by Colleen Fahey
Do you ever feel as if your house is yelling at you? In ours, the appliances seem to have a 2-yr-old’s need to be the center of attention. And they don’t ask for it in their “indoor voices.”
- Our coffee machine gives off five loud, shrill beeps like a utility vehicle backing up to signal the coffee has finished brewing. Why beeps? Why five? It’s so early in the morning. Don’t they know my husband is still asleep?
- We chose our particular stove because Sixième Son had once designed an elegant and spare sonic universe for a line of mobile phones made by the same company. I was sure that meant the manufacturer was delicately sensitive about sound. Wrong! When the oven reaches its targeted temperature, this chatterbox emits six high-pitched industrial beeps.
- Our microwave’s timer is a bit more tuneful but is also in a very high pitch and, if you decide to leave your dish in the oven a little longer, you get to hear it beeping over and over.
- Our dryer emits the most disrespectful sound of the chorus. When the cycle is done, its loud, sustained bla-a-a-at, seems to have been designed to make you feel you did something terribly wrong, like you inadvertently dried a songbird. It startles people in Zoom meetings two rooms away.
- We’ve never managed to change the battery in our smoke detector without setting off an ear-piercing shriek that leaves our ears ringing for hours. Could there be a simple, visible sound-deactivating button that you could press before you respond to the annoying chirps that tell you that you need to change the battery? As any “Friends” fan knows, Phoebe Buffay knows our pain well.
- Last, but not least, our vacuum! Today ours is sleeker and more efficient, but it seems U.S. brands have not yet replaced the loud, space-filling roar that interrupts our conversations and wakes little nappers.
Despite the fact that it plays every 15 minutes, I realized I have no complaints about the grandfather clock that my husband’s father gave us years ago. We’re completely used to it and only notice it when we need to check the time. We’ve set it to play Westminster chimes, a simple acoustic melody using four notes in varied combinations. That’s a design (and Westminster Abbey’s sonic brand) that has stood the test of time.
By the way, I want to compliment the sound design in our Fisher & Paykel dishwasher, which I only bought because of supply chain dilemmas that were troubling more familiar brands. It signals in a companionable volume, not a startling one. Rather than beeping like an emergency alarm system, the tone glides upward in a way that’s not jarring.
These household sounds would benefit from taking inspiration from the Visa or Mastercard payment verification signals, or the sound vocabulary in Shure’s new Aonic Free wireless earbuds. They inform you without alarming you.
One suspects that the appliance designers were left out of the products’ sound design and, sadly, that has a negative impact on the customer experience.