"The last 25 years of consumer electronics have been mostly dominated by a design aesthetic I think you could classify as futuristic or techie," says Adam Schwartz, cofounder of the company Otis & Eleanor. "Just because you're working in new technology doesn't mean your design has to look like a robot."
As a rebuttle, Schwartz and the Otis & Eleanor team made the Bongo, a newbie to the portable Bluetooth speaker market that, unlike its plastic and Crayola-colored brethren, comes in a bamboo shell that channels the old school look of mid-century speakers.
"There was a moment in time around the 1940s where craftsmanship and technology converged and coexisted as natural partners and it produced some of the most beautiful consumer electronics ever made," Schwartz tells Co.Design. "That period is what inspired us."
Bamboo has long been the material darling for product designers looking to make something read as "sustainable"—with everything from desktop accessories to bicycles using it—but for Otis & Eleanor, it’s something of a three-fer: it's environmentally conscious, the shell harkens back to a time when audio equipment had a lush look, and the acoustics are great.
Schwartz says the bamboo box can amplify tunes more than metal or plastic. "Just knock on some wood and listen to the sound it makes, then knock on some plastic or metal and you'll hear the difference," he says.
To achieve the softer, analog look of the Bongo, the team worked with a Meghan Sebold—a designer who works with women in Ghana to create unique textiles and apparel—to produce the patterned speaker cloth covers. And because Otis & Eleanor runs the entire operation in house, Bongo totes a price tag that's about half that of its competitors.