Hearing aids - inconspicuous or fashion accessory?

I think most commercial hearing aids manufacturers try to make their products as inconspicuous as possible because of the stigma attached to hearing aids and the connotations with old age. Personally, I don’t like this approach as it brings up images of flesh-coloured hearing aids which I find a little repulsive. I believe that if a design looks good, it could take away from the stigma of hearing aids entirely, and you wouldn’t have to tuck it away where it can’t be seen.

Has anybody successfully attempted to design it in such a way that makes it fashionable, but not too radical? What are your thoughts?

Are you sure you should be sharing this information? Your employer may not like you talking about projects in process. Typically a designer will have to sign an NDA forbidding any disclosure.

Your first job as an IDer and you want your personal opinion to drive the design? Quite frankly, I can’t think of something more idiotic.

Not to say there isn’t a market for a conspicuous hearing aid. How big of a market is it compared to the inconspicuous market? Is it enough to sustain itself? Once you go down the “fashion” road, how many different lines will be need to support the market? Rugged dude? Dainty dude? Sporto dude? Metro dude?

At this time, you are no where near qualified to answer any of those questions, let alone letting your opinion drive the answers.

If you want to pursue something on your time and not billable time, go at it. I for one would not be pleased having a junior go off script on my dime.

I would delete the OP - even if you are not showing concepts - the client may not want people to know they are evening considering to work on this.

Forgive my lack of experience. I’ve edited the OP to reflect my question more accurately

I am pursuing this line of research on my own time. I wasn’t looking to drive my opinion into the design process, was just merely wondering why manufacturers don’t consider making hearing aids more visible or fashionable. I can understand that more established companies wouldn’t have to pander to anybody with aesthetics, but surely somebody must’ve tried this approach.

Hearing loss is in most cases irreparable, and for many people, hearing aids do become a part of their identity. I can understand why it is presumed older people would want something low-key, but I read that hearing loss is on the rise among younger people. Why wouldn’t medical device makers try to design specifically for this?

Great question. Unfortunately, you are approaching it with great bias. I do not consider that behavior an asset for a designer.

My wife is an ASL teacher and has many Deaf friends. The reality is that most people outside of that community view being deaf or hard of hearing as a disability which changes the way you are treated.

Most people do not want to advertise this fact as a loud and overt option. Especially for children who will be teased or young adults who are out trying to meet people, get jobs, etc. It is difficult to understand these social stigmas but researching people who are hard of hearing in your community should explain why this is, and likely will remain the case.

A great example of this is people who see a hearing aid may start to talk slower to a deaf person. In reality, they could read your lips if you spoke normally, but this “Special” attention winds up making it harder to communicate. The other party not realizing you are deaf in this case is a benefit.

I think you might be able to do some research on the trends in prosthetics moving from imitation to functional innovation to stylistic embellishment. Of course this is happening at the fringe and the nature of prosthetics is that they are very custom to the person so the risk in creating the wrong product is little to none. Still, some analogies may be drawn.

Iab, I think it is ok to go into a project with a thesis, the key is to be objective about proving or disproving it. In this case it would be pretty simple to construct a few prototypes, render them up on different subjects and do max diff surveys vs traditional designs with targeted groups of the hearing impaired population in different age, socio-economic, and geographic groups. 3 designs in this more aesthetic forward type direction with 3-4 traditional units in a force rank style survey could yield some interesting results. I would do the force ranks as solo rendering, rendered on a young male, a young female, middle age male/female and so on to see if the participants rank them differently on different genders/age groups vs the devices on their own.

I agree there is no harm looking for a “fashionable” hearing aid market. What I don’t think the OP is capable of conducting a rigorous methodology to discover if there is a market. I don’t think it is as simple as you laid it out. I don’t think a few prototypes will cut it. I don’t think asking “what do you think” looking at renderings carries enough weight to determine if there is a market. Sure, it is a start and get you to a no quickly, but by no means will it give you a yes. I need to know a shitton more before I go and recommend launching such a product. I even doubt it would persuade management to throw real resources at the “problem”.

Then of course there is my bias. While I have contact with only limited deaf people, I have interviewed hundreds of the disabled. And for that matter, thousands of sick people, the temporarily disabled. And by far, the overwhelming majority do not want their disability to define them. There are always exceptions to the rule, but I don’t know if there are enough exceptions to create a large enough market to commit all of the resources needed to bring a product to market.

This whole thread smells of, “I had the greatest idea ever and management killed it. It would make millions. Management sucks.”

I understand. I’m just trying to get the OP to look into it further in a a way that a single person could easily do. Will it be enough to prove to management to take a risk? Stranger things have happened in companies work for, though I assume the level of investment in terms of safety certifications and such are very different vs industries I’ve worked in. If the OP really believes in this as a concept I would recommend trying to do some sort of quantitative research as well as developing a manufacturing approach that uses an existing platform to minimize cost and risk. These two things might influence the organization to do some deeper digging.

While your feedback is based years of experience (a good thing), the OP is a new designer and likely needs to learn for themselves. And who knows, he or she might break some new ground. Unless there is a technical or ergonomic innovation then why make a new one at all? Market demands?

That’s the point. Medical devices as fashion is not a new idea by any means. Yet I can count on my hands where that is used as a differentiater. The main reason being people want to be known for what they do, not what they cannot do.

We have around here what we call 5%ers. Small pet projects you have absolute freedom (along as there is something in it for the company) to do what you want. I have a silly notion in how to reduce readmissions. I hope the OP has has the same opportunity at their place of employment. But I want the OP to understand that the due diligence will not be easy by any means and not to use a shortcut as an excuse to point the finger.

I’m firmly in the camp of fashion accessory. As I’ve stated in another related post, my son is a hearing aid user and soon to be cochlear implant user. When he first got hearing aids (age 3) we picked blue with red and called them Spiderman hearing aids. His eyes lit up in excitement.

Now, 3 years later, the prospect of wearing a much larger/bulkier device of a cochlear implant, he was concerned about it. That is, until, we discovered that we could do Orange, white, and grey, and make a BB-8 sticker for the head piece. Now he’s counting the days down until he gets it.

There’s a place for fashion accessory medical devices. Just look at prosthetics that are dye-sub printed with american flags, and the like. While there will be many ashamed of their handicap, many others prefer to break stigma by showing off what they have. My son may not always feel this way, but for now he’s proud of his devices, and will talk to anyone who asks about them.

That’s great your son feels that way Chris - he’s my new hero, truthfully. 20+ years ago I was “prescribed” a hearing aid. It wasn’t like I couldn’t hear, but I do in fact have a hearing loss that warranted an aid. Never once did I wear it to school or in public. We returned it a few month later because I simply would not use it.
Could some other design have helped? I strongly doubt it, unless it was invisible.

But - times have changed. I believe the world has way more knowledge and acceptance of disabilities. I even want to believe kids are less cruel, about those things at least. NURB’s son may build a character where he’s not ashamed of his hearing loss, he may even be PROUD of it. Me, I still won’t wear an aid. One day my family will probably force me, and it’s gonna be as discreet as possible.

A mistake senior designers do, is that they want to conquer the world with their projects. Like, if you don’t reach 80% of the market it’s not worth doing. But even 0.1% of the market may be a large enough market share to warrant a BC. Ever looked at quantities for the biggest kickstarter successes that pull in millions? It’s THOUSANDS! I.e. below average China MOQ.

To the OP - get some visuals down. Put it up on a wall somewhere. Get it noticed. 99.99999% chance is that nothing will come out of it. But you have positioned yourself as a designer willing to work overtime to think for yourself and explore a different direction = you’ve showed passion, and you’ve learned something.
Do it a few times on other projects and if your boss is a smart guy, you’ll get more freedom to explore and not just execute orders.

And if/when your competitor does it you have a “told-you-so”-card to pull out. Just don’t pull it out too soon, wait for it to be a commercial success, or it will backfire :wink:

Conquer the world?


I want to make sure my business is around tomorrow. That business has overhead, lights to turn on and mouths to feed. I want to pay my salesforce today and the next. It is a business with limited resources that will not be squandered on a whim or a hot sketch. I can’t guarantee success, but I do know how to guarantee failure.

I think this is very good advice for two reasons.

  1. be someone who takes action vs someone who complains. You can’t green light a new product at your level, you can visualize your ideas and socialize them. Focus on what you can do and what you can learn from that.
  2. be an ideas person, plural. Don’t make this the “hill you die on”. Have lots of ideas, not one you obsess on.

I totally understand lab’s point. Having a team, and a budget, and a percentage of revenue tied to new product launches, the higher you get the more you get exposed to that, the more it influences you r thinking. I do think there needs to be rom for people to innovate. Like tab said, a small proportion of time, but perhaps something really fantastic will come from it. Perhaps nothing, but the risk is contained.

Well a year certainly changes things - after I lost hearing in one ear due to a rare tumor about 6 months ago, our son was born in January and as of yesterday we just found out (or rather confirmed) that he has moderate hearing loss (still an unknown cause since there were no obvious complications or illnesses during pregnancy) so we’ll be getting him hearing aids almost immediately while I have to get fitted next week.

This will be an interesting father/son bonding experience.

Oh wow, sorry to read that Mike. I hope the fittings go well and the products perform for you!

That deserves a whole thread in itself…

Meanwhile, for anyone in Portland- “Design Museum Portland and the Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) are pleased to announce the opening of Bespoke Bodies: Bespoke Bodies: The Design & Craft of Prosthetics

Worth a look.