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Sonic branding at Fast Company's Innovation Uncensored

Posted/ 20 November 2012

Over the past year we have had many conversations within the four walls at Geyer on the topic of creating unique and meaningful experiences for the people who use the spaces we design. As connections to the physical world are replaced with virtual substitutes, the demand for real time experiences to be even more inspiring has increased dramatically. This has left many designers questioning, how we can create a greater sense of meaning for space users?


At Fast Company magazine’s ‘Innovation Uncensored’ held in San Francisco earlier this month Joel Beckerman, the Founder & President of Man Made Music, gave a compelling presentation on the power of sound and its impact on the physical environment. His concept of engaging our auditory sense to create deeper experiences is the bases of “sonic branding” and something I suspect we will be hearing much more about this in the future. Beckerman is already working with companies like AT&T, Virgin Mobile and Reuters to enhance and strengthen their brand experience using sound.


If a picture is worth a thousand words the right sound at the right time is worth a thousand pictures. Most of us are well aware that brand is communicated through many channels: design, verbal and written messages and through the behaviors and actions of employees. The next frontier in branding is sound. As designers of experiences, rather than just spaces, it would serve us well to consider how we might introduce sound to further enhance the work we do.


Beckerman’s presentation illustrated the power of sound by asking us to imagine the experience one would have engaging with a fictitious company ‘Apple Airlines’. Given Apple’s iconic design aesthetic and the location of the conference, only a few miles from the Silicon Valley and home of Apple, the example was perfect. If the number of iPads and iPhones glowing in the darkness during the talk were any indication, half the crowd was in ‘the cult of Jobs’ and could easily comprehend an airline of his making.


We were asked to imagine the sounds one might hear when engaging in different aspects of flying, like the sounds our phone makes when we receive an SMS or email. The audience voted on the appropriate sound for: choosing a ticket, selecting a seat, getting an upgrade or approaching a kiosk. Interestingly, once the key brand drivers were provided: passion, inspiring, intuitive and purposeful, it was quite easy to select the sound that matched the brand.


Our example went so far as to select a soundtrack to replace and mask horn honking and car engine noises at the drop off terminal. It was no challenge to imagine how the experience we were creating on ‘Apple Air’ would be far more pleasurable than any I have had on this trip with Qantas, US Air or any of the others I have dealt with in the past weeks.


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