March Chapter Meeting Recap - Designing With Your Ears
At the March Chapter meeting, Chapter leaders took the opportunity to formally transition the Chapter leadership. Sandy Heistand, director of real estate and facilities at Prosper and 2015-16 Chapter president thanked the extensive roster of officers, board members, committee chairs, volunteers and sponsors that made the year a huge success before handing the gavel over to incoming President, Mike Bangs, vice president of real estate and facilities at Oracle.
The Chapter’s March 17th program at the PG&E Auditorium in San Francisco featured globally renowned sound and communication expert, Julian Treasure. A top-rated keynote speaker, Treasure is a self-described “sound evangelist” and is founder and chairman of The Sound Agency, a UK-based consultancy that asks and answers the question, “How does your brand sound?” Treasure has five Ted talks with more than 30 million views and a book titled Good Sound is Good Business to his credit. On a global scale, he helps clients create generative soundscapes in branded spaces such as airports, retail establishments and office environments. Treasure lived up to his reputation and delivered an upbeat and thought-provoking program entitled, “Designing with Your Ears.”
Treasure began his remarks by sharing that sound has a profound effect on our happiness, effectiveness and well-being, and most of us are completely unaware of its impacts. He indicated that at just 12 weeks after being conceived, we “heard” our Mother’s heartbeat even though our ears were yet to be formed. “We heard it with our whole bodies,” he said. “We are still hearing with our entire bodies. It's just that we are used to thinking that it's only our ears that work.” He pointed out that the ears are an amazing example of engineering and that unlike the eyes, which have lids, they are always working -- even when we are sleeping. Despite the fact that our ears play such an important role, most environments are designed for the eyes without any consideration of the ears, Treasure said.
According to Treasure, sound affects profoundly and in four ways:
Treasure advocates alternatives to open-plan office environments because of the negative impact they have on workers’ cognitive function, especially for knowledge work where thinking is critical. He said he believes open plan spaces can create up to a 68% decrease in productivity. He cited retail environments as examples of how sound affects us behaviorally. He reported that inappropriate sales soundscapes can cause retail sales to decline as much as 28%. Retail is the first industry to take sound seriously, according to Treasure. The goal of Treasure’s CoreNet talk was to make a link between sound and productivity (and profit) in offices.
Treasure indicated that in an open office environment, it has become increasingly more common to see workers using headphones to drown out noise creating what in essence are a large number of silos in space that is meant to foster collaboration. “Naturally, this phenomenon undermines the what the workplace was designed for in the first place,” he said.
The number one complaint in offices, according to Treasure is noise. The modern office, he asserted, can be traced back to Fredrick Taylor who invented industrialized work. Showed a photo from 1906 of a large open space packed with workers. It had eerie similarity to the next image he showed, which was a large open office environment typical of today’s occupiers.
Treasure summarized the findings from 23 research papers that all conclude that the open office is detrimental to productivity and well-being.
Key points included:
- The most disturbing noises included.
- Other people’s conversations
- Ringing phones
- Irregular noise
The effects of these noises on well-being include:
- Increased illness
- Increased absenteeism
- Satisfaction and effectiveness decline
- Costs rise
In terms of designing for improved acoustics, Treasure outlined what he calls the four building blocks of great sound: Acoustics, noise sources, sound systems, content.
Planning for Acoustics - Bad acoustics create the Lombard effect which means that people talk louder. Treasure recommended fundamentally moving from hard to soft surfaces.
- Consider acoustics from the start
- Set appropriate goals for each space
- Avoid parallel hard surfaces
- Use acoustic treatments for ceilings, floors and walls
- Absorb and block for flexibility
Dealing with Noise - Treasure stated that with regard to noise we either have to move it, block it or accept it. He showed an office layout depicting zones separating teams doing quiet work from teams doing noisy work. Key tips:
- Keep noise at under 40 dBA (which is line with LEED)
- Isolate noise to back of house wherever possible
- Think about the details: for example, install gliders and closers
- Create a listening culture – have a commitment, train employees, hold them accountable
Install Sound Systems – Treasure shared that there are many options today and they are being deployed in many types of environments. Key points:
- Define appropriate quality
- Create many zones
- Use masking and/or blurring sounds
- Tune carefully after installation
- Create simple, flexible UIs
Content – Treasure recommended asking what is appropriate for the brand? He explained that each type of work, collaboration, concentration, contemplation and communication, has a spectrum of appropriate density of sound. Key tips:
- Design foreground and background
- Be careful with music
- Incorporate biophilia (nature sounds)
- Think in complete soundscapes
- Layer the sound for overall brand, teams and individuals
Recap by Erin Carew of Instigate