Everything has not yet been invented

It’s a wonderful feeling to invent something new in the year 2015, said Pyry Taanila in an interview on television few days ago. He won the yearly Young Designer award with the Catchbox, a cubic housing for a microphone that could be thrown around.

The Catchbox is a remarkable example of good design. It’s simple, clean and fulfils a need and a niche. It doesn’t artificially create a need and then try to fill it. This is due to the designers doing the research the right; by observing the customer behaviour and seeing where there is a need.

Straight from their press kit
Straight from their press kit. The black bit on top is where you talk to, it has the same X as the X in Box in the logo

The Catchbox makes moving a microphone around easy. You simply throw it around. The material it’s made of are combination of foam and mechanical fabrics, making it durable and safe on hits. Why would you need to throw a microphone? When you think how you barely can hear anyone in the audience and moving microphone there would either require someone to deliver a microphone to the speaker, or specifically placed microphones in the ceiling that could be lowered. The Catchbox eliminates both of these, plus adds the whole audience activation in there.

Why would you need to activate the audience? Have you ever found yourself bored in a lecture hall or in a presentation? There are methods how to activate your audience with different methods. One way, the one I prefer, is to have a dialogue with the audience rather than simply present the stuff in a wooden manner. Another is to invite some of them to do participate the presentation itself as guest stars. The otaku audience is very timid in many ways and awkward when it comes to social interaction, thus I’ve been called a crazy extrovert, but all of it simply to entertain.

You may wonder why it is a box and not a ball. The explanation to this is that a ball shape invites more rash behaviour towards the item than a box shape. A ball shape would most likely invite us to kick the Catchbox or otherwise mistreat it. The square shape does not only eliminate this, but also gives a clear and definitive upright position. No need to cut the surface somewhere, not need for stands.

Catchbox is also more or less idiot proof. Microphones have exactly two settings, which exist in the same quantum reality as USB drives, where they’re always the wrong way before. The Catchbox, when active, works all the time when it’s not in motion through the air. As for the audience, all you need is to talk to the right spot and throw the Catchbox back or to another member of the audience.

One thing I need to give props to the designers is that they didn’t simply create their own microphone and receiver system, but also designed a packet to be used with already existing beltpack transmitters. While you do see this sort of modular design builds from smaller companies relatively often, larger companies would steer far away from doing anything to promote a competing product even if it would sell their own. After all, why let the customer use the competition’s product when you could offer your whole package? I have been a big fan of modularity and the possibilities of further modifications, a reason why I also hate modern cars, so I must confess this simply tickles me the right way.

The thing with this sort of product is that the core idea and design can be finalised in a week. It uses pre-existing technology, but uses it properly. Gunpei Yokoi of Nintendo used this exact same philosophy when designing the Famicom and the GameBoy. The hard part is productisation, as Taanila tells. Bringing something like Catchbox to the market is hard mostly because most people won’t seen the inherent value in it. Co-designers would scoff at it and professional, highly corporate events wouldn’t see any use for the Catchbox, but this isn’t really aimed for them. Catchbox is a blue ocean product and is for the common people. The common people outnumber those who wouldn’t use this product by truckloads.

I find Catchbox an inspiring piece. The more time passes, the more we will have places with more needs to be fulfilled. Technology will advance and people will change. These two alone are enough reason for new things to spring up and fill niches that didn’t exist before. There is no reason to get stuck with what already is, we can make them obsolete with better products. At some point in the future the Catchbox will be made obsolete as well, but for time let’s enjoy throwing a cube at each other.

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