Sound & The New Design

Graphic designers can no longer work in silence. Open your ears and hear the music. Sound is one of the important new components in the designer’s expanding tool box. This Summer I am involved in a new four week workshop devoted to music and audio production, creation and editing. 21st Century Sound Design: Music and Audio Production in the Digital Age is directed by John Carlin, co-founder of Funny Garbage and Red Hot & Blue, the program will surround the student with walls of sound. I asked Carlin to explain why this approach is unique.

Sound is obviously a medium to be reckoned with. How do you plan on introducing sound that is different from other programs?
Sound is so ubiquitous that we often don’t stop to notice what is good bad or indifferent about it. This program is designed to focus on the aesthetics of sound design–from the music we choose to hear to the bleeps and barks we tolerate. The goal is to get creative people from various disciplines to understand how sound is a critical component of their work. And and why it must evolve to create new work in the multimedia digital era.

So then, what are the biggest challenges involved around designing with sound?
When you started to develop a history of graphic design, I imagine you had to devise a new set of criteria to establish what determined authorship and quality in a field that was both omnipresent and fairly invisible. Sound design is currently the poor stepchild to other forms of design that are more visible and celebrated. So, one has to first establish what sound design is relative to other forms of media expression. And then what makes it good or bad. Finally, how does one apply a sense of formal criteria to improve and elevate the disciple as a whole.

Speaking of criteria, can there be good sound and bad sound? And then, how do you know?
Obviously ‘good’ ‘bad’ and indifferent are a matter of taste and opinion. At the same time, subjecting sound design to a programmatic approach in the context of a visual art school is an attempt to develop a basic framework with with to judge and build upon what makes sound design ‘good.’ In the end it will be the same as any aesthetic category – a certain level of professional skill mixed with creative inspiration that allows artistic expression to develop new forms and connect with people in a profound and emotional way.

For the designer (and the receiver) what is the ultimate goal of sound design?
The first goal of sound design is to improve the audio dimension of our world in terms of both industrial production and personal expression. The second goal is to understand how the layered way in which sound is constructed and consumed is an important tool in developing the overall identity of 21st century digital culture.

Learn more here.

4 thoughts on “Sound & The New Design

  1. David Hackett (neon_candle)

    Good comments from Mindy and Amy, on your respective approaches. I am also a graphic designer working in illustration and typography and I have been recently keenly aware of my listening environment and surroundings when I am working. We know the physics of sound as combination of frequency and amplitude, the same way color/visual theory has been explained, then we can also consider them to function in correlation to eachother. I often think of the types of ambient sounds (perhaps music) that designers and artists through history had playing in their studio when they worked. Did Saul Bass listen to Basie, for instance?
    I try to apply the same consideration of anything I chose to ‘put on’ and in my ears when designing as it will no doubt have an effect on aesthetic/organizing choices I make in the piece. Be it a podcast, the bbc news radio, Parisian jazz, or ambient dub-step. Like Amy, I believe that sometimes silence is golden. It reminds me of story of composer John Cage in the perfect silence engineering room at Harvard where he could hear the blood pumping in his own veins. Cage’s collection of lectures and writings on sound and its construction/happening, aptly titled ‘Silence’ is an excellent book on how to begin thinking about sound design and its everyday occurrence and interaction with us.
    dh in sf       

  2. Amy Purdie

    I do all the things that Mindy A does. 
    I also like to work listening to music, but not all the time. Now I’ve started thinking about it, I suppose music is a source of inspiration without me realising it before. It can really help me to focus. I tend to have phases of listening to music while designing in a way that I don’t when I’m not designing, where I’ll only listen to one artist over and over again, and generally to music without words. At the moment John Fahey is my music of choice. it’s soothing and beautiful and easy to work to.
    Other times though I don’t want any music at all, sometimes complete silence is the best thing. I suppose it depends on what I’m working on and maybe how I’m feeling, so that first line “Graphic designers can no longer work in silence” isn’t quite true for me. 

  3. Mindy A

    This is one topic I can never understand. I’m a graphic designer myself and I happen to be deaf. For inspiration to designing something and to get ideas (without music), I research about something I’m working on. Also, I go to look at other people’s work for inspiration and to help me think up new ideas of my own. Don’t feel sorry for me but there are always many ways than just music to develop new ideas, inspiration, etc. 

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