Sony CFS-B21L (Source: amazon.com)
I should mention that this blog has been created as part of a course in e-learning and interactive design. This week, I was tasked with undertaking a brief analysis of an everyday product, from a design standpoint. While mulling over the choice of subject, my gaze unwittingly fell upon the cassette player, languishing under a thick layer of dust, on my top shelf. Dust removed, it struck me that it would make an interesting subject for such a study.
A relic in the context of today’s technology, I have kept this lump of metal and plastic for the occasional playing of an old cassette or two, the few inherited through generations of family. Of course, the cassette format itself has been rendered obsolete, initially by the introduction of the Compact Disc (CD) and, doubly so, by the explosion of easily-accessible, digital music. Yet, this player has proved itself useful on occasion and also comes with a handy radio, which does indeed ‘sound so powerful’, particularly when the volume is increased to levels unhindered by modern health&safety standards.
1950s Philips Jubilee Radio Advertisement (Source: wtip.org)
Although it is interesting to compare this device to radios of the 1950s, one should remember that it was little more than 10 years ago (this particular model was manufactured in 1999) that the Sony CFS-B21L was considered state of the art, such is the rate of progress within the electronics industry. Below is a modern mp3 player concept from designer Tae-wan Kim, perhaps a thousand times smaller. Although it contains no speakers and, of course, no cassette player!
Tok Tak MP3 Player Concept (Source: yankodesign.com)
So, lets take a quick look at the design of the Sony player. One of the key considerations within modern interaction design is the provision of feedback to the user. With the introduction of touch-screen devices, this has become a key concern and, some may argue, a significant barrier to certain users, particularly the elderly. In this case, the Sony undoubtedly has the advantage over its modern day counterparts. When a button is pressed on this device, there can be no doubt as to its effect. The audible clunk of a solid lump of plastic, one centimetre in diameter, negotiating its way into place. Although it’s unlikely this was ever advertised as one of its positive attributes in its heyday, it could well be now. Someone needs to tell the, rather optimistic, gentleman selling one on e-bay for €30.
“The Sony CFS-B21L: Providing Haptic Feedback Before it was Cool”
Interestingly, one of the principal advertised features of the device was its ability to perform in-line recording, direct from radio. Truly a historical milestone, it even boasts MEGA BASS and a handle for portability.
Taking a slightly more serious view, the most poorly designed element of the interaction process has to be the lack of an on/off switch. To turn the device off, one must first flick a toggle to switch the device from the radio to the cassette player and then pause the cassette player, not the most elegant of interaction scenarios. The controls are also all located on the top face which means the user must effectively be positioned above the device itself to use it.
That said, although some elements of the controls may take time to figure out, it is, in many ways, easier to use than most modern devices! This is, of course, partially due to a lack of features but even so there is no led screen, no complicated set of menus to step through, no back button required. The consequences of a mistake are minimal and experimentation with the controls is a risk-free experience.
Older Devices do have their Advantages! (Source: knowyourmeme.com)
In conclusion, it may be old, it may be clunky but at a time when the public was still enamoured by the technology itself, when alternatives were limited and when users were yet to become expert critics, the Sony CFS-B21 did serve its purpose. Now, a victim of progress, it appears to us obsolete. Yet, it was a design iconic of the times and it is interesting think, in another ten years time, what devices will we be using when we come to look back at an iPad with the same sense of nostalgia?
A View of the Future, from the Past (Source: lessons-from-history.com