Finding Creative Solutions

I was recently given a pair of broken headphones. The damage was nothing serious, the right ear had just snapped off. They still worked perfectly fine, so long as I didn’t need my right arm for anything; I needed that to hold the dangling phone up to my ear. The TV station that the headphones originally belonged to has no need for gear that only half-works, so they gave them away.

The design of these headphones makes for a very difficult repair. I’ve had the same problem with this particular brand before. They make great sounding headphones, and great looking headphones, but the ears break off far too easily. I’ve had many broken pares sent my way, and I’ve always tried to fix them the same way; by collecting the broken parts and trying to reassemble the phones from these parts. To reassemble the headphones, I’ve tried epoxy, elastic bands, resin bond, contact cement, melting the plastic parts back together with a soldering iron, and duct tape.

Duct tape works very well – for a day, then they fall apart and I’m back where I started, only now everything is coated in a good layer of duct tape goo.
Elastic bands work for a few weeks, then fall apart.
Epoxy lasts about a month before the flexibility in the plastic causes it to pop off.
Resin bond and contact cement do nothing-there is simply not enough surface area to stick properly.
Melting the plastic back together just gives off fumes that are probably very bad for me, then snaps apart as soon as put them on my head.

In short, all of these methods have failed miserably, and none of these were creative solutions.

All of these ideas were confined to fixing the headphones by gluing the original parts back together. To use the old cliche, I was “thinking inside the box”. The problem isn’t about using only original parts, the problem I have is a right ear that had snapped off and needs to be re-attached. There is absolutely nothing that says I have to limit myself to only using the original parts to fix it. I don’t have to care about what they look like, I don’t care about their resale value; I don’t have to care about re-attaching old parts. I only care about having the headphones stick to my head comfortably, without ruining the sound quality.

The way I was trying to fix these headphones only offered a limited number of solutions. A conversation with a friend sparked an entirely new approach. I now had a creative solution.

While I was busy thinking up new ways of reattaching old parts, I wasn’t seeing the new parts I could attach to the headphones. There is a whole world of solutions to the broken headphones problem existing outside of my self-imposed ‘original parts only’ limitation. What about wooden dowels? Wire? Clamps? There is a huge number of tools and materials lining my periphery, but my tunnel vision made me blind to all of them.

Using an old coat hanger and pliers, I was able to bend a short piece of wire into the right shape, replacing the broken plastic parts with shiny new metal parts. The wire I was using just happened to be exactly the right size to go though the holes in the plastic where the original parts used to go. With only a few minutes of work, the right ear was reattached to the rest of the headphones!

The flexibility wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t pressing against my ear with the same amount of pressure as the other side. After fiddling around with this for a few minutes, trying to get it just right, I was about to give up. I just couldn’t seem to get it right.

“Easy come, easy go.” I thought. The headphones might have cost someone else a lot of money, but they cost me nothing; giving up now was no big loss. A few minutes and an old coat hanger are all I’ve invested in this project. The phone didn’t sit right, and I just couldn’t find the right tool for limiting motion the way I needed it.

As I was leaving the room in frustration, I saw an old clothes pin on the floor. I clipped it to the wire, and it worked perfectly. The tension on the wire was just right. The headphones are every bit as comfortable as they were fresh-out-of-the-box (although they now looked pretty funny). I am now the proud owner of a pair of some good quality headphones!

So, on all those previous attempts, what was I doing wrong?

My first mistake was misunderstanding the true problem confronting me; the second mistake was limiting the solutions to what was right in front of me. It was only when I took a step back and saw the situation from a distance that a workable solution arrived, and it was far simpler and more effective than any of my previous attempts. I needed a creative solution.

Published by

Kyle Clements

Kyle Clements is a Toronto-based artist and nerd. During his thesis at the Ontario College of Art and Design, Kyle began working on his Urban Landscapes series, a body of work that aims to capture the energy and excitement of life in the fast-paced urban environment. After graduating from OCAD in 2006, Kyle spent a year living in Asia to gather source material and experience in a different kind or urban environment. His work is vibrant and colourful. Whether painting the harsh Northern landscape, or capturing the overwhelming buzz of life in the city, his acrylic paintings hover between representation and abstraction.