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Cynthia Wisehart on Audio and UX

Can audio engineers and UX design students work it out?

The theme this month is education. In my travels I came across an education story that I really liked. I wrote about it on page 37 of the print issue. It struck me because it captures the changing user dynamic as younger people grow up with devices, taking signal quality for granted (when they even notice it) and assuming an ease of signal distribution that just a few years ago was not really possible.

Where we gnashed our teeth over pixilation, latency, and bad EQ, they rail against inconvenience—expecting interfaces to flow with their thoughts just like we wanted music and pictures to flow without artifacts. A fluent, intuitive user experience is their definition of clarity—sound and picture, not so much.

I’m generalizing, but not to be critical. I am just aware as a high school mom of the shifting definition of what the AV experience should be. And I like my convenience too. I’ve convinced myself that my Amazon Tap sounds pretty good for certain acoustic tracks, maybe some jazz. It doesn’t really, but I can pick it up, walk outside and sit by the pond. I can’t do that with my gorgeous cherrywood Tannoy towers. They have to stay inside.

So when I heard that Bogen had engaged University of Central Florida computer science students to collaborate with them on the UX for their new software-based product, I wanted to know how it went. It sounds like it was hard—in a good way.

It sounds like hardware engineers and software students had to negotiate. They misunderstood each other, they argued, they tried other ways. Egos got bruised, people felt like they might not have always been appreciated or their expertise understood. It also sounds like it worked out.

I like thinking that these gaps can close around AV, and that students—who are users of AV—are now also designers of AV products. I still wonder if these up and coming designers will ever really care about the glaring differences in signal quality that I care about. Maybe. I went in a small boutique last week, and a little Bose shelf speaker (positioned directly behind a tin pail) was doing an amazing job of filling the candle-scented room. I asked the teenage shop girl about it and her eyes lit up. “It’s the best speaker I’ve ever heard!” she said with genuine excitement. I was sad that it was the best speaker she had ever heard, but I was encouraged by her enthusiasm. Maybe convenience won’t be the only thing that matters after all.

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