Never underestimate the power of sound to make a space function successfully

Acoustics may not always be at the top of the priority list when designing a building. But, underestimate the power of sound and you could be paving the way for serious issues that will impact the way the people inside work and live. Signbox’s Sarah Askari, Business Development Manager, takes a closer look at sound and how we can make its impact on our people and places a positive one.

Why positive acoustic design is as important as aesthetics when it comes to the success of a building

It’s easy to underestimate the importance of the acoustics of a space, yet, when you’re designing a building or space, aesthetics should take the same priority as its functionality and sustainability to ensure it will work as it should. In the same way, when designing a shared space, it’s imperative to create an acoustic environment that serves its intended purpose whilst meeting the needs of those living or working within it.

What is sound?

Sound is a pressure wave that’s created by a vibrating object. These audible vibrations are transmitted as sound waves, which comprise areas of both high and low air pressure and travel through the air to the ear. The stronger the vibrations, the louder the sound, but controlling the sound isn’t just about reducing it. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about the noise, although you can control the sound itself by manipulating what happens to the sound once it leaves the source.

Sound waves outside can move around freely as they have limited obstacles to bounce off. However, inside there are walls, furniture, glass and other materials and hard surfaces that a sound wave can bounce off, which is why it always seems so much nosier inside compared to outside. Therefore we should carefully consider the type of surfaces we have in the space, mixing hard and soft textures to help with acoustics and choosing materials for the walls that will absorb the sound and not reflect it.

“Acoustical design is about material quality and material position. Treatment should be selected first for the acoustics, and second for the aesthetics.”

Dr Naglaa Sami Adbel Aziz Mahmoud

How do materials absorb sound?

Absorption refers to the process that occurs when a sound wave is absorbed by an object or material it encounters and then transforms into heat energy within that object or material. How much energy is absorbed or continues to travel onward depends on the thickness and nature of the material. Too little absorption causes sound to reflect. It can also be absorbed or captured by porous treatment materials, which can be installed on ceilings, floors, walls or be integrated in furnishings and other objects in a space to diminish the amount of reflection in a space.

Sound and the post-pandemic workplace

As we all return to ‘normal’ life in the post-pandemic world, the way we work and run our businesses has shifted dramatically – probably forever. Employees are still favouring a more hybrid working environment, opting for part-home-part-office working. Although most people were desperate to begin working face-to-face and collaborating again, we all got used to a quiet workspace where we could really focus, and this makes it hard to readjust.

The office environment can be a bustling, vibrant and energising space, but it can also be overwhelming and stressful if it’s too noisy. Considering there may be less furniture now due to hot desking and areas with lots of glass and hard surfaces, the acoustics could be very poor. Making Teams calls can be tricky in the office as it’s hard to hear the people you’re talking to and it can be difficult to focus with colleagues interrupting. With all these factors to consider, if the space has poor acoustics, it’s not surprising work can become unbearable. This isn’t to say being together in the workplace isn’t hugely beneficial to everyone’s wellbeing and productivity but, to get the best out of it, it’s imperative that our surroundings help us thrive and don’t hinder us.

The health implications of poor acoustics

We now have data that poor acoustics can be extremely damaging to our wellbeing and health and, with two years working from home on our own in lockdown, this has only exasperated the issue. There are so many loud noises in the office environment to deal with, from colleagues chatting to phones ringing – and prolonged exposure to this loud noise is proven to cause spikes in our blood pressure and heart rate; surprisingly, this causes us more stress than work deadlines and office politics. Sound is often something we may not even realise is causing us so much stress. 

A survey of 1000 UK office-based workers was undertaken bythe Remark Group and leading environmental psychologist, Dr Nigel Oseland. The survey revealed 65% of workers say noise impacts their ability to complete work in an accurate and timely manner while 58% say noise has a high impact on their stress levels in the workplace.

Dr Nigel Oseland, an honorary senior lecturer at UCL’s Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering, says:

“Remark’s research shows that noise is the biggest cause of dissatisfaction in the modern workplace, along with an associated loss of performance, increased stress and poorer wellbeing.”

This research really illustrates how important it is to create a positive acoustic environment that nurtures a happy, healthy and productive workforce. Essentially, when designing a new space, acoustics are as important as aesthetics if you want the space to function successfully.

We’re making noise about acoustics at Signbox

At Signbox, we understand the benefits of creating positive acoustic environments in the workplace and have successfully incorporated this activity into our signage design and environmental graphics work. We’ve been using a 100% recyclable and FSC certified acoustic wallcovering that’s not only sustainable, vibrant and beautiful with an extensive range of colours, patterns and biophilic designs, but it also dramatically improves the acoustics of a space with excellent sound absorption.

Take a read of our insights to find out more. https://www.signbox.co.uk/resource/insights/sustainability/

We’ve also been working with clients and architects to educate them on the materials that are available in the market, which can offer excellent acoustic benefits and are also highly sustainable and aesthetically pleasing. This forms part of the RIBA certified CPD we are offering on “Innovation in Materials, Sustainability and Systems”.

If you’d like help creating a positive acoustic and environmentally friendly signage scheme or would like to book a time slot to attend our CPD and learn more on this interesting topic, please get in touch with neil@signbox.co.uk or click this link https://www.signbox.co.uk/resource/product-knowledge/cpd-knowledge-hub/

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