Julian Treasure has a really interesting TED talk.

He uses a newly built school in England as an example.

It’s a beautiful piece of modern architecture.

It cost £35 million and has acres of glass everywhere.

Windows, walls, doors, plus an impressive central glass atrium.

It’s stunning example of the latest in design.

There’s just one problem.

The students can’t hear the teachers.

Glass reverberates more than almost any other material.

So the teacher’s voices are lost in the reverberations.

So no teaching can take place in that school.

Bit of a problem.

It will cost £600,000 to put in new noise-reducing walls.

Walls that don’t look as beautiful as the glass.

But walls that allow the school to the job it was intended for.

For teachers to teach students.

John Treasure wonders why we do that.

Why we design things that look good but don’t work.

He calls it the tyranny of the eyes.

Vision overrides everything, and yet sound is often much more important.

The current trend for open-plan offices makes space look bigger.

But sound is vastly increased.

Productivity in open-plan offices is reduced by as much as 60%.

In hospitals, noise levels have doubled in the last ten years.

So have errors, like prescribing the wrong medicines.

In retail, the wrong ambient sound can reduce sales by 30%.

Ignoring sound is what he calls the tyranny of the eyes.

We design without thinking about sound.

In advertising, we are as guilty as anyone.

Oversimplifying, there are three kinds of media:

Radio – ears only

Print – eyes only

TV/online – eyes and ears

Oversimplifying again, the benefits of eye-based media are:

1)   Appetite appeal

2)   Logo or pack recognition

The benefits of ear-based media are:

1)   Don’t have to be looking at it

2)   The message is portable in the mind

3)   It can go viral

So, naturally, it makes sense to choose your medium according to different criteria.

If you really want to go viral, it’s harder in an eyes-only medium.

Viral is about getting into the language.

You pass on jokes and phrases, you sing tunes and whistle songs.

That’s why music works so well, music bears repetition.

There are entire radio stations based on playing the same songs.

If you’re using TV, you can choose eyes or ears.

But too many people default to eyes-only.

The soundtrack is just there as decoration for the picture.

Even the message is just a tiny, silent super at the end.

To intrude as little as possible.

And that’s exactly what it does: it doesn’t intrude so it doesn’t get noticed.

And you have a beautiful, decorative ad with nothing to take away.

No message, no words, no sounds, nothing to hum or repeat.

Everyone thinks the job of an ad is to be cool.

Well sometimes it is, with fashion brands.

But more often, it’s just a case of not thinking.


Usually it’s the tyranny of the eyes.