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Tangents - Thought Leadership and News from Trig

News and blog articles from the Trig team

Murphy's Hypotenuse: Evolution in Design at Sling, Part Two

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By Patrick Murphy

Perhaps the most wildly innovative design in NewDealDesign’s Sling portfolio came with the 2010 release of the Slingbox 700u – a fully-capable Slingbox device developed solely for media provider distribution. The 700u marked the smallest Slingbox yet. The internals required a space barely larger than a pad of Post-It notes, only with the added complication of heat management capacity of a much larger vented box.  NewDealDesign solved the issue with a different tactic – the chipset required a giant heat sink regardless of the form factor, so the team decided to make the form factor a giant heat sink!

The result is a true piece of shelf jewelry, reminiscent of missile grid fins and fine latticework, a marriage of extravagant ornament and the technological future. Surrounding the core is a thin outer band, the space in between laced with even thinner sets of interwoven fins of varying height – all composed in a single die-cast aluminum piece the size of a checkbook. An ultimate expression of form and function, the design brought home the bacon in 2010, sweeping several design and tech awards, including an IDEA "best in show." The design borrows nothing from its predecessor models beyond a penchant for interesting patterns, instead forging an identity entirely unique and intrinsic to itself. Such a divergence is often a dangerous deed for a brand with an established visual language, but the 700u has perhaps conjured more interest than any Slingbox yet, despite its lack of availability as an aftermarket product.

The 700u was a design anomaly. Unorthodox, yet surprisingly effective, the 700u was surely an isolated incident in the design evolution at Sling? Nope!  It was three years before Sling released another product, but when they did, NewDeal had done something even more surprising than the 700u departure.  They again designed a Slingbox with no connection to their established VBL, and they did it with a pair of simultaneously-released models in October 2012.  The Slingbox 350 and 500 are the newest and current faces of SlingMedia, and they look more like different species than siblings.

The company touts the 350 as the "most affordable Slingbox yet," but unlike many entry-level offerings, its design wasn't watered down to boost the appeal of products further up the totem pole. The matte black rectangular box is covered on all sides by glossy diamond indentations, starting small and shallow at the back and increasing in depth as the pattern moves forward, gradually corrupting the flat surfaces until only a crystalline texture exist. Like pavé diamonds, the effect of light hitting the unit is mesmerizing.

The high-end 500 model by contrast has only smooth surfaces. It is essentially an extrusion of the same rounded right triangle, only the shape flips direction from one side to the other, creating a somewhat amorphous top surface with two defined peaks at opposing corners.  The design effect is that of a simple shape grabbed at either end and twisted to form the final product. A glossy, wrapped band caps the right side of the otherwise uninterrupted shell, and perforated end caps deliver the only subtle throwback to Slingboxes past.

The duo is quite different on the outside, but they actually share a very important trait - the same trait that drove the design of the 700u--thermodynamics.  The radical aluminum lattice of the 700u dissipates heat conductively from its core. The 350 and 500 dissipate heat convectively, each in its own neat way. Each faceted divot in the 350 actually contains a missing face - amounting to hundreds of tiny holes in the casing that dissipate the hot air within. On the glossy black case, the holes are practically invisible, requiring close inspection to recognize their existence. As NewDeal president Gadi Amit puts it, "It's an optics trick hidden in plain sight."

The 500 also sheds degrees in a unique way. The opposing twin peaks on its morphed upper surface are the highest points on the form. The hot air within rises, flows along the inside of the case, and exits at the openings on either end. So effective is the heat management in both models that they require no active cooling (fans), and are completely silent as a result –making each model a better playmate with home audio.

The design lineage of the Sling product family is not without its critics – it most certainly breaks the rule of compromising one's own VBL and risking the loss of brand equity. But Sling is now under the influence of a new VBL, one that’s actually defined by its own evolution—vivid progression—and I believe it's a good one. Regardless of the righteousness of their design decisions, it’s hard to criticize Sling and NewDeal as they've sold like a bazillion Slingboxes (unofficial figures).

As a designer, I really hope that NewDeal continues making each new iteration of the same product a statement in and of itself. Perhaps this vivid progression will persuade others to follow suit, ushering in a new era where VBLs and product families are seen as design crutches. With nothing to hide behind, each design would be considered and crafted to a higher level to embody its own being, instead of adhering to the strict aesthetic code of its predecessors. Whether or not this happens, one thing is certain—in  throwing all of its inhibitions to the wind and all of its trust in the hands of NewDealDesign, SlingMedia has built a powerful empire of beautiful slinging devices, and my own vision is a lot better off for it.