What a Pill

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By Diana Budds / Published by Dwell
A medicinal metaphor adds a dose of intrigue to a Bluetooth speaker’s design.

"You could argue that music is like medicine—it makes you feel good," says Brett Wickens, a partner at Ammunition, the San Francisco firm that designed the Pill, a portable Bluetooth speaker by Beats Electronics. Ammunition’s relationship with Beats began in 2006 when it developed the branding, identity, and products for the music company. Packaging was part of the initial conversations. "It was all thought about as one experience, an extension of the industrial design," Wickens says. "Good packaging design sets the expectations about a product."

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“I remember fondly the Factory Records cover for The Return of the Durutti Column, which was made out of sandpaper. As you pushed and pulled it into your record collection, it would sand all the other albums into oblivion, which I thought was great for a post-punk band.”—Brett Wickens, partner at Ammunition

For its small size, the speaker produces a robust sound—a quality Ammunition sought to convey. Its signature pill shape sparked the pharmaceutical connection, and Ammunition carried out the concept from the product design to the highly choreographed out-of-box experience. The speaker comes in a matte box that "brings a sense of depth and luxury to the color saturation," Wickens says. "In the retail environment, where you have pretty harsh lighting, reflective or glossier packaging could look cheap and distracting." Maintaining consistency with the brand’s identity, Ammunition used Beats’ red, black, and white colors and a custom typeface.

Upon removing the packaging’s outer sleeve and lid, one is presented with a speaker suspended within a plastic blister pack. "Just like with medicine, you get the sense that you’re liberating something very powerful," Wickens says. The cords and electrical cables are neatly coiled and wrapped with a simple black band featuring graphics that explain what the cords are for. Wickens points out that electronics packaging is often a letdown. "You open it up and there’s a plastic bag, cardboard, or accessories floating around," he says. "We’ve always really studied the out-of-box experience and made sure it was a very well-understood process from a user’s point of view." Beats’ holistic approach has yielded a strong response from consumers and has caught the eye of Apple, which acquired the brand in August 2014 for $3 billion.