Use of Sound in Product Design and Usage

I am pulling together information on the use of sound in products. For example sounds as product branding/quality, sound as a means of user feedback, etc.

Note that I don’t just mean products with electronics interfaces. Even the “pop” of a toaster is a distinctive sound that can be designed as much as the visual appearance of the toaster.

Let me know if you know of:

-good examples of the use of sound in products

-research on the design of sound in products

-other relevant ideas

For some general background information, see:

It’s pretty much a cliche at this point, but Harley trademarked the sound of their engine, right?

And wasn’t Braun leading the way with some people dedicated to the design of their shaver design sounds a number of years ago?

With new technology, high quality sounds are becoming much easier to add to products and many designers are adding them without studying the perception of sound first. It’s important to find out how the sound of the product may or may not fit into its user’s environment.

Google search Richard H. Lyon “Product Sound Quality-from Perception to Design” to get an informative PDF file.

There is a Sonic Design course listing at NYU that gives an excellent overview.
NYU ITP Program Sonic Design Course Syllabus link:

The World Forum for Acoustic Ecology is a good resource as well:

I don’t have web info on using sound in user feedback, but I know that presenting audio recordings of user interviews paired with visual displays is highly effective.

Good luck with your studies,

Member of The New York Society for Acoustic Ecology
acoustic ecology: the study of the sonic layer of the natural and man-made environment.

This is the Richard Sapper tea kettle for Allessi. The story I heard was that he listened to a particular train pass his home every day and spent months trying to recreate that distinct sound with the whistles on his tea kettle…

Other very distinctive sounds that we all hear every day is the windows startup and shutdown sounds by Brian Eno ( Windows 95 I believe… ), then some other artists like Robert Frisk Shows | Microsoft Docs

Branding through sound design…

tom hardy has just completed sound and smell branding work for samsung, i imagine its proprietary though…

Sound design and “Psychoakkustik” are used in diffrent industries. The most popular is the automotive industry. In this field the obvious goal is noise reduction. Besides that the sound designers take care of the emotional appeal of engine or even door sounds. Other examples for sound in industrial design are shavers or vaccuum cleaners. Here, the sound gives the users feedback: If there is a specific crunching sond while usuing a razor or if there is a clicking sound inside the vacuum cleaner’s tube the user knows, that the “job” is not done propperly yet. Besides that, sound design is also used in the food industry. What kind sound makes the plastic bag of sandwich toast? What kind of sound makes the bag used for potato crisps? Why is there a diffrence?

Two companys that do research in this field exspecially for the automotive industry are AVL: and

For a first approach to literature and other researchers see:

Our medical devices must meet specific standards for alarm tones (specific frequencies etc.) Recognizing these sounds is a matter of life and death (hence the standards) but at the same time the standards make all the devices sound alike! Clinicians face “alarm fatigue” and the poor patients suffer from the awful noises.

PS: I’m looking for a skilled sound designer that can help out, so if you know anyone, email me!

Some good posts here.

Idler and Sonic both highlight areas where substantial amounts of work has been conducted.

As with so much experiential design/development the key is in understanding who your intended user is, and this invariably comes down to running evaluation studies. One size does not fit all, so care must be taken in making generalisations about effectiveness of visual + audio etc. Perception is rarely - if ever - dependent on just one sense.

Incidentally, there is a department here at Warwick University also involved in this kind of sound research.

…seems to me that a music composer might be a great consultant for a sonic development project…they are expert at human responce to tonal stimuli.

That might depend on what the project is. Experts in certain fields tend to pick up on details that wouldn’t be discernable for end users. If the extra cost of implementing an expert’s views are negligible, then it makes sense to try and attain the best you can. If on the other hand it costs a great deal to gain the last 1% then this has to be weighed up against the potential benefits of doing so.

transportation and cars have always been one of the main people concerned with the sounds that are made. Segway makes sures its motor hums in harmonics, car engines have a sound signature…

the honda civic ad is banking on sounds too…