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Why the router of the future floats

Black hovering crystal-shaped object set in living room
Black hovering crystal-shaped object set in living room
Powerstone, MA Industrial Design x Three
Written by
Teleri Lloyd-Jones
Published date
06 April 2021

Three tasked MA Industrial Design students to re-think the router. In the hands of the winning student team, this oft-ignored box is transformed into a levitating gaming crystal.

Games suspend disbelief, welcoming users into alternate worlds where the impossible is possible. What if a little piece of those magical worlds appeared in the everyday? Meet Powerstone – designed by James Hywel-Davies, Chloe Kang, Lisa Ally Mohando and Fan Qu – a router that provides a total streaming game service and floats when activated.

“We use routers every day but don’t pay attention to them,” explains Chloe, “It’s a neglected thing. Could it be designed so someone is proud to display it at home?”

Three asked students to explore the potential of router design created by the move to 5G technology. This project was one of the first for the new cohort of students and it began with getting to know each other, understanding each other’s skills and interests. Having devised several ideas, the team focused on a gaming router. They began a deep dive into the potential audience, what was already available and what might be possible with a little imagination.

Black hovering crystal-shaped object set in living room
Powerstone, MA Industrial Design x Three

The team’s research demonstrated that gaming was a huge potential market for 5G routers. They began working out how a router could offer gamers access to the latest software cutting out the need to buy new consoles.

Their research informed the development of certain features as well. Power saving and sustainable materials was one, while another focused on encouraging a healthy approach to gaming. The team discovered that 56% of adult gamers said they missed out on sleeping while gaming and 10% said they had forgotten to go to work because of gaming. In response, they developed an app through which users can set activity reminders as well as parental controls.

The final form of Powerstone reflects the visual language of tokens found in games, a decision that playfully connects the shape of the router to its function. “I don't think anybody ever imagined a router could look like a floating crystal out of Superman,” says James, “We weren’t constricted by shape because a router doesn’t need a certain form... we also weren’t limited by the commercial environment or how the client might think. This was a creative opportunity to experiment.”

Working on the form, Chloe looked to the natural world for inspiration: “I joined this course to develop nature-inspired design, that’s what I’m interested in. Winning this project means a lot to me; a router doesn’t have to be a box, nature can exist in everyday products.”

Reflecting on the process, the team members have developed their collaborative practice but also pushed their individual skills. “I’ve learnt not to stick to my comfort zone or be afraid to try something new,” says Lisa, “from this project, my confidence has grown as a designer ­– it has opened my eyes in so many ways.”

At the final presentations, James Sutton, Head of Sponsorship & Brand Activation at ‎Three UK, was impressed by a design that was both dramatic and commercial, combining strong market research with imagination and wit:

We love that the team was inspired by the growth in the gaming industry and identified a clear target audience, tapping into a whole new market. Their Powerstone design completely smashes the dull, traditional form routers take today – a definite conversation piece within the home. The magnetised hovering gemstone design is just brilliant and the research they did to ensure the charging functionality still works makes it a real possibility to manufacture.”

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