By Martin Skelly

Following the nomination of the Postcard Player in the Design Museum ‘Designs of the Year Awards’ we’ve been busy rethinking, redesigning and rebuilding. This amazing opportunity presented with it some key challenges – namely how to take a functioning demonstrator and make it stand strong for three months of continual use in one of the world’s busiest museums.

We’ve always used the concept behind the Postcard Player as a platform for iterative prototyping and the last 12 months has seen us roll out several editions of the device with a range of interactions and content.

We built the first demo for a specific purpose – to test the concept, and get it in the hands of users for immediate feedback. Exhibiting at Inspace 2012, and showing it to crowds at SXSW 2012 gave us a good understanding of what people liked about it, and what we had to improve to allow it to evolve.

The next version, the mighty internet enabled player was rolled out in record time when we were invited to exhibit at a Fieldguide exhibition in the London Design Festival. At the time we had a batch of Raspberry Pi’s in the studio and were keen to explore what we could do with paper interacting with online data.

Physical bookmarks to audio content seemed to be a natural progression and there was something nice about each time the card was played the content being updated in real time with other metrics, such as most listened to today.

So we hacked together a new concept for the player, allowing a user to stream popular online music services with an abstract set of postcards that left you guessing at what the content was. It was fairly well received and people loved the idea that a piece of paper was making things happen on the internet. However it lacked the immediacy of the first player, and the personal connection with the music. One of the key reasons the original idea was developed is that it celebrated the artwork of the album, and connects you physically with the playing track.

So for the Design Museum, we had to work out how to engage a casual museum visitor who will have hundreds of other cool items competing for their attention by bringing together the elements that worked from the two previous players. Enter the aptly named Postcard Player v3.

It’s a different beast, stronger, faster, a little bigger, but at its core, the same prototype that got us nominated in the first place. We’re back to meaningful interactions with specific artists, we’re referencing iconic speaker grills with a nod to dieter rams and reinforcing the function that the paper represents – to make noise with a physical button press.

We’ve simplified the player itself, more functional but less showy, it becomes a plinth for the artwork of the bright cards and melts into the background as an object that fulfils a very specific purpose in a considered way. The cards are produced with 540 gsm Colorplan by GF Smith, making them much harder to bend or fold and easier to locate in the slot. The porous, uncoated texture of the stock gives them a very analog handmade feel.

The player is made from an assembly of frost black acrylic and powder coated steel, more resistant to taking a beating and less likely to show the hundreds of finger prints from continual use. The speaker grill slot pattern on the top face has been removed making it more intuitive where to put the card and the clamping mechanism is more efficient.

Massive thanks to Bare Conductive who supplied us with many tubs of their wonderful conductive ink , and to GF Smith who helped us out by supplying sheets and sheets of lovely duplexed Colorplan. The exhibition runs from March 20 to July 7. If you’re in London check it out and let us know what you think@uniformtweets.

We’ve already had some good feedback, and coverage, including the Wall Street JournalCreative Review and Despoke magazine.

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