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The name Incase has become synonymous with reliable and minimalist accessory design. The last few years has seen the brand cement itself as both a purveyor of quality products including cases and protective options, as well as cultural drivers through their various creative collaborations. However just recently saw the American company take the leap into the audio world with a new line of headphones and earbuds. A continuation of the brand’s simple and non-extraneous design is self-evident through the various models to kick off the inaugural run.
We caught up with the Incase design team as they collectively answered some of our questions. Look for the collection through select Incase retailers and online via Incase.
Since its arrival onto the market more than a decade ago, Incase has solidified itself as a leader in design and innovation. How did the concept of making such superior products come about?
Incase is all about design-driven products which means that design is what defines our brand. Many members of our core product team have been designing cutting-edge consumer products even before Incase’s inception in 1997. We share the passion for conceiving and bringing great products to life to delight consumers. A lot of effort goes into testing, rethinking and constantly adjusting to make sure that we deliver a better experience through good design.
Can you explain the company’s decision to delve into the realm of audio accessories? Why did you feel this was such an appropriate product category to design for?
Audio is a natural extension to our existing product line as we focus on providing our users with enhanced mobility. The concepts of elevating portability, protection and comfort can be directly applied to an audio line. With iPod and iPhone as the leading choice for music content delivery, we felt Incase had something to contribute not just in the protective case category, but also by applying our design approach to audio listening and communications. By examining audio design through the lens of the user—in this case, a listener and verbal communicator—we are striving to come as close as possible to the ideal balance of acoustics, comfort, aesthetics, functionality and quality.
At the same time, it was easy to get our team excited about making products that revolve around music since many of us, in addition to our creative and design roles at Incase, are absolutely passionate about being musicians, DJs and music enthusiasts. Additionally, Incase has some history in creating music-related products. In the past, we’ve designed carrying solutions for portable CD players, various MP3 devices and guitars.
Of the many product ranges offered by Incase, the biggest sellers seem to be by far the ones designed for Apple’s iPhone and MacBook devices. Considering the value of these items, it’s apparent that customers genuinely trust Incase to protect their possessions. How does the brand respond to having such loyal and committed customers and what responsibility does it have to live up to their expectations?
From the beginning, we’ve been designing premium products for a sophisticated audience and it’s inherent to our process to take into consideration this audience’s high standards. We don’t claim to be perfect at what we do, but we put a lot of time and energy into trying to create great products that elevate and enrich the user experience. As designers, we immerse ourselves by constantly looking at the product from a user’s perspective and try to figure out what the right ingredients are. We have extremely high expectations for ourselves and at the same time we believe there is always room for improving a product. It becomes a constant search for finding the right balance between high functionality, aesthetic simplicity, beauty, and also manufacturability and accessibility. It is an exercise of discovery and editing a product’s features to arrive at the essence of what it needs to accomplish.
What type of person do you feel the Incase Audio collection will appeal to the most?
We think that Incase Audio will appeal to those that appreciate quality audio performance, a minimal aesthetic design, as well as improved functionality. We hope our audio collection will appeal to our existing consumer base of Apple users, but we also are looking to attract a broader audience of music enthusiasts of all levels. With four styles at a range of price points, there is definitely a choice for every type of listener. For example, we see the Sonic over-ear as an appealing choice for someone who is most interested in premium audio performance and comfort, while the Capsule in-ear model would be the ideal choice for the user that values mobility above all.
In what ways did the feedback you received from the market help decide which models were going to be included as part of the first audio collection?
Looking at how music can be delivered to a listener, we identified three main product platform areas where we wanted to contribute: the in-ear, the on-ear and the over-ear headphones. In designing these products, we wanted to launch a balanced cross-section of a line that appealed to various user preferences as it related to fit, functionality, carrying preferences and price points. We confirmed this line development early on with feedback from users and we are proud that we are coming very close to achieving our design intentions.
When determining what the audio collection was going to look like, how did you decide on the design? Were there any ideas you decided to toss out at the last minute?
As we do with all of our other products before we start designing, we define our design priorities and remind ourselves of our design principles to keep us on a consistent and cohesive path as a brand. In doing this for the audio line, we defined our approach as Soundesign, which is a synthesis of precision sound engineering and custom design. Soundesign relies on the integration of three main principles: naturally accurate sound, seamless design and a custom engineered fit. In terms of look, each model within the audio collection has a physical design that reflects graceful curves for an exceptionally clean look. We’ve used hidden joints to eliminate awkward bulges and maintain smooth contours. Our use of matte finishes creates a subtle, understated appearance consistent throughout the line.
We established our line of design concepts early on, but remained open to the potential surprises that come mid-way through the process. Of course there are always concepts that are left on the table, but often times this just means that we have ideas that can be improved upon for future development and release.
The overall look of the collection is very sleek and minimal. Why did you take this approach as opposed to a design that might have been more eye-popping?
Our goal with audio is to deliver headphones that sound and feel as great as they look. We needed to provide excellent acoustics and make them as comfortable and as beautiful as possible. By applying our passion for minimal and timeless design, we distilled all design elements to their essence so that we could focus on creating products that deliver a great listening experience matched by an appealing and comfortable physical design. We did our best to avoid “over-designing” by not including unnecessary details. The result is a very minimal appearance, which we then mix with our vocabulary of interesting materials and finishes to achieve a great tactile and sensory product experience.
One unique feature of this collection is that each of the headphones is equipped with “Soundesign” technology. What is this exactly?
Soundesign isn’t a technology exactly, rather our approach to headphone design and engineering. Incase Soundesign is a synthesis of precision sound engineering and minimal design. We fuse custom design, advanced audio engineering and biomechanics to work as one in order to achieve maximum headphone performance.
In the past, Incase has teamed up with artists and brands including A.P.C., José Parlá, uniform experiment and André to design limited edition product cases. Can we expect any similar projects in the future for the Incase Audio collection?
In the beginning of a product phase, we create the archetypical forms and then venture into colors, materials and graphic applications that can enhance the feel or the expression of the product. Our Reflex headphone speaks to a creative audience by being able to change character completely, for its flexibility to apply various interesting materials, textures as well as visually appealing graphics. At the same time, I would not exclude or dismiss any of the other platforms to be appropriate for possible collaborations with artists and designers. You’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds.