Behind the Industrial Design
I originally thought Venom would be white.
That seems like an odd thing to say, considering that Venom actually is painted white, but I think you’d be amazed at the incredible journey it took to finally get there. In this blog post, I’m going to pull back the curtain a bit on the design of Venom, and give you a peek at what it’s like to work with a group of colleagues who are so passionate about synthesizers. Sometimes, gaining consensus between various viewpoints can be quite frustrating, but after all of the “spirited” debates, the end result is a finished product that’s the best it can be.
Onward with the tale…
In the beginning, I decided that Venom really needed to look like M-Audio’s KeyStudio 49i:
I’m kidding! This rendering was just a mockup to show the Industrial Designers the relative placement of various physical features on the unit. At that point, my only concerns were about maintaining the general functionality of the user interface and the overall ergonomics. I always leave it up to the ID professionals to make the final product look original and cool. To kick things off, I try to convey my basic ideas as clearly as possible, and I find it easier to do so by starting with a design that everyone is familiar with already.
We started off the real ID process by discussing the aesthetics of Venom. The synth engine combines old-school waveform muscle with modern digital sensibilities, so we talked in abstract terms about how a “grille” might suggest that kind of power under the hood. We took this concept and applied it most generously to the side panels, but it’s also visible in other aspects of the design, such as the knobs.
As the outer shell, knobs, wheels and even the buttons took shape, attentions turned to the color scheme of the product. Since purple has been pretty rare on synths historically, and because Avid was in the process of adopting that particular shade in its branding, we tried purple out as our main color:
The problem with this purple was that the iridescence in the paint caused it to turn pink under certain lighting conditions, which we felt would not really help us reach our target audience.
This led us to black; the old standby. When this color scheme finally seemed to stick, the discussions turned toward the accents and highlights. We went through a rainbow of colors trying to decide on which combination was most complimentary to the design, but one of my favorites wound up having an almost monochromatic feel, matching the black chassis with grey and silver trim. To me, it felt like a callback to Bob Moog’s old module style, but with a Nine Inch Nails kind of twist.
Too bad no one else seemed to like that one… There were a couple more interesting versions with green and blue highlights, but nothing held until I pushed for a black and orange combination as a sort of ARP tribute. The team was relatively happy with this one for quite some time. In fact, we went through two versions in order to get the shade of orange right.
All was well and good until a competitor beat us to market with a similar color scheme. That’s always a danger when you’re developing a synth over a period of years, but fortunately in this case we still had enough time to change course. So we returned to the white chassis, and the debate over the top panel silkscreen colors came back with renewed vigor. (As an added bonus for those of you with sharp eyes, you’ve probably noticed that the Venom logo has also changed four times in the midst of all this. That’s a whole other story…)
This long iterative process might seem quite chaotic, but for good design you have to validate your assumptions with other stakeholders at every step. We start with internal feedback on things like feasibility and cost, and position in our target market, and then we reach out to our retail partners and get opinions from a select group of sales professionals. Finally, we listen to our customers and do our best to implement suggestions, and if it’s not possible in the current product, we definitely put it on the list of issues to address in the next one. In fact, that goes for the entire design, not just the styling of the outside surface.
If all goes according to plan, you finish up with an elegant design that has been extensively reviewed and not only meets the functional needs of synth enthusiasts, but also elevates to the next level and inspires.
Check out the Venom design for yourself at one of our music retailers: Guitar Center, Sam Ash or B&H Photo. Or find the Venom retailer near you with our dealer locator.
To learn more about the Venom synth watch the intro video, listen to audio samples, and check out the buzz.
PS: Continue on to Part 3 - Know Your Oscillators.
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