Sound Design

Sound design plays a crucial role in the discipline of Designed Experience. Even nominal combinations of sound and music can wield great evocative power. Apart from a number of site specific art installations in various airports, public space sound consists mostly of pop music. Music is hugely important of course. But…what about actual sound design becoming part of the public space audio conversation as well? Why can’t the video game ethos of sound designed spaces  filter it’s way into our public lives? Why can’t the DJ ethos of song mixing be a part of experience design? Here are four examples of those ideas that we did for TEDx Austin. Each played an integral part in building mood, dissolving pre-conceptions and heightening the senses for new ideas. Use headphones…

Holding Chamber

We designed the badge pickup and registration audio to evoke and amplify the nervousness one feels when attending such an event with strangers. Knowing that most type A’s would rather be finding the best seat than waiting, we added some barely audible announcements and instructions, played through a dozen floor concealed  floor wedges. All of this was designed to heighten the sense of clean joy that they would experience once they entered the venue.


The only entrance for TEDx Austin 2013, the Passage was designed to cleanse participants of the world they would leave behind for the day. Guests were allowed to enter the event at intervals,  by going into this 80 foot long dark hallway with a single light at the end. The only sensation was that of sound. The model we used was a dead standing rain on the porch of a cabin in the wilderness. Shades of choir and Ituri Pygmies celebrating were added to testify against the scientific notion of “if I can’t see it or measure it, it isn’t real”. There were a total of 16 speakers set at shoulder height, at staggered 8 foot intervals to achieve a continuous washing effect. The growing sounds of Play Wall music come into hearing as they emerge from passage.

Play Wall

This looping music mix was the first sound that guests heard as they emerged from Passage and into the main TEDx Theater. To their surprise there were no seats or stage at all. They would have to travel nearly 100 yards before realizing they were actually behind the stage. The idea of Play Wall was to evoke wonder and expectation. We needed to effectively suspend time and create wide eyed delight. Our hope was to ease the instinct to get a good seat or fight for position on this extraordinary day.

The Cube

The Cube is a 4 sided video installation TEDx guests could walk right up to and all around. The Cube would project many images throughout the day, but for the entrance of the guests it was was a whirring sea of dimensional data and streaming email inboxes. This audio was designed to remind us of the nagging, incessant and never satisfied demands of our professional lives, and to set it in stark contrast to the playful beauty of the rest of the space.