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A good acoustic environment that interacts with the visual design and provides a meaningful overall experience is important for our health and well-being. But getting there is, to say the least, a balancing act, with both external and internal factors influencing us.

Designing sounds / What research can teach us about the acoustic environment

Reducing noise levels is part of creating a good acoustic environment, but it is far from enough. In particular, it is important to remember that our perception of the acoustic environment is subjective and influenced by our past experiences and individual preferences. This is where it gets tricky.

Two people in the same acoustic environment may experience it differently due to different focus on sound sources, preconceptions and previous experience of the sounds in the acoustic environment or different activities that influence their experience.

For example, a person performing tasks requiring high concentration in an open office environment may find a certain noise level disturbing, while another person performing less cognitively demanding tasks in the same environment may not be affected in the same way. 

Time to leave the traditional behind

Many workplaces, especially those with open-plan offices, face challenges when it comes to the acoustic environment. Traditional approaches that focus on decibel levels and eliminating distracting noise can lead to an overly quiet environment that is not beneficial to productivity or well-being. Research shows that an optimal acoustic environment requires a balance of features to suit both group and individual needs. This needs to be taken into account when planning and designing acoustic environments.

The acoustic environment affects our experience in an individual and subjective way. However, conventional methods for measuring and evaluating acoustic environments often fail to take this into account.

A complex solution

We need to be more aware of people's needs and preferences when working with acoustic environments. There is no universal solution that works for everyone, we need to create an acoustic environment adapted to different activities and individual needs.

It is not enough just to reduce noise levels, it is also important to create an environment that is adapted to the people working there. An acoustic environment that is not designed with these factors in mind can disrupt the work environment and negatively affect productivity and well-being.

Interplay for a healthy environment

To create a healthy and pleasant working environment, it is important to take a holistic approach to design. For example, insufficient lighting can affect how we perceive the acoustic environment. And if a workplace is too visually stimulating, it can lead to sensory overload and a stressful working environment.

That's why it's important to create a visual design that complements the acoustic environment and promotes productivity and well-being. Textile elements, and not just sound absorbers in the ceiling, for example, are a material that adds both function and visual harmony. A dynamic element that breaks, frames or complements.

A good work environment design – created from a clear concept of shapes, colours and sound absorption, but also with a space for sound – takes into account how all elements interact to create an overall experience that is healthy and pleasant to be in.

We need to start seeing, feeling AND listening to realise if it sounds good.

The article is written by Martin Ljungdahl Eriksson, a doctoral student in informatics with a focus on work-integrated learning, who is researching the use of sound as a design element to influence experiences and behaviour.

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