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Spring 2023

Design Studio II - First Year Trio Project

The Amazing Music Protection, or AMP, is a convenient, on-brand earplug dispenser designed for School of Rock Albany, a music school for elementary to high school students. Designed to look like an amplifier, the AMP serves as storage, decoration, and a means for easy access to an important, often overlooked piece of equipment in loud environments.

Brief and Research

Our prompt for this project was simply to work with an "outside organization"--i.e, a group or organization not affiliated with our university, RPI. Due to our mutual interests in music, we reached out to a local chain of School of Rock, that offers private or group lessons in guitar, bass, vocals, drums, or keyboard primarily to elementary to high school aged students. They described some inconveniences they were experiencing, one of which being a dispenser for the earplugs used during music rehearsals.

How can we design a means of storing and dispensing

earplugs that is visually cohesive with School of Rock’s image, as well as easy to use and refill?

Old Dispenser_edited.jpg

To learn more about our user group, we talked extensively with both the faculty and students at School of Rock. A key detail to consider, however, is the contrast between who our users are and our client. Although we were designing a product for a wide range of ages who each have different musical and aesthetic preferences, our client is the School of Rock Albany branch, a corporation with a strong emphasis on their visual brand of the imagery often accompanying rock, punk, and alternative music.

School of Rock Aesthetic Moodboard

Their current product was a cardboard dispenser that the earplugs came with, which was awkward to use, visually unappealing, and intended to be thrown away upon being emptied. We decided to improve upon their situation by designing a permanent dispenser that was smooth and easy to use, as well as aesthetically cohesive with their brand and space. Thus resulted in our problem statement:

Fig 2. Product Aesthetic mood board depicting common themes in School of Rock’s visual brand

Fig 1. School of Rock's former dispenser

Ideation and Concepting

The first step our group took in the ideation process was coming up with an idea of the aesthetic we wanted to work with. By placing clear guardrails on our product’s visual profile, it gave us some initial clarity in a very open-ended project. However, this was not without a few drawbacks and limitations.


Fig 3. Four more polished drawings of possible dispensers, inspired by urban, underground, or musical imagery.

Although School of Rock portrays itself as within the rock, non-mainstream, and alternative niche, it is ultimately a large company--arguably the antithesis of the punk or alternative ethos. This incongruent duality transferred over to our experience in designing our product. Trying to aesthetically appeal to a wide range of 8-18- year-olds, fitting into a learning environment, and keeping the product straightforward clashed oftentimes with trying to fulfill the school’s brand identity.

We ultimately decided to foster the aesthetic of School of Rock by sticking to objective imagery present in their locations—namely, music equipment. Using their logo’s darker colors allowed our product to mesh well with their space, which had walls, chairs, shelves, and posters that all stuck to a similar color palette. By committing more so to the overall musical theme, as opposed to pre-defined genre niches, we were able to circumvent the awkward territory of balancing authenticity, visual interest, and the reality of the company we were working with.

Rough Prototypes

For the rough prototype we mostly wanted to get an idea for scale, how big to make the storage compartment of the dispenser, as well as how bulky we could make it in the space that we have. We also prototyped for the feeding method, needing to find a balance for the ramp that would dispense enough earplugs to be practical, without overflowing.

We decided to prioritize the more functional features of our product, as opposed to visual fidelity, since the research questions meant to be addressed by this iteration related more so to the product’s ease-of-use.

Our first iteration was made of foam board allowing us to make it quickly, and cheaply while making on-the-fly changes to components like the ramp and overall scale. We used our first prototype to straighten out the required measurements of things like the ramp, lid, and dispenser hole.

We conducted three user tests for our first prototype. An internial session with classmates, one walkthrough with a student at School of Rock, and one narration with a music group at our university.

  • Usability: We were told that it was pretty intuitive and although simple, was effective and was an interesting spin on the dispenser design.

  • Dials:  Although a number of testers hoped that the dials would turn, both us and the school staff were apprehensive at the possible distraction this could pose as

  • Aesthetics: We were told that the aesthetics were “cute but not stupid.” Generally, our testers seemed to like the appearance, though addressed that it didn’t look much like an amp—something we hoped to resolve in our detailed prototype.

Final Prototypes and Renderings

We would be delivering the detailed prototype to the school for them to use permanently, so our goal was to make it as close to the final ideal product. We needed this prototype to have high visual fidelity, be long-lasting, and preserve the functionality of the rough prototype.

We conducted two sessions of user testing with this prototype prior to painting, receiving primarily positive feedback. However, we noticed during these tests that the orientation of the lid led to a number of slips, as the magnetic fastening only worked when the lid was oriented one way--something that was unclear to our testers due to a lack of any signifiers or constraints.

We kept this is mind as we painted the AMP. By adding red paint (the secondary color present in School of Rock’s logo) to the sides that would be covered by the sides of the dispenser and black to the entire outside. This would ideally implicitly encourage users to keep the red surfaces hidden, thus aligning the lid correctly.We then finished up the rest of the detailed work by adding a fabric to the front to simulate the mesh found on an amp, attaching the dials, and adding minor visual details.

All in all, we feel as though the AMP was a very successful product. Although regarding the project, communication between us and the School of Rock could have been smoother (eg. clearly communicating the need for testing photos, more synchronized schedules, etc.), our clients and users seem very satisfied with the product itself--even asking for a second copy of the dispenser, and we believe it answer the problem statement effectively. We balanced aesthetics and functions, which resulted in a design that, although simple, best fit their needs and integrates with the company’s space well.

Future steps only included minor alterations, many of which have been achieved with our third iteration, such as making the lid hinged and slightly raising the guard of the dispenser.

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