The wok maker and the conference phone

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When it came time to fabricate the dome-shaped grille design that our team had created for the Dolby® Conference Phone, manufacturers said it couldn’t be done. The design team took that declaration as a challenge, because this was no place to compromise — the phone needed to reflect the core product feature of dimensionalized or spatial audio through every detail. Meeting that challenge required going down a very unusual path.

The Dolby Conference Phone experience completely changes the traditional dynamic of conferencing audio. Its highly advanced technology provides a spatial separation of voices from remote participants, bringing users into the meeting as if they were actually in the room. The designers wanted to fully represent this seamless experience. Because the sound is dimensional, the team sought to avoid the visual impression that the sound comes from a flat, planar source. They designed a seamless dome, with a return — or undercut — of the perforation pattern that flows down the side of the product, giving the feeling of an infinite pool that both gathers and projects sound. This detail was crucial.

Manufacturers told the designers that creating the unified dome shape and undercut that the designers wanted was not possible. The standard metal-forming process would require flattening the top of the perforated grille and setting it like a lid on a bowl-shaped base. But the design team held fast to its goals. Opting for design integrity over expediency, they worked with Dolby engineers to find an alternative.

Noticing that the design somewhat resembled a wok, the team used that as a starting point. Traditionally, woks are made by skilled artisans who spin metal at high speed over a mold and work the metal to the desired shape with heat and pressure. While finding a traditional wok maker proved somewhat of a challenge, our designers successfully located one locally who was able to prototype the grille shape, combining traditional fabrication techniques with the functional materials the team had selected. With a successful prototype build in hand, Dolby designers were able to inspire our manufacturing partners to implement some creative techniques that enabled mass production. It can’t be done? Perseverance, science, art, and creativity together showed that it can.

The Dolby Conference Phone has received a Red Dot Award Honourable Mention and a Spark Award Silver. It has also been an iF and IDSA Award finalist.