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Do you hear what I hear?

by | Sep 6, 2015 | The Lighter SIde

Do you every wonder why things make the sounds they do? Well we do, and it looks like we’re not the only ones.

As promised, here is day two of what I will refer to as my “Lessons from the Elliptical Podcast Review Series”—thing. As I mentioned yesterday, I am listening to more podcasts in my car as I commute and as I prepare for beach season on the elliptical at the gym. Yesterday’s article took an interesting look at the concept of behavior known as signalling and how it relates to why some people choose to buy Toyota Priuses.

Today, we’re talking (okay, you’re reading silently) about…sound. More specifically, how sound is used in products to make them more usable and more enjoyable. This discussion comes about from an interesting episode of the RadioLab podcast, where they interviewed Roman Mars, host of his own podcast that I recommend called 99 Percent Invisible.

Mars’ tends to focus on the often overlooked aspects of design and experience, such as in this episode where he looks at how sounds, or the lack of certain sounds can affect how tech products “feel” to use. He cites the example of the beeping sound that you get from dialing numbers on your cellphone. The beeps replicate the sounds of using a traditional phone and make the act of placing a call seem more natural. This is an example of the design principle of context, which in a quick definition is putting things in a way that makes sense to a person based on their prior knowledge or experiences. He also mentions how the sound of unlocking an iPhone, with its noticeable “click,” gives the user a tactile-like feedback (another design principle) that tells the user his or her action had a result. Plus, it sounds cool. A design quality that I appreciate.

This entertaining conversation got me thinking about other sounds found in the things we use everyday. And what if they were missing? Would that affect how, or even if, we would use them? The sound of toast popping up from the toaster is a simple and somewhat silly sound. And it isn’t even necessary to make a toaster work. But the sound is readily identifiable and when your rushing to get out the door in the morning, it does loudly announce that it’s time to grab your bagel and hit the door.

A more meaningful example of sound’s importance would be the loud “CLACK” of a properly fastened seat belt. It’s actually pretty easy to connect a seat belt only part of the way, and if there was no recognizable sound like that clack, I imagine we would fail to fasten up properly a lot more often.

So the big takeaway from today is that sounds can serve purpose and function. and even the most seemingly inconsequential of sounds, if suddenly gone, could make life just a little bit harder to navigate.

So, what sounds do you think make a product more useful or enjoyable?

Feature Photo by Inessa Akhmedova

Robert Westfall

Robert is a writer, behavorial researcher and decision-making consultant. He is the founder of Instinct, a firm specializing in helping organizations be more human focused and planet conscious.  You can learn more about his work at www.TheHumanInstinct.com and follow him at twitter.com/WeAreInstinct

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Remember when things just seemed to work? Yeah, neither do we.

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