Design for Rock Stars


For the last decade, we have been collaborating with one of America’s biggest brands in the music Industry – Shure. If you’ve never played in a band, you might not be familiar with the name, but you have definitely seen their products on TV and in some of the biggest live events, such as the Super Bowl halftime show and the GRAMMY awards.

I was introduced to Shure about 17 years ago, when the harmonica/lead guitarist of our college band brought a Shure “Green Bullet” to practice.  Having just started design school, I was impressed by the solid construction and the timeless design. Little did I know just how involved I’d get a few years later.

At Essential, we have worked on numerous Shure products and continue to build a great relationship designing for the demands of on-stage use. Unlike consumer electronics, these products are designed to withstand the extreme rigors of world tours, ensuring top performance quality and long-term reliability. While such exacting standards impose a lot of technical and design challenges during development, they also yield great results. One example in particular is the AXIENT Wireless Microphone System, which was just awarded a Silver for Commercial and Industrial Products from the International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA).

Since the 1980’s, the Industrial Designer’s Society of America has been recognizing some of the greatest design achievements with the IDEA awards.  This year’s impressive jury, including design honchos  from companies such as Nokia, GE Healthcare and Procter and Gamble, deliberated over top designs in categories ranging from service design to medical products.

As the most sophisticated microphone system to-date and the only system on the market that guarantees an absolute interference-free performance, Axient was a great contender in the Commercial and Industrial Products category.  The world of wireless communication is changing quickly. Frequency bands formerly used for analog TV broadcasts are now open to any number of devices that may interfere with wireless microphone systems operating in those bands. New solutions are needed to remain reliable no matter how crowded the airwaves, especially high profile live events. Without getting too much into the technical details, the Axient system works by constantly scanning the RF (radio frequency) environment and automatically switching frequencies should any other device start transmitting on or close to an operating frequency. This gives the artist and the sound engineer the assurance of an uninterrupted live event. 

While years of new technology development were necessary in order for Shure to produce such a groundbreaking new offer, integrating the new capabilities with equally innovative design solutions was just as critical to Axient’s success.  Working closely with Shure’s cross-functional teams, our collaboration resulted in great new designs that are significantly more capable, longer running, and more sustainable (due to the integration of high-capacity re-chargeable Li-Ion batteries), all in products that are similar in size, or in some cases even smaller than their less capable predecessors. The external forms of the microphone and the body pack transmitter convey a sense of rugged precision in a simple and timeless way. This was an important element of the project since it is common for an artist to use their gear for more than ten years.

But perhaps the most fun part about designing this type of professional gear is in knowing that some of your favorite artists will appreciate it and perform with it for the enjoyment of all fans. So the next time you’re at a concert or watching a live performance on TV, keep your eyes peeled for Shure audio products. You can also see Shure Axient and all the other IDEA winners on display at the 2012 IDSA International Conference in Boston or at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan starting in September.

Images courtesy of Shure