Aura Spotlight on Design with Scott Chapps
Chief Creative Officer at Aura & the brains behind the Smith collection.
Starting with a hand-drawn pattern, Smith was meticulously brought to life in finely etched stainless steel. It was quite the journey and took nearly a year to get right - but the resulting Aura Smith frame was clearly worth it. A feat in industrial design and development, Smith embodies Aura's guiding principle, reinforcing the idea that design should not only elevate the home, it should elevate your wellbeing.
So what was the inspiration for the Smith frame, and what made it such a challenge to build? Read on for our interview with Scott, where he answers some of our questions about his design process and decisions he made along the way.
Talk us through the new design and hardware changes.
We wanted to keep the dimensions and proportions for Smith consistent with our previous limited edition collections (the Aura Classic and Aura Wood frames), so it would feel connected to the design language of these other flagship designs. The display to frame ratio feels premium; the size and heft of the frame gives it a real presence.
The Smith frame differs from other recently launched collections, such as Aura Sawyer or Aura Carver, in that it features a much larger bezel. The bigger frame provides enough real estate for us to explore grand design statements, elevating the frame. The Aura Smith is not just another screen in your home - it is an elegant piece of decor.
Our story is built around materials. We create frames to appeal to a home decor aesthetic, with premium finishes and unique forms. Smith is the flagship design in our lineup of frames, carefully crafted using best-in-class components.
Do you take customer feedback into account when designing new frames?
Of course. We pay close attention to customer feedback, and work diligently to improve on product experience with each model. One example is how we replaced the original gesture sensors with touch bar sensors. We initially believed the experience of changing the photo on the frame with the wave of your hand would be magical - and it was - but a number of users expressed difficulty using this feature. So we replaced it with a touch bar in our new models. The touch bar resolved any potential frustrations since it is much more reliable and easy-to-use, plus it is even more discreet so it doesn't distract from the appearance of the frame. It's a much better user experience and more appealing design, thanks to the input of our customers.
At the same time, customers can’t articulate what they don’t know. That’s where design and experience-led companies like Aura think beyond what has been done before and create something unexpected. In rethinking the typical look and experience of a digital picture frame, we are taking calculated risks with the hope that we will delight our customers. At Aura, we pride ourselves on being proactive and not reactionary when it comes to creating things that are new and magical.
What inspired the Smith collection?
We take inspiration from many different areas of design and materials found in architecture, furniture, jewelry design, and home decor. We're rigorous with fundamental design principles, like proportions and scale. These elements are critical to make a design pleasing to the eye. Every single perforated hole is entirely different, the result of a hand drawn pattern that has the effect of being both pleasing to the eye and entirely unique.
When you look at the most popular photo frames, most of them are made of metal. In particular, silver is a very popular finish year-round. It’s timeless. It’s premium but difficult to work with. With anything we do, we want to bring out the wow factor. So we started with this idea of working with metal, and then reflected on how we could create a design that would really bring out the best qualities of the material.
This led us to thinking about intricate mesh patterns and metallic finishes. We were excited by the unique ways this would allow us to highlight the material through design, in addition to the fact that it would require a series of challenging manufacturing processes to actually build and get it right. So that's when we started to explore intricate design details that could be executed in etched metal.
We wanted people to really feel something when seeing the level of craftsmanship and attention to design detail. Working with metal allowed us to achieve this and the Smith frame has a big personality from almost any angle, it's truly a 360 designed object
Tell me about the design process. What was the next step?
We're a design and experience-led company, so everything we do is in service of bringing joy and satisfaction at a very premium level to consumers who use our products. We want the product to be delightful, giftable, and to work well with the app. In terms of process, we use our core values...
What are Aura’s core values?
Those values range from emotionally driven values, to practical values, all to make sure we are balanced in delivering a fully intuitive and smart product experience. With everything we create, we want to ensure that each consumer touchpoint - from product, to packaging, app technology, etc. - evokes the same feeling. After a great deal of researching materials and hardware, and sourcing and testing best-in-class components, next we start an iterative process which includes many rounds of prototypes and beta testing the user experience.
In order to provide desirable finishes that fit a variety of home decor styles and to avoid polarization, we typically launch with two very different finishes that are almost polar opposites in nature. In doing so, we hope to demonstrate how the personality of the frame can change dramatically depending on its color and finish. Most importantly, different colors ensure we are able to appeal to a wider audience that embodies a range of design sensibilities. We tried many finishes and created multiple prototypes, finally landing on our two favorites: Black Onyx and Platinum Rose.
Who should buy the Aura Smith frame?
It's the highest-priced frame in our collection, which makes it particularly special and also means it's a highly considered purchase for most consumers. If you are looking for a way to enjoy your memories and connect with family by sharing photos, but dislike the look of traditional digital photo frames - this is for you. And while that applies to all of our frame collections, what sets Smith apart is that it is truly a statement-making piece.
If you purchase an Aura Smith, you'll want to display it prominently in your home. Far from hiding in plain sight among other picture frames, Smith begs attention as a focal and gathering point in any room. Smith carries a big personality by virtue of its dramatic design.
This frame is very unique. What are you most proud of when you look at the final design?
Great question! We often see concept cars that lose much of their unique character and innovation when introduced as mass-produced products. Their core purpose is to excite the audience and show a vision of the future. So when I think of what makes me particularly proud of Smith, it's the fact that there was almost no deviation from the original concept vision. The design intent remained intact throughout the entire process.
The biggest challenge was to create such a complex design that would encompass an array of technology, and still feel seamless and almost magical to interact with. There were no analogous examples to learn from, so the fact that we succeeded is a real testament to the remarkable team who helped bring Smith to life. Very little compromise and lots of iterating, testing, and failing went into making this frame a reality. Aura Smith embarks on all new territory - not only from a manufacturing standpoint, but specifically in the realm of consumer electronics.