Teardown Library
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Teardown Library

A Prototype Process for Remote, Collaborative Teardowns

I’m the head librarian at a community organization called the Teardown Library. We’re a group of product designers, engineers, and technologists who want to learn from the work of our peers in a hands-on way… i.e. break stuff together and figure how it works. We maintain an archive of disassembled products new and old hosted at branches in San Francisco, Boston, and (soon) New York.

Since launching the Teardown Library earlier in the year, we’ve obviously been limited in the amount of in-person activity we can do. COVID made us rethink how we could remotely collaborate on teardowns and make the resulting information available online. As part of this journey, we’ve been fortunate to work with Ye and some folks at Autodesk Research on a prototype remote, collaborative process that I wanted to share today and open up an opportunity to collaborate.

  • Lower the barrier to publish content — Teardowns can be daunting. If you’re attempting to be relatively comprehensive, you easily spend hours and hours googling chip silkscreen markings, digging through datasheets, watching manufacturing youtube, taking measurements, etc. But publishing partial progress is great in a collaborative process! Do what you can with the time available and leave breadcrumbs for the next person to come along and pick up where you left off.
  • Make it easier to recruit help — A full teardown inevitably extends beyond the expertise of a single person. You almost always need to seek out some subject mater expert: maybe a tooling engineer, maybe a industrial designer, maybe a camera optics guru. We wanted to elevate these requests for expert collaborators and help connect them with people in the community.
  • Make it fun — prioritize visual exploration and story telling vs structured data and search.
  • Keep it light — resist the urge to build a whole bespoke web app, database, wiki/version control/attribution system, search interface…for now

Here’s our version 1. We built a template in Mural and test-drove it with a few library members for a teardown of the new Bose Tenor Frames. A product design engineer was the original volunteer and took the lead on doing the teardown itself and the photography. He focused on mechnical architecture, enlisted some EE help from Andrew, and Ye and I were able to pitch in as well while taking notes on the process. Some of the work happened asynchronously and some we did live on Zoom calls. The original engineer was in possession of the product the whole time, and we were able to effectively work from photos and over Zoom, but conceptually we could have mailed around the product or worked from physical duplicates.

Birds-eye view of the Tenor teardown
The crew zooming it up

Mural worked well in giving us a limitless artboard-style canvas that we all could collaborate on in real time, and was simple enough for newcomers to jump right in (vs say Figma which is/was also tempting).

The template outlines 4 major sections:

The intro section is for high-level product attributes (release year, manufacturer, tentpole marketing features, specs etc) and links to historical context of previous generation products or contemporary competitors. This also is a place for people to highlight specific areas of interest or questions to guide the teardown artist’s work.

Next is a step-by-step guide to taking the product appart (process, tools, example images). Figuring out the puzzle of reverse assembly order is one of my personal favorite parts of a teardown. If you’re forcing something, you’re usually doing it wrong. This documentation is especially useful for people doing repairs or refurbishing products.

This is typically the most content-rich section with a visual, hierarchical bill of materials that decomposes the entire product. You can go as deep as you’d like with the teardown here, and this is a key area for questions or soliciting more help from collaborators.

We’re using colored dots that indicate categories of needed expertise (ME, EE, etc) to highlight requests for help and areas for collaborators to focus on.

Red dots are a note for EE help

To wrap up, the last section captures summarized learnings on aspects of the product that were espcially successful (or not) and key learnings that one could apply to future designs. There’s also space to elevate key questions that still remain a mystery to help inspire and direct future collaborators.

The Bose Tenor Frames themselves are an interesting case study in wearable products with intentional choices made for weight savings, acoustic design, and a clever hinge mechanism. They’re a notable experiment in user interface design with balancing ease of use and privacy in the acoustic implemntation and physical UI (flip to pause/off and capacity swipe volume control surfaces). Check out the full teardown for all the details.

If this all sounds fun (it is!), reach out to become a Teardown Library member and we’ll get you involved with the group. We’ll be running more collaborative sessions in the near future. Even if you’ve never done a teardown before or don’t know how you’d be helpful, this is a chance to see how it works and learn from small groups.

If you have feedback on the template itself (improvements to existing parts, new sections, new interactive features), we’re collecting comments on a /r/teardownlibrary post here.

More to come!

Huge thanks again to Ye, Andrew, and the founding members of the Teardown Library.



The Teardown Library is an archive of disassembled products new and old. We are a community of product designers, engineers, and technologists who want to learn from the work of our peers in a hands-on way.

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Tyler Mincey

General Partner at Baukunst. Head librarian at the @teardownlibrary.