Margareta Andersson Sound architect and founder of Lexter Sound Design in Stockholm Credit: Lexter

The value of sound design in retail

“Architecture, construction and floor plans set parameters for the experience of a room, and they also set conditions for the acoustics and natural sound environment that is created when people are in that space.”

By Margareta Andersson

A good sound environment is important–no matter what type of space. Sound affects us 24 hours a day and the difference between a pleasant, well-designed sound environment and an unpleasant, noisy sound environment can be crucial. Both when it comes to the overall experience of the space, but also when it comes to health.

Retail spaces and shopping malls are complex environments, not only housing customers that are to be welcomed and inspired to spend time and consume in that environment.Another important group in this environment is the staff, in some retail spaces working many hours per day–therefore the space they spend most of their waking hours in. A good sound design should target both customers and staff, making sure they experience “The right sound, at the right place, for the right person”. This is Lexter’s philosophy and promise when it comes to sound design. In the same way that furnishing and lighting can set an atmosphere and ambience in a room–so can sound. The right sound adds a dimension that strengthens your positive impression. Used in the right way, sound can be a bearer of communication and information. Sound can surprise you, make you alert, encourage you to shop more, or simply make you feel good. 

This is quite a big promise, so how is it managed? When designing a sound environment, a lot of things must be taken into consideration. We have listed three examples below.

Firstly, the customer flow: Retail spaces have their yearly cycles with different customer flows and marketing calendars, making it a living and dynamic environment. A good sound environment should follow these dynamics, during the day, week and year to make sure it’s always tailored to the present.

Secondly, the physical preconditions of a space: All spaces are unique. Architecture, construction, and floor plans set parameters for the experience of a room, and they also set conditions for the acoustics and natural sound environment that is created when people are in that space. Some existing sounds in a space are pleasant and should be part of the experience while noise and other unpleasant sounds are undesired. Some noisy sounds can even have serious negative effects on our health. With a well-developed sound design you can not only adjust the experience of a room, e.g. make a space feel more open, lighter or cleaner. You can also affect the interpretation of the sound environment, or a noisy sound and create a more positive experience. An example of how differently the same sound can be interpreted is found here:

Thirdly, the experience: As well as working with graphic profiles for brands or visual designs, a well-designed audio branded sound experience is a perfect tool to enhance both the brand in the physical environment and the visual design expression. In comparison to e-commerce, a physical space has a natural advantage and possibility to create a welcoming, comfy feeling–where the sound environment of course is an important dimension. You can find two examples with audio branded sound experiences in shopping malls here:

Gallerian Sound Design

Mood Stockholm Sound Design

Although there are a lot of possibilities and advantages when implementing and maintaining a good sound environment, the sound dimension in a space is often forgotten or not prioritized. Below we have listed five important keys for a good sound design:

  • Create a line in the budget called “Sound Environment”.
  • Find out who you are in the terms of sound–and what you’re not.
  • Make sure to design the sound environment for all type of target groups in the environment. Don’t forget the staff.
  • Analyze the dynamic cycles of the day, week and year and tailor the experience accordingly.
  • Team up with a good partner within sound.
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