Music Player Maestro: An Tran, Senior Mechanical Engineer

An Tran Lead - Mechanical Engineer at Mixer Design Group

Music Player Maestro: An Tran, Senior Mechanical Engineer

I was always intrigued with portable music players. I was 8 years old or so when the first Sony Walkman came out. I followed them from then on. I always had to have the latest Walkman.

Sony was innovative with the Walkman, in that they introduced models for different needs. Some were the smallest. Then they came out with a yellow model for their “rugged” line. Those had novel hinges, and a big blatantly mechanical lock to seal them. And I couldn’t have put this into words back then, but I think I was intrigued by how those different elements got incorporated into its branding and image. Mechanically it was pretty elegant as well.


My dad was a mechanical engineer. So I had an understanding that there were people designing these products that were in our lives. But truthfully, I didn’t probe into the creation of the Walkman; I just thought they were cool. I loved music and I loved that my Walkman let me take it with me. People forget that we didn’t used to be able to do that.


When I took a backpacking trip around the world after college, when I had to travel as light as possible, I still took a Walkman with me. Two shirts, two pairs of pants, my Walkman and two 90-minute mix tapes of my music.

I didn’t take a straight path to what I’m doing now. Originally, I went into architecture. That was my first major, as a freshman. I think I was trying to bridge my interest in design and engineering.

Because I didn’t know there was a career in industrial design. I didn’t know I could have a career designing things like Walkmans or other consumer electronics. Once I learned about industrial design, I was like, this is it. And I focused all my efforts towards that career.

Where the Walkman intersects with my career trajectory is that it was cutting edge technology. And I think something in me was responding to the idea that all those different Walkmans were intended to meet different needs.


When I was around five-years-old, I started designing robots. But even more than that, I liked designing the little make-believe remote control for the robots. It was the human interface with the robot that interested me. Where the buttons were. I focused a lot, as much as a kid that young can, on the ergonomics. I would obsess about where the screen should go, where the controls for the robot should go.

I still think the portable music player is the coolest, because it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s got music, it’s got industrial design, mechanical design, acoustic design. When I worked on a portable music player for the first time in my career, I thought, “This is it! I’m designing the next generation of these things that I love!” In a sense I came full circle. It’s always the intersection of humans and technology that intrigues me most. The ideal of designing technology so that we as human beings can realize our greatest potential.