Despite how often we use our electronic devices, most of us don’t have much of an idea of what goes on inside them. Soldering, circuitry, silicon—it all seems technical and intimidating, and until we’re in some sort of post-apocalyptic situation in which I need to fashion an emergency radio out of a coat hanger and some old cellphone parts, I’m pretty much okay with leaving the guts inside the gadgets. But as part of the designers in residence program at the London Design Museum, Japansese designer Yuri Suzuki, in conjunction with the electronics education group Technology Will Save Us, made those guts the star of the show. Their collaborative project, the Denki Puzzle, turns circuitry into something that you actually want to play with.
The Puzzle is a set of custom-designed printed circuit board pieces that can be arranged to create a few basic devices, namely a light and a radio. When possible, the designers made the shape of the pieces reflect their function—the capacitor, Suzuki explained to me, serves as a sort of water tank for the electricity, so it’s shaped like a sprinkling can. The LED piece is a bit more straightforward: It’s shaped like a starburst of light.
The challenge in designing the Denki Puzzle was coming up with pieces that were visually engaging while still functioning electrically. Typically, circuitry is packed tightly inside our gadgets to save space; in the Denki puzzle, the pieces had to make a free-standing, three-dimensional structure. Bethany Koby of Technology Will Save Us told Co.Design a little bit about the process:
TWSU worked with Yuri and his team to create the clearest shapes which would also work perfectly from a technical point of view. The design was iterated a number of times and eventually the system was developed to a point where we were satisfied that both the visual and technical elements would work together seamlessly. The electrical connections had to be robust in order to allow the circuit to function—as well as hold up the structural integrity of the puzzle. Printed circuit boards were not intended to be used in this way, so we had to figure out various clever approaches to solve this challenge.
In the end, we are thrilled with the sculptural and three dimensional quality of this project. We love the idea that an everyday technology like a radio can look completely different than our expectation—and that this comes directly from the design of the technology itself. It is an educational tool as well as a beautiful and useful outcome. This is the sweet spot for us.
The Denki Puzzle can currently be seen as a prototype in the London Design Museum, though the designers are tweaking the pieces with the aim of selling them as a kit on the Technology Will Save Us website (other kits are already available for purchase). The first puzzle pack, Koby told me, will be for creating a simple LED light. Definitely good for getting laypeople interested in circuitry, but if we’re talking about dystopia survival skills, I think I’ll hold out for the kit that makes the radio.
[Hat Tip designboom]