designing a synth in 6 hours - student workshop

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How do you know if an idea is worth developing? Well, there's only one way to find out... prototype! We challenged 3 students to design and prototype their ideas within 24 hours. This was not only to challenge them but also to challenge our program - we wanted to find out what can be accomplished within such short timeframe. Spoiler: quite a lot!

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Last Friday we ran a 24 hours hackathon. The challenge was to design and prototype a synthesizer using human centered design methods. The three participating students received a design brief and had successfully prototyped the interface. This part was very successful as you can see in the pictures below. However, we did not manage to connect the circuits. I kinda suspected that 24 hours won't be enough, but nevertheless, this was a very useful test. You never know until you try!

Hackathons are a great way to learn critical decision making. The time limitation serves an a constraint that inspires creativity and result driven thinking. After running this quick test we can say confidently that constraining interaction and visual design to 24 hours can yield great results.

The next challenge in developing our online program is to figure out the circuits, so students could quickly prototype their instrument and test the complete user experience. We started working with Hexdevices on some kits (more on the next update!), so hopefully we can test this part as well in the coming few weeks.

I want to thanks OKW and Telerex for sponsoring the stunning knobs students were using during this hackathon. We've received a handsome collection in various styles and shapes, which allowed students to come up with unique designs that stand out.


Here are some videos from the day

analog effects box

Designer: Lucien Nicou

design brief

Design a multi effects box for an amateur producer who is getting into physical synths and sound design. They play an instrument or two. Maybe guitars and vocals, and now they look for a multipurpose device to help them make unique sounds.

the design

Lucien decided to design the effects box around the spring reverb tank. Since the target audience is only getting started in their journey into physical synths the box is patched internally to insure straight forward and easy operation without former knowledge.

Additional patch points allow for more complex sound design and creative connectivity, both by self patching and external patching to break the internal patches.

The graphics illustrate each of the effects. From the top right, spring reverb volume, followed by a low pass filter. To the left there's a distortion circuit followed by a low frequency oscillator.

live performance subtractive synth

Designer: Lewis Duckworth

design challenge

Design a subtractive synth for live performance. The target audience are known for their unique stage settings. Their shows are almost theatrical. They are looking for a fairly large instrument that will stand out and when played can't be ignored. Although it's a fairly conventional subtractive synth internally, and although it's "just a box with knobs" you won't confuse it with any other synth out there. It's glorious!

the design

Lewis' instrument consists out of two parts, and they both feature semitransparent plexiglass back with internal light, but we didn't have plexiglass so the prototype couldn't be completed. The front panels feature large OKW knobs. It's easy to feel where these knobs point to thanks to their unique design. In a live setting this will come in handy.

The unique shape of the instrument and the emitting back light will make any performer standout.

The left element serves as the heart of the synth with 2 oscillators, and the right element includes an LFO, VCA and a large filter cutoff knob.

By separating the two elements the musician can perform the instruments in various ways, changing positions and settings on different stages.

experimental sound design synth

Designer: Teunis Marseille

design brief

Design a wild FM/AM/noise instrument that's meant for sound design. It's targeted at pro musicians with experience doing sound design. They're looking for an instrument that's unique and unexpected to allow them creative expression.

the design

Teunis combined three oscillators with a noise generator, routed through a distortion circuit and a low pass filter. The interface is laid out ergonomically to invite hands-on experimentation. The oscillators are placed on the edges and routed through the bottom center towards the top. The graphics were made spontaneously out of a manipulated picture of a plant.