[NOISE] What if I
told you that vacuum cleaners didn't have to be so gosh damn loud.
The technology to create quieter vacuum cleaners
exists but we don't always use that technology.
Many vacuums are still extremely loud and surprisingly that's on purpose.
[MUSIC] Product sound design;
[NOISE] engineers and designers
manipulate the auditory elements of products to make
active choices about what those products end up sounding like.
That is very satisfying.
Sound design is implemented in everything.
From vacuums to food to cars and so much more.
So your car door might sound like this [NOISE]
and to most people that's just the classic sound of a car door closing.
Nothing really significant about it.
What you may not know is that there is actually entire teams devoted to testing out
different sounds [NOISE] before they landed on that specific one.
This same rigor is placed on the sound of the squeaking leather as people get into
the car or the sound that the windshield wipers make as they slide across the glass.
People meticulously craft every single sound you hear to have
a purpose and that purpose guides our lives without us really even noticing.
Of course there are many reasons to actively sound design your product.
But today we're going to be talking about three significant ones;
feedback, branding, and behavior.
So for feedback, let's continue with our car example.
If you were to Google active sound design,
nearly all the links that come up refer to cars.
Not in the way that I mentioned earlier about tuning car doors but in the way
that some cars are essentially lying to us on a daily basis.
A car that isn't lying might sound like this when you're sitting in the driver's.
[NOISE] A car that is lying might
sound like this [NOISE].
The difference might be subtle.
But you can hear a lot more wind sound when active sound design is turned off.
That's because America's best selling cars are using active sound design to
pump fake engine sounds through the speakers and into the cabin of the car.
The aforementioned offended enthusiasts have posted several guidelines on how to
rip these amplification devices out of
your vehicle and their frustration is understandable.
Nobody wants to be lied to.
So why are they even doing it?
Well, as car technology improved,
we've been able to silence a lot of the most vicious noises that come out of them.
But these vicious noises represented a really big part of why people like these cars.
That sound is a signal of power.
The louder a car is the more power it's perceived to have.
Today this auditory correlation isn't necessarily true.
Cars can be quiet and powerful.
Just listen to the sound this Tesla makes as it goes from zero to 60.
[NOISE] But our bodies aren't trained to believe that.
We feel like a car is powerful when we can feel that rumble echoing through our chests.
Now I know not everyone here is a car enthusiast.
I certainly am not one.
So let's take the same concept and
apply it to something that most people are way more familiar with.
Like, did you know that vacuum cleaners don't actually have to be so loud?
One of the main reasons they are is because if they weren't so loud,
you'd think it was an ineffective vacuum.
You see sounds are very rarely about
the vibrations that emanate when two things are interacting with each other.
Sounds are more often about the way we feel about something and because of that,
active sound design isn't solely focused on trying to make things sound good.
Sometimes it's about giving people the auditory feedback that they expect.
Instead of going quieter,
it's actually been suggested that
vacuum manufacturers amplify certain parts of the vacuum.
Specifically the sound of dust particles hitting the inside of the vacuum.
The thought here is to give you a sense of satisfaction,
that way you know when you're picking up a lot of dust.
Now would this be lying?
Maybe a little but mostly it's not.
Companies are of course making
all these decisions because they want to sell more products.
But it's also because we require feedback to tell if the product is actually working.
It's one of the biggest paradox in sound design.
People love silence but they like knowing that they did something right way more.
Which is why sonic feedback is so important.
The next reason companies actively sound design is for branding.
This is the sound of a Harley-Davidson motors [NOISE].
It's defined by audio engineers as a potato, potato, potato,
potato sound and it's considered by many to signify power, freedom, and fun.
Harley got a much different sound than any other big motorcycle on the market [NOISE].
Part of the reason that motorcycles make so much sound is for safety,
so they can alert everyone else on the road to their existence.
But like other vehicle manufacturers,
Harley takes us further by making the sound distinct.
It's such a powerful identifier of the Harley-Davidson brand that the company tried
to patent this engine designs that only Harley Davidsons can sound this way.
However, this idea didn't hold up in court and the patent never went through.
The company still believes that true enthusiasts will know
when a bike is a Harley just from hearing a certain purring.
This kind of branding doesn't just limit itself to industrial machines either.
A more tactile example of this is a Snapple bottle.
This pop has literally nothing to do with the experience of drinking.
But Snapple representatives believe that that sound is one
of the most iconic parts of their brand.
So when they changed the design of plastic bottles last year,
they spent over six months perfecting
the technology of the bottle to retain that distinction Pop.
Now, as you may know the pop is meant to signal freshness.
Meaning that the bottle has never been open before you.
But what sets Snapple apart from any other popping bottle on
the market is that it's the only plastic bottle to have that pop.
Every other pop you hear comes from
a glass bottle and that makes it truly unique to this brand.
The third purpose of active sound design is to try and elicit a certain behavior.
Potato chips are a great example of this.
Scientific studies on the snacks suggest that crunches
is the most important aspect of a potato chip.
When they found that people were less interested in eating
potato chips if the crunch was perceived to be weaker.
It was even suggested that Pringles are mathematically made not just
for stacking like the commercial suggests but for cracking.
Their parabolic structure is meant to get the loudest crunch you can get out of a chip;
which is part of the reason they're found to be so addicting.
These are perfectly designed to make a crunchy.
You just pop them right in.
Did you hear about that somewhere?
No, I didn't hear about that.
I've just obtained that knowledge through eating many of Pringles in my life.
So at this point in the video,
it's pretty easy to feel like sound design while,
maybe not necessarily malicious,
is at least a little bit manipulative and it might be but,
so is advertising overall and that's not going to change.
But that doesn't mean that there isn't any hope for
positive changes in product sound design.
In fact, many sound engineers are putting a lot of effort in making sounds of
the future not just pleasant but functional and better for the everyday user.
One great example is with electric cars.
As they become more of a staple in society,
we have to put a lot more effort into deciding what things sound like.
That calls into question all of the things that we thought we knew before.
Like a car horn doesn't really have any reason to sound like a car horn.
One suggestion for how to improve that might be to create
different sounds to signify different kinds of messages;
like having one sound to say thank you,
and having another to say get the heck out of the way you horrible driver.
Another way to improve electric car sounds is to think about safety.
Like what sound is the car making as it's driving at a low speed.
Many engineers have put up suggestions for different sounds that aren't disruptive
but still get across that a car is driving on the road so that pedestrians won't cross.
But this is just one example.
Part of that is thanks to the rise in technology.
For digital devices, we're the ones who need to
orchestrate every single sound we hear to give us feedback
or to know branding or elicit a certain behavior and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
In fact it might make the orchestra of
our everyday lives improve with a future of better sound design.
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