One chapter in my Atlas of people who make things is all about ears. I assumed this wouldn’t be a very interesting chapter. There were quite a few surprises though. Ears are used in many ways. And they are not used in many ways as well.
Many people told me they use their ears for listening. Stefanos, a cook, needs his ears to listen to orders, and to listen to the sounds his food makes. Many people use their ears to listen to the people they work with. Their colleagues, their clients, the users of their products, their students. Willemijn added that listening is not enough: you have to observe as well. What people say they do is often not what they really do.
Quite a few people I spoke to are hard of hearing, and in some cases even completely deaf. Marie calls herself Deaf, with a capital D. She was born deaf and she uses her eyes to read lips and to read sign language. Arnold has been turning deaf over the years. This doesn’t affect his work, it does affect his private life though. It gets harder to communicate in crowded places. Since Joost’s one ear is completely deaf he can not hear direction. Some of his students know this and use this to tease him with in class.
Quite a few people do not need their ears for making. They work alone, on their own products, and the things they make don’t use sound. These are people like Kiki who makes things from stuff she finds on the street, or people like Titus who is a programmer, or Arnold who has been researching old Greek manuscripts all his life.
A few people told me that sound does play a role in their work, while they don’t really need it. Joke listens to the sounds of the surroundings while she collects the stones and thingies. Later, when she is making her jewellery, she remembers the sounds of the waves. It’s not an essential part of her work, but it’s there.
Diek is a sculptor. When a work is done it somehow has its own sound. All his sculptures have their own unique sound. Not literally. You don’t have to knock on them to hear it. They look like they have this sound. But this is something that happens after the fact, a side effect. It’s not something he creates on purpose.
Hearing, not ears
Dave and Harold, the two musicians I portrayed surprised me. They both told me they had never thought of their ears. For them it’s not about the ears, it’s about the hearing.
Conclusions and questions
Hearing is used in many, completely different ways. Here are some questions that pop to mind. When I think about user interfaces on the web, how can I use these findings? Here are some conclusions
- Some people are deaf. Interfaces should not depend on sound.
- Some people listen to music while working. Sounds might be annoying.
Here are some questions that I want to investigate further
- Objects look like they have a certain sound. I’d love to investigate this further.
- Can we use sounds to enhance interfaces?
- Are there sounds that are not annoying?