A prominent sci-fi writer once told me that, as prescient as they’d been, he and his peers had missed one big tech trend: Miniaturization. And they really did miss it. Because as you examine Pop Chart Lab’s latest mega print of 219 sonic devices across history, The Advance of Audio Apparatuses, it's obvious that technology has been getting smaller for a long time.
“Miniaturization seemed to happen with every major leap forward in audio technology; cassette players gave way to the walkman, CD players led to the Discman, and now thousands of songs can be played from a square no bigger than your palm,” the team tells Co.Design.
But while most of us think miniaturization was solely driven by portability, that would be wrong. Some systems became tiny for tiny's sake, the team points out. “While some of the first phonographs were giant, intrusive pieces of furniture, a 1983 Sony portable LP player was actually smaller than the disc of vinyl it played.”
These are the sorts of micro trends that Pop Chart Lab co-founders Patrick Mulligan and Ben Gibson have become particularly good at spotting as they illustrate the increasingly giant taxonomies of pop culture, ranging from beer to rap names.
At last month’s Innovation By Design Conference, the duo came on stage to share their process in developing these prints, and gave us a peek into the development of The Advance of Audio Apparatuses. As you might expect, their approach to such topics is one of brute force Wikipediaing.
They begin by following the threads of iconic releases across the Internet, adding almost everything to a giant Google Doc list as they go. Items are color-coded in a makeshift heat map of their own editorial interest (Was an item historically important? Did the product look cool?). Along the way, they develop a natural taxonomical structure. Here they grouped “Music Boxes and Player Pianos”—which may seem an odd pairing at first—but both work under the same musical spool premise. From these structures—eventually organized into a proper spreadsheet—they begin sketch-riffing on layout, which evolves into a proper digital layout filled with blank placeholders for illustrations.
Interestingly enough, though, the final chronological grid design we see here isn’t the one they showed on stage, which mixed timeline and taxonomy like a categorical waterfall. Why the 90-degree turn? The waterfall approach, for all its enticing lines, lacked the visual product evolution that a more linear-based layout could provide. I dig that the center resembles an equalizer, too.
The Advance of Audio Apparatuses is available as a 24”-by-36” print for $32.