When engineers listen in …

The ‘gling-gling’ of a microwave oven, the ‘click-click’ of a car’s direc­tion indi­ca­tor, the SNCF rail­way sta­tion announce­ment jin­gles … we are all famil­iar with sounds like these that we hear every day, but maybe you did not know that they prob­a­bly were ‘worked on’ by sound design­ers. In order to meet a grow­ing demand for spe­cial­ist engi­neers in this fields, a new CC has been pro­grammed at UTC: Acoustic design engineering. 

This new CC is the result of two mechan­i­cal engi­neer­ing depart­ment spe­cial­ties com­ing togeth­er: Indus­tri­al Design Engi­neer­ing (IDI) and Acoustics and Vibra­tion for Engi­neers (AVI). As Nico­las Dauchez and Christophe Har­bon­nier — who co-head the CC — see the issue: “Sound design has only been touched on so far in engi­neer­ing schools, while we note the very strong demand for exper­tise in numer­ous areas such as trans­porta­tion, urban plan­ning, mul­ti­me­dia, com­mu­ni­ca­tions … Our objec­tive with his new CC is to see our stu­dents become more aware of sounds pro­duced by tech­no­log­i­cal objects and to teach them how to analyse user-expe­ri­ence in this domain.” 

The CC is a com­bi­na­tion of lec­tures on how we per­ceive sounds, how musi­cal instru­ments and the human voice ‘work’, along with ses­sions devot­ed to lis­ten­ing, analysing, cre­at­ing sounds that can be syn­thet­ic (elec­tron­ic or dig­i­tized), in, order to bet­ter under­stand the under­ly­ing structures.. 

Sev­er­al pro­fes­sion­al guest lec­tur­ers came in to share their per­son­al eXpe­ri­ence through­out the semes­ter. The stu­dents were also engaged in case stud­ies, typ­i­cal­ly, e.g., “Imag­ine you are a sound design engi­neer in a com­pa­ny that has decid­ed to bring out a new prod­uct with a con­trolled sound qual­i­ty out­put. You are required to study the com­pe­ti­tion in the mar­ket-place and to pre­pare a sound test for the staff of your com­pa­ny to jus­ge which prod­uct is best appre­ci­at­ed by them”. Dur­ing the semes­ter, the stu­dents also have to cre­ate a sound track for a video and to cre­ate syn­thet­ic sounds for the user interface. 

Why use ‘acoustic’ rather than ‘sound’ design?

The term “acoustic” refers to the phys­i­cal mech­a­nism that under­pins pro­duc­tion of a sound, con­trary to “sound design” which is the sub­ject mat­ter of cours­es taught in art schools. Stu­dent engi­neers are there­fore more sen­si­tive to the way sounds are pro­duced and, more­over, they include mar­ket­ing, cre­ation of sound logos, etc. 

The role of an acoustic designer is to study 

the inter­ac­tion of mate­ri­als and shapes in a mechan­i­cal sys­tem that pro­duces sounds. 

Acoustic design­ers make and analyse mea­sure­ments to deter­mine the per­ceived char­ac­ter­is­tics and also the sound expe­ri­ence for the user/listener.

They con­tribute to research into mechan­i­cal (and/or dig­i­tal solu­tions to be used to attenuate/ abate nose (unpleas­ant sounds). 

Their aim is to see sound con­tribute to the over­all qual­i­ty desired (pro­duc­tion of sounds per­ceived as pleas­ant or com­pli­ant) in coher­ence with a func­tion and/or user desiderata. 

They can also help create/design/shape sounds used to guide users, warn of a dan­ger, and/or con­firm an action, the sound being heard explic­it­ly in this con­text by the user/listener.


A sound may be pro­duced by a phys­i­cal mech­a­nism or by dif­fu­sion of a ‘worked sound’. Both can co-inhab­it, naturally. 

For exam­ple, cer­tain hybrid vehi­cles are equipped with a sys­tem that allows a sound con­ti­nu­ity between the sound pro­duced by the inter­nal com­bus­tion and the elec­tric propul­sion unit. 

Sound design con­tributes to val­oris­ing the sound an object pro­duces, clar­i­fies our com­pre­hen­sion of this sound and the mean­ing attrib­uted to a vocal mes­sage or a sig­nal with a pre­cise function. 

Le magazine

Novembre 2023 - N°61

Activité physique, nutrition & santé

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