Sound design: What is it and what should it be?

“What comes to mind when I say sound design?” If you would have asked me this two years ago, the answer would have been ‘acoustic feedback’. Sounds a product designer purposely incorporates in a product to give the user extra information. Think of the ‘click’ when you make a picture with your phone, or the beep from the coffee machine, telling you your cappuccino is ready. But we often disregard the  unintended noises our mechanical or electrical devices produce.

By now I have changed my perspective. My job at Sorama has made me aware of the passive noises the devices around me produce and their influence on their surroundings.

The effects of environmental noise

Close your eyes and listen (seriously, close your eyes for just 3 seconds and listen)… How many noises do you hear around you? Environmental noise is everywhere. The traffic outside, the ventilation in your house, even the fan in your computer.

Environmental noise is one of the biggest environmental risks for our health. Excessive noise can lead to  high blood pressure, hypertension and heart disease. Even the cognitive development of children can be negatively influenced by environmental noise, as also stated in this CNN article.

Imagine the effect if all of these devices would produce just a little less noise. That would have an amazing positive effect on your emotional well being and physical health. This is why sound design is so important.

What is Acoustic Sound Design?

In my opinion the definition of sound design sums up the control you have as a designer, on the sound your device produces, consciously or sub consciously. However, we are not quit there yet. The awareness of unintended sounds and knowledge on how to deal with this, hasn’t reached many product designers and engineers yet.

Often the acoustics of a product will only be dealt with from a necessity. For instance, when a new sound norm is introduced (think of heat pumps) or when customer complaints are coming in. Even then, the goal is to reach a certain decibel restriction, rather than making a product as silent as possible.

That is why we have developed the Sorama Acoustic Design Cycle for acoustic engineers. This will help improve sound behavior in product before they enter the market, rather than the traditional trial-and-error method. With the Sorama CAM64 or the larger CAM1K acoustic measurement systems, you will be able to analyse, detect and visualize noise and vibrations.

Decibel or the character of sound?

What does that actually mean, the decibel value of a product? It states the maximum volume a product can produce. This however, will say nothing about the character of the sound. Is it constant, or is it only produced in a specific mode? Think of a refrigerator that is not constantly cooling. How annoying is that sound?

Different frequencies are experienced in different ways. Humans hardly, or not even hear extremely high or low frequent sounds. But our pets or children might, since their hearing is much better.

Sound ReDesign

There are many improvements to be made in the field of sound design. To start with the way acoustics are incorporated in the design process. But equally as important, the way sound specifications are communicated to the consumer. 

So which product near you, would you nominate for a ‘sound ReDesign’?

What to learn more about sound design?

Written by Willemijn Mattheij

Willemijn Mattheij is product and community owner for the Portal team at Sorama. She shares her knowledge to the Sorama community with product designers and engineers, to enable them to design quieter products.

I invite you to stay in touch by connecting with me on LinkedIn, or contact me with the above form.