Sound & The New Design

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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.


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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →