Turtle Beach came to AWOL Company with a challenge: help the popular gaming accessory brand to envision and develop their first high tier offering aimed at the competitive pro gamer market. They came to the right place, because we love challenges (and having a reputation for designing innovative headphones helps, too).
The Pro gaming headphone market is dominated by a single competitive brand (rhymes with Castro), which is well established and sought after by the target demographic (young pro gamer males between 16-30 years old). But we found areas of opportunity to move above and beyond the category leader, focusing on what we called the Science of Comfort.
AWOL began our multi-phase design approach as we do most of our design programs, by establishing a foundation of knowledge on which to build our design concepts. First, we talked to (and even measured) dozens of MLG gamers, finding out what resonates with them, what it’s like to live within the gaming and streaming culture, what their definition of comfort is, and what things really piss them off (the infamous Rage Quit). Next, we audited dozens of competitive headphones, looking for benchmarks, pain-points, and areas of opportunity. All the while, we were also diving deep into the Turtle Beach brand and product line, finding out what led to past successes, how to learn from past failures, and where the brand was heading into the future so that we might steer towards that vision.
From this foundation, we established some guiding principles. First, comfort was paramount to our customers. Feeling the sensation of a hot or throbbing ear pulls the gamer out of their virtual world, back to the reality that their headphones are fitting poorly, thereby breaking their concentration which is going to have a negative impact on their gameplay. Second, a gamer’s gear is a key way of establishing their digital persona, and it has to look (and feel) the part. In reality, they may be a scrawny pre-teen with acne and a squeaky voice. But in the gaming world, they’re an adrenaline-fueled instrument of mass destruction that commands the respect of thousands of fans. Their gear needs to support this alter-ego, every bit a professional tool akin to a sniper’s rifle or SEAL’s night vision goggles.
Building on this foundation, we identified all key criteria that contribute to a headphone’s perception of comfort. From top of the head, to the tender ear surfaces, to the muscles of the neck, every area received our attention. We then were able to propose specific design solutions that would address each aspect, building basic architectures that encompassed comfort, adjustability, and customization. Working with our engineering partners, Latitude 32, we were able to vet each solution for efficacy and feasibility, and ultimately created a basic architecture that would deliver game-changing levels of comfort.
(You’ll notice we put in a lot of ground work before any actual “styling” even occurs. This is the Strategic part in being a strategic design agency: laying a well-thought-out foundation for success minimizes market failure.)
Having developed an innovative initial architecture based around key comfort areas, we were ready to whip out our sketch pads, sharping our pencils, and start aesthetic explorations. We focused on two unique styling languages that resonated with gamers, one of which emerged as the preferred direction. Inspired by the tactical gear that today’s combat operators use, we sought inspiration in precision machined components, exposed fasteners, minimal color accents, chiseled forms, and of course anodized black. Several rounds of sketch illustrations captured the right gesture, giving us the confidence to move into 3D CAD.
We built our concept in CAD using Alias and Catia, capturing both the aesthetic essence of the sketch concept, as well as the dimensional requirements of our ergonomic baselines. After several rounds of CAD iterations, prototypes, Keyshot renderings, and Color/Material/Finish explorations, the concept was ready to transition to our engineering partners.
The Elite Pro headset released at E3 in June of 2016 to great acclaim. Reputable reviewers heralded it as the most comfortable gaming headset ever, but most importantly gamers absolutely love it. The new Elite Pro will serve as a new benchmark and halo product for the Turtle Beach lineup, establishing both a new level of comfort and aesthetic language that will influence their product line for years to come.
Team members: Andy Logan, Tim Swiss, Eduardo Salazar