in individual pieces because I wanted it to be a challenge and test my skills. I believe your strengths come out when you’re being tested with new challenges.
NB: How did you design and build the houses?
MH: "My sketchbook is the main element behind BeatCity, without it I wouldn’t have been able to create it. Each piece of the city started off in the sketchbook, and then was developed in Adobe Illustrator. These designs then ended up in a laser-cutting machine.
"I had to make sure all the elements had the correct measurements otherwise it wouldn't have worked out. I used 3mm MDF wood to create the whole city, strong enough to hold together over a long period of time.
"There is a rechargeable speaker inside each house, which connects to your device. Simply charge through a USB."
NB: Tell us about the app? Is it still a concept?
MH: "The application for BeatCity does many things, from being able to view our latest adverts to sending in your own personalized sketch for us to create.
"At this current moment it is still a concept, and I will continue to develop the idea even further and hopefully get it up and running."
NB: Would you like to develop the models into commercially available kits?
MH: "I would love to, as I have received some great feedback and have been told it would be a fun and useful product for many areas.
"This is my next step. I have to find out all necessary information about licensing and funding: including investigating crowdsourcing facilities such as Kickstarter. So hopefully you’ll see this in the market soon."
>> Left: Michael with his complete BeatCity.