Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Product Sounds: Basic Concepts and Categories

Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Product Sounds: Basic Concepts and Categories

Article excerpt


Design thinking predominantly operates in the visual realm. Designers are proficient at thinking in terms of shape, size, colour, and material and at creating preliminary versions of a non-existing product in the form of visual sketches, scaled models, and prototypes (Kavakli, 2001; Oxman, 2002; Purcell & Gero, 1998). The perceptual expertise of designers with visual product properties also determines the language used to present, discuss, and evaluate the product or its concept (Goldschmidt & Sever, 2011; Ulusoy, 1999; Wiegers, Langeveld, & Vergeest, 2011). Although visual imagery and visual reproduction are the primary activities of designers during product development, the user experience of a product is also determined by the more (unconscious) senses. The vocabulary of designers with respect to other sensory product properties is limited, although their contribution to the overall product experience is well acknowledged (Crilly, Moultrie, & Clarkson, 2004; Özcan & van Egmond, 2009; Schifferstein & Spence, 2008; Spence & Zampini, 2006). This paper primarily focuses on the auditory properties of a product and aims to provide designers with insights into the way product sounds1 are perceived and described by users.

Not much is known about product sounds from the human perspective. In practice, product sounds are often tackled within the fields of engineering and acoustics (Lyon, 2000; Susini et al., 2004; van Egmond, 2008) or within the context of interaction design (Franinovi? & Serafin, 2013; Frauenberger & Stockman, 2009; Hermann, Hunt, & Neuhoff, 2011; Lemaitre et al., 2009). Knowledge from these fields is necessary to understand how to construct a product such that it evokes a specific sound experience (e.g., sustainability), how to measure the product's acoustical quality, or how to interact with objects that produce sounds. However, a systematic inventory of the experiential aspects of products sounds that could guide product developers is missing. Therefore, we have conducted studies to understand the categories of product sounds and the basic concepts that mentally represent these categories.

A second focus of this paper is on the methodology that can be used to study the perception of product sounds. Because product sound design is a relatively new field, the methods to evaluate sound from the perspective of users have not yet been established. There are still methodological concerns as to how to accurately and reliably capture (perceptual and meaningful) user experiences involving product sounds (see, Giordano, Susini, & Bresin, 2013 for an overview). The studies conducted and presented in this paper tackle this issue by comparing two different methodologies that serve a similar purpose, i.e., perceptual similarity and its relevance to conceptual association. In the following paragraphs we will first present the theoretical background for (product) sound perception and then explain our approach to the perceptual evaluation of product sounds.

Categorization and Similarity

The basis for any creative thinking is the ability of a designer to perceptually distinguish between various solutions to a design problem and to make these solutions conceptually relevant. The underlying cognitive function during such an activity is categorization. Muller (2001) suggests that in the process of product form creation, the categorization function is perpetually present when designers start conceptualizing their ideas, and when they compare their creations with existing product categories (i.e., prototypes) or to earlier solutions provided by themselves (i.e., sketches and models) and attempt to make the product context-relevant. Muller further proposes that categorization allows designers/users to distinguish a product on the basis of its form (solution-typical categorization), its function (prototypical categorization) and its usage/interaction (behaviour-typical categorization). …

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