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Kenwood Kc Z1 Controller

Annual Design Awards: Consumer Products-Gold


Designer: Ziba Design and Kenwood USA

Affluent technology buffs often are as turned on by fiddling around with the buttons and multiple remote controllers on their high-end audio or home theater systems as they are by the sounds and images produced. But in these same homes lurk cringing, huddled figures that Ziba Design industrial designer Steve M. McCallion terms "the terrifieds." These are most often the family or friends of the technophiles. The terrifieds have abandoned all hope of ever trying to program a CD playlist or record a late-night Hitchcock flick on these devices.

McCallion met the terrifieds in their own homes when Ziba collaborated with Japan's Kenwood USA division in an extensive research and design project. Kenwood once had a firm perch as a premium audio component company. But in recent years, that market has been flooded with boring clones. Two years ago, Kenwood USA turned to Ziba Design in Portland, Ore. for help.

Together, the companies identified high-end home theater systems as a market for innovation. The new goal: Make user experience a key priority. Ziba designers fanned out into family rooms and observed people using existing systems. Some discoveries were obvious: People like to sit in the dark and watch movies but have to switch on a lamp to use existing remotes. Other research showed difficult trade-offs: Make the devices too simple, and they may not appeal to the person in the house most likely to buy them--the technophile.

The result of that intense process is a gold award winner. The KC-Zsuperscript1 controller is a sleek, solid-looking device, loaded with high technology, such as a handheld "roamer"--a control pad built around a touch-screen and liquid-crystal display.

The software interface was designed with special attention to making the simplest and most common activities easy to access and set up. Folks can record a PBS special with a few intuitive choices on a touch-screen menu. When the roamer is attached to the main unit, its batteries recharge and it forms an almost stagelike display. Says IDEA juror Eric Chan of Ecco Design Inc. in New York: "The large LCD touch-screen is a versatile interface, integrating everything but showing only what is needed."

At an eye-popping $2,800 for the controller and $2,200 for the "power amp" needed to run it, the KC-Zsuperscript1 is beyond the typical couch potato's budget. But Kenwood USA President Joe Richter says the process taught Kenwood about user needs that it can incorporate throughout future lines.

For Sohrab Vossoughi, Ziba's principal, the assignment exemplifies how the firm's work extends increasingly to performing research on what people don't have, but want. "We are looking to design in the `Wow!' factor," says Vossoughi.By Joan O'C. Hamilton in San Mateo, Calif.Return to top

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