Let’s give more credence to the emotional sides of design

Lynda Relph-Knight

Earlier this week music legend Martyn Ware wowed a design audience by making the case for sound design. Branding groups already recognise the potential of sound, though more through jingles than through literally setting the tone. Ware maintains though that it should be key to experiential design, and yet it is rarely recognised early enough in the design process.

Ware, a founder of 1980s bands The Human League and Heaven 17, describes himself as an evangelist for sound design. He now works more broadly in sound, notably through Illustrious, set up with Vince Clarke to work on the ‘sound’ of spaces, and through the Future of Sound, to bring experimental music and sound-related performance to the public.

He believes in the convergence of the arts, through collaboration. But sadly, he says, sound is rarely considered as a creative force in commercial design. Certainly, there is no sound designer among the Royal Designers for Industry – though with digital and film designers starting to make the grade it may not be too far off – and none of design’s membership bodies appear to have a category for it. With greater circumspection this could change, following the lead taken by the Royal College of Art in making Brian Eno, once of Bryan Ferry’s band Roxy Music and now more deeply involved in sound, an honorary senior fellow last summer.

Sound isn’t the only environmental aspect of design that is overlooked (possibly because you can’t see it). Lighting designers have been campaigning for greater recognition since the late 1980s when they came together as a professional group to promote their cause. Lighting design groups such as Spiers and Major Associates and Isometrix are now recognised as among the greats, but more could be done.

Light and sound arguably do at least as much as space, form and texture to evoke an emotional response to a design, with even car door clicks and computer whirrs coming into the equation. Great design should encompass all of this, so let’s give it more credence.

Lynda Relph-Knight, editor

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  • noel franus November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Kudos for bringing the role of sound to a broader audience. It’s obviously one of the most powerful but overlooked tools a communicator has in his or her toolbox.

    I’d suggest taking it a step further, and connect the significance of strategic sound to a brand’s bottom line: most large companies spend millions each year on music, sound and voice…but very little of that is influenced by strategy.

    In this case, those touchpoints are disconnected dots, and for customers, that’s a disconnected brand and a poor investment.

    An intentional approach to audio — call it audio branding, audio identity or sonic branding — can make for a much wiser investment.

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