When people talk about ‘sound design’ they often mean creating particular sounds for movies and commercials. However, sound plays an important role in many aspects of our daily life. Think of the sounds you hear when the traffic lights turn green, when you check in at the train station, or when going to your favourite bar.
The ears are extremely sensitive and can detect even miniscule sound intensities. And music has been shown to activate almost the entire brain. Even though scientists are still far from understanding completely how sounds and music influence the brain, it is becoming clear that it can have a great impact on people and their behaviour.
In the marketing world they are already aware of this and making use of it. Having slower music in supermarkets and shops will make customers walk slower, prompting them to linger around shelves for longer and buy more. On the other hand, having fast music on in bars can significantly raise the speed of drinking and the number of drinks bought.
Yet it in many designs, such as spaces, it seems like sound has been ignored. In restaurants for example I have often experiences that I could barely understand the person opposite me, because of bad acoustic design. There are also many examples of harsh and unpleasant sounds in the public space, when for example checking in at the train station.
Luckily this is slowly changing. A great example is a project by James Murphy, the frontman of LCD Soundsystem, who redesigned the sounds of the NYC subway to be more soothing. By making the different ports play different tones of a diatonic scale when checking in, you can even hear music when there are many people!
Another nifty way in which music has been used in subways to influence behavior. Classical music was introduced in subway stations as to deter criminal youth who are assumed to not like it. From what has been observed this approach seems to work, and it has been implemented at many other subway stations around the world.
Hopefully the attention for acoustic and sound design will keep growing, so in the future our environment will not only look nice, but also sound nice.