Jaybird wants to be seen more as a sports brand than an electronics brand, designing stylish headphones for people likely to hike, ride a mountain bike or even complete triathlons. While their designers scan Amazon reviews just like any average consumer, they also run extensive tests on any new product. Located in Park City, Jaybird designers hang out at local gyms, working one-on-one with athletes. Jaybird’s featured headphones include the Run and the X3, whose battery lives are four and eight hours, respectively. The headphones also come with a charging case, fit for the active wearer who might need a power boost on the go. Quiddity talked with Jaybird designer Hagen Diesterbeck about “truly wireless” models, battery dictating size and custom sound equalizers.
When you talk about the design of your headphones, what’s the first design feature you mention and why?
For us it always starts with the user. It's a design principle; when we started in the early 2000s, our founder Judd Armstrong really envisioned going surfing with a pair of earbuds. We looked for where we could bring music elsewhere, with the stuff we love to do. We wanted to be able to utilize our headphones when we’re out and about - when we’re on a mountain bike, snowboards or running the trails. We came across a lot of obstacles with solutions in the market, and it all starts out with the initial setup. Beyond the fit, comfort, ease and use of setting these [headphones] up, we have to think about sweat-proofing our product. When it comes to sweat, that's a whole different ball game. It’s all about testing out what material, what color and version we can use without being influenced by human sweat. Before you use it [the headphones], you want to create a product that sounds awesome. Selecting speaker driver components of the highest grade is essential to us. All of our products benefit from the Jaybird App where the user can adjust equalizer settings or find running playlists from other users. If you like a little bit more bass or a little bit less, you can really customize it.
For us, it's all about fitting for purpose and be super comfortable and secure. It has to be super easy to be set up by the user. It has to be absolutely reliable for what they're trying to do. They need access with one single button.
How do you take consumer feedback into account when you’re designing?
It’s a bit of a tough question because obviously you can learn a lot from just looking at Amazon reviews. You can see what are the basics that you need to cover: fit, sound, battery life — that's our baseline. It’s really important for us to interact with the consumer. In our headquarters in Park City, we have relationships with local gyms. We’re in and out of these facilities, trying to engage with people to test our product, talk to them about what works, what doesn't work. Every time we come up with an idea that we test internally in our group, we quickly prototype the idea either locally or with our manufacturing partners. Traditionally, we probably do between 50 and 100 tests, to test out whether a feature makes sense.
Have consumers asked for features that you as a designer know aren't realistic?
Yes. When it comes to designing Bluetooth headphones, there are currently still certain limitations. We have a lot of triathletes who would love to have a product they can use in a pool, but obviously no one goes swimming with their phone. That’s where, currently, the music source comes from. Now there are workaround solutions: let me put a flash product on my headphones, and I may be able to use them underwater without needing to rely on Bluetooth. The user definitely has ideas and visions that are good, but technology does not allow us to always jump at it. We keep it in the back of our minds for what is possible in the future.
Where do you get inspiration for new headphone designs from?
It's a bit of a chicken and egg thing because you've got to be realistic with what you're trying to achieve from a feature side. You look at a user and the realistic hardware requirements you have. That gives you a base size for these headphones, putting shape and size around it to suit our brand style and what our users have come to love about us. We’re always trying to shoot for the smallest possible design, but make it very premium and fit for a sports use case. If you look at our various products: we started with the BBX1, then we have gradually designed a smaller product. The BBX1 was designed before the X2, which was 30 percent smaller and then X3 which was a little bit smaller. We have also received feedback from some users that even X3 is too bulky in ear. We have set out on a challenge to design a super, super small earbud that is — with the design of freedom we really have overcome that on the smaller end.
How do you balance aesthetic choices with performance?
It depends on use case by use case. If you look at JB Run, our truly wireless headphone, we set out to make it as small as possible — streamlined and almost disappears in your ear. That gives you a limit with how far you can go with battery. I could make headphones today with longer battery life, but they'd be so heavy in ear that you wouldn't enjoy them. For gym, runs, mountain bike sessions — for one to four hours — if we make the play time four hours in one shot and we deliver them in a charge case and two additional chargers thats a trade off were willing to make in that case. We want to design a product that is fit for purpose, designed by runners for runners. We have to look at what is the opportunity, how big is the opportunity, and how feasible is it?
When you look across the headphone space, where does this headphone fit?
I would say we’re trying to address the premium active lifestyle user, a person that is looking for a solidly performing pair that is fit for their purpose. We don't want to play in a knockoff cheap space. We really want to position ourselves in the premium sport and lifestyle market. We’re really trying to consider ourselves a sports brand rather than a consumer electronics brand.
What specific features make your product easy to use?
To focus on providing user with a super comfortable wear and fit, we make [the headphones] sweatproof, almost break proof. If your headphones fall out of your ear and onto the ground, we don't want them to break. We do extensive reliability testing. The third is sound. When you buy a Jaybird product, you're basically guaranteed that you get the most out of your workout with a quality sound experience. If there's not enough bass or grunt in your music, then we haven't really given you the best product. Obviously, the customer’s ability of sound plays with our Jaybird. The rest is really standard. We’re trying to give u a decent battery life and little surprises like a charge case for a run. Coming back to the use case: “I’m about to go for my run — oh shoot, I’ve just realized that I forgot to charge my earbuds... I have five minutes. I can charge [to last] 60 minutes.” That we take as our mantra, our pillars for success.
What specific design features have helped improve sound quality?
For us, selecting high-quality components is No. 1. But we've really upped our capabilities as well. We actually employ sound engineers that work really closely with our mechanical teams who say, “okay, I can't put certain components in.” It’s about understanding limits and making sure you don't have to make tradeoffs that you regret.
How has your design process evolved as Bluetooth has improved?
It hasn't really. Battery is really your biggest driver for the size commitments.