Those of you who know me personally know that I’m half deaf. It’s not really a source of embarrassment or even significant difficulty. Often, it’s quite hilarious. (Jokes involving ”can you hear me now?” verizon commercials, or what’s been designated the “Tim move” wherein I move you to my right side so I can hear you.) But it’s often easy to forget how powerful the gift of a sense can be.
Any product you interact with, whether an addictive “I should be working” website or a simple can opener, caters to your senses. Meaning, someone on the other end of your use as the consumer had to intelligently design and be considerate of your specific needs. I used to think product design was easy; as consumers it’s easy to be critical. It’s probably the hardest part of my job so far. Once you’ve doven into your project, you no longer can view it objectively.
Well this post is about one simple feature and consideration Apple made and just how powerful such a feature can be.
I usually only listen with one headphone in, since only one ear works well anyways. When I went to adjust the sound settings on my mac, one of the prominent settings is the left-right pan. Maybe PC’s have this too, or maybe there’s an external app that might let me control how much volume goes into each ear, but it was one of the few settings I could change in the mac sound settings — I couldn’t not notice it.
So I decided to jack up the volume into my left (deaf) ear as loud as it could go. And while my hearing is nearly non-existent in that ear, the volume was high enough that it vibrated the bones in my ear, bypassing my defective ear canal. In short, I could hear. (To preempt suggestion for hearing-aids, they don’t work well for my type of hearing loss. I’ve tried.)
I began panning back and forth between left and right and for one of the first times in my life, I felt I had directional sense (this is what you lose when you only have one good ear), a taste of what hearing what two ears must be like. The emotional response was unexpected, but how odd it must have looked to see someone tearing up with near giddiness at the joy of a pan function.
Now this is definitely an extreme case, but I share it to illustrate a single point. Your design matters.