Co.Design

Teague's 20/20 Headphones Fit Perfectly, Thanks to Buckminster Fuller's Genius

These headphones cling to your head, thanks to a beautiful design concept borrowed from Bucky Fuller.

We've seen all sorts of headphones promising everything from noise-canceling capabilities to skull-shattering bass. But how about headphones that, you know, actually fit? Seattle-based industrial design firm Teague has produced a concept for headphones named 20/20 that gently hug your ears without using any awkward, clunky adjusting devices. In fact, the designers chose the name 20/20 since those numbers stand for both perfect vision and the optimal upper range for the human ear, 20 kilohertz. The idea is that these headphones look as good as they sound, thanks to a clever appropriation of Buckminister Fuller's genius.

The cage-like structure on either side of the 20/20 headphones take their cues from Fuller's concept of tensegrity. You've seen it in some of his domes as well as a popular children's toy built from wooden beams and elastic. Using a series of rigid and stretchable materials placed at precise angles, a tensegrity structure balances tension and compression. The structure is extremely strong, yet also flexible because of all the joints.

Turns out, the structure is actually a clever solution to a problem all headphones face: Getting them to fit on your head usually means fuddling and fussing with a series of rigid, incremental settings. A tensegrity structure easily expands and contracts back into place as fluidly as possible -- making for a comfortable, just-right fit.

Teague also proposes a peripheral amp that straps around your iPhone or iPod which can also interact with the device to deliver individual listening preferences -- the idea of a custom fit, once again.

Using an app, the headphones will administer a calibration test -- those tones that seem to travel behind you and through your skull-- that allows listeners to save their preferred settings. The touchscreen of the iPhone or iPod becomes the place to adjust everything from volume to balance. So no matter what the music source, it comes through the headphones at the same high quality.

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3 Comments

  • floatingbones

    Ben's got it right: Snelson is the inventor.

    Tensegrity is a good choice for headphones, because the stuff under our heads is also a tensegrity. Nature uses tensegrity on a molecular, cellular, and musculoskeletal levels.

    Nice article. Good image of the Skwish toy. The Skwish inventor has some great functional anatomical models at http://intensiondesigns.com .

  • Ben Guthrie

    As much as he'd like people to believe, the concept of tensegrity was not Buckminster's idea. It was an innovation conceived by one of his students, Kenneth Snelson. Not a big deal, but credit is due - "Snelson's Genius"

  • Carolyn O'Donnell

    Now, if they make these noise-cancelling headphones, these will be perfect for long-haul flights!