Sound Design - from Noise to Euphony

Understanding acoustic messages

Sounds and noises are messages. They suggest things, for example, product properties, by evoking associations and connotations. Our experiential knowledge tells us that a full vacuum cleaner sounds different from one with an empty bag and that a tightly closed bottle of mineral water must fizz when first opened. Nevertheless, the sense of hearing was long considered the "stepchild" of product design - if it played a role at all. 

We recognize a fresh cookie by its crunchy sound - not least the work of sound designers who shape the listening experience to suit the target group.

Today, product designers know how important it is to give the things they design an appealing - or deliberately suggestive - acoustic character. Product sounds, whether modified, constructed, or synthetically generated, influence the interaction with the user and have a strong - in the best case, positive - impact on the affective and cognitive access to a product. To steer this effect in a targeted direction and to be able to intervene in the design process consciously, people and their subjective perceptions must be at the center of the design process. 

Psychoacoustics in the foreground

Just think of the mosquito, whose quiet buzz can keep us awake all night, while the much louder sound of the sea can lull us to sleep. But why is it actually like that? 

What sounds and noises are "good," and how can they be achieved? This requires not only extensive knowledge of the human anatomy and the physical relationships of hearing, but it is also at least as important to deal intensively with psychoacoustics. "You always find your neighbor's lawnmower more unpleasant than your own, even though my own is much closer and therefore louder," says Prof. Klaus Genuit, founder and CEO of HEAD acoustics. "We're also annoyed by a faucet dripping in the night because it's an unexpected sound - and for most people, that's more unpleasant than an expected sound." Sound design must focus on the human auditory experience, whether it's the acoustic identity of products and brands or the design of our virtual or analog acoustical environment. 

Recognize and meet expectations

Our product experience, in all its multi-sensory facets, is shaped by experiential knowledge and corresponding expectations. We learn from childhood which sound represents a physical event and interpret the information conveyed by the sound. The challenge for sound designers is creating virtual sounds corresponding to these learned contexts. 

If, for example, the combustion engine gives way to the e-drive, sound designers not only have to make the e-car audible and localizable in road traffic with the help of an AVAS. It is also a matter of designing the vehicle's feedback to all those who interact with it so that their auditory impressions correspond to the knowledge of physical laws and psychological conditions - in short, it must sound authentic. Some sounds that have long been technically avoidable - for example, the relay clacking of the direction indicator in the car, which was unavoidable because of its mechanical operation - now require a recreated "translation" because the "clack-clack-clack" has long since passed into collective perception and serves as acoustic feedback for the correct functioning of the signal.

At the same time, designed sounds should arouse positive emotions, provide immediate information about the quality and condition of a product, and breathe a "life of its own" into the product. 

Bringing all these goals together successfully can only succeed if psychoacoustic parameters play a significant role in the development. HEAD acoustics uses lifelike binaural recordings and psychoacoustic measurement methods and links them with metrics to make measurements reproducible and comparable.

Environmental acoustics and communication

Sound design can also mean insulating reverberant rooms, masking traffic noise, preventing reverberation or latency in communication, or optimizing noise and signal qualities. In short, designing our living environment acoustically.

Whether it's a product or an environment, sound designers need to discard the notion that measurements alone provide all the clues about what can be improved and how. With our ability to recreate human hearing and make auditory impressions reliably reproducible, we are making tremendous advances in our acoustic environment design and sound comfort, communication quality in telecommunications, and improvements in voice-controlled devices.

HEAD acoustics looks back on 30 years of experience in sound design. The fundamental transformation processes ahead of us in all areas of life are an enormous challenge. In the second part of our focus on sound design, we show how HEAD acoustics makes sound design successful. Because we don't just have our ear to the ground - we are aHEAD.