Demystifying all the product designer tricks to make you enjoy your products more; honing in on the phenomenon of sound.
In the modern world, science has given us materials and technologies that allow us to make most products and devices efficient. Being efficient typically means reducing the amount of wasted energy, whether it’s created as heat or sound energy. That’s not always at the forefront of a product designer and his agenda.
Yet, have you ever wondered why some everyday products are still so noisy? It’s often because loud noises are intentionally designed into the product to make it seem like it’s working better, or to show you that it’s working.
Ever tried to watch a film while vacuuming? If you have, then you’ll know that it’s practically impossible. Vacuum cleaners are noisy contraptions, both from the noise of the motor inside, but also all the sound of little objects hitting the inside.
It doesn’t have to be this way though. Vacuum cleaners could be manufactured in a way that made them much quieter, simply by changing the materials they use. Yet, they’re not.
Research has shown us that people feel like it’s doing a better job when they get the audio feedback of crumbs and dirt being sucked up inside.
The process of making you get this satisfying feedback is called product sound design.
It’s not just vacuum cleaners either. Most cars are designed to give you satisfying sounds. If it’s not the finely tuned engine notes that are pumped right into the cabin or a cool and clear car stereo, it’s the carefully crafted noises of doors closing and seatbelts buckling.
Have you ever closed a car door and known instantly that it “hasn’t quite shut properly”? You knew without looking because you can tell instantly from the sound the door did (or didn’t) make. That’s by design.
The same goes for the noise of the indicator sticks, the handbrake, and the window wipers.
Improving the Experience of Leisure Activities
Sound can make a big difference to the experience we have when using a product or service, making it a lot more satisfying. The swoosh of a tennis racket tells you that you swung fast, the roar of a crowd at a football match can add to the atmosphere, with many players saying that the sound of fans helps to improve their performance.
The distinct sound of rollercoasters and the screams of their riders are unique that you immediately associate with the positive memories of being at theme parks with friends and fun.
Sounds have even played a big part in the history of video games. Especially music is considered an essential element to make the experience more engaging and the games more recognizable. One example that illustrates this is Super Mario, a franchise that perfected the art of creating soundtracks and sound effects players and non-players alike will forever associate with the Italian plumber and his adventures to save Princess Peach.
In Formula 1, a sport known for being on the cutting edge of technology, designers spent a long time trying to recreate the noises of the older V8 cars when the sport switched to using super-efficient hybrid V6 engines.
Many fans complained about the quieter noises, since many people associate loud engine noises with power, despite Formula 1 cars now being faster than ever before. Prior to the V6 engines, fans needed to wear earplugs when at the circuit because they were ear piercingly loud.
This is all product designer knowledge at its finest.
Sounds can also be used for adding to the brand experience. For example, Pringles, the potato chips that come in a tube are designed so that they make a very satisfying crunching noise when you bite into them. If you’ve ever eaten Pringles before, you’ll know how unique this sound is.
It’s the same for bottles and cans of drinks. The US drink, Snapple, has a distinct metal lid that makes a clicking sound when it’s opened. This was designed specifically for the brand, creating a unique element to the experience.
Loud and specially crafted sounds make a big difference to the way we experience the world. It can seem a little strange that products are intentionally made to be loud, yet without them, they’d be less satisfying and interesting.