Sound design for intuitive navigation in medical equipment
as part of a holistic Sound Identity used in all touch-points

  • Client:Olympus
  • Work Area:Technical | Healthcare
  • Service:Product Sonification
  • Year:2016
  • Agency:Direkt


We are proud to have been awarded a red dot design award for the Olympus Sound Design for their range of cameras. The sound identity has since been extended to products in the medical division (among others, in the “Thunderbeat ©”, which is an award winning surgical cutting-device).

Besides providing an intuitive and esthetic system for providing the user with auditory status information, it was possible to provide a measurable increase in quality perception. This was achieved by creating a new information category for reducing the amount of warning signals. As well as harmonizing with other Olympus sound communications, the whole medical product range is being up-dated to be recognizable and familiar by operators of other Olympus medical equipment 

About the client 

Olympus is a manufacturer of optical and digital equipment which was founded in Japan in 1919. Besides cameras and voice recorders, their products include endoscopes, microscopes and other medical and industrial equipment.

The task 

The navigational sounds in Olympus medical equipment was previously provided by standard “beep” sounds from a common sound generator, which was tune mathematically instead of musically, giving it an unpleasant “out-of-tune” feeling. Also, some of the information was poorly understandable, which lead to the need of a total redesign. The challenge was not only to improve navigation but to also create recognisablity The task was to solve the problems and increase the intuitive properties of the navigational sound, while tying it into the Olympus Corporate Sound design.

OLYMPUS Product Sonification

01 Step: Simplification 

The Sound Navigation Systems were updated and it was prescribed that they be identical in all models. To ensue that the sound signals were kept at an absolute minimum, the operations were grouped into sound categories Clear and understandable sounds were assigned to each mode of operation (eg. cut or coagulation), which has made usage much more intuitive.

OLYMPUS has a large range of medical equipment Some products were not developed directly by Olympus, which lead to the navigational sounds being different in some models. This showed an obvious need for uniformity.

02 Step: Sound Signal Perception

We were made aware that OLYMPUS medical equipment was considered to generate an uncommonly large amount of warning signals. Even in situations where there was no apparent need for an alarm, the equipment would emit high volume warning sounds. This gave the impression that the equipment was either difficult to operate or was constantly malfunctioning, which consequently lead to a negative perception of the quality of the equipment.

The DIN EN 60601-1-8 / IEC 60601-1-8:2006 provides clear specifications for Alarm/Error sounds. They are required by law to have specific warning characteristics and they cannot be switched off.

Our research showed that in many of the situations in which these alarms were sounding , there was no error or malfunction as defined in the DIN norms. The equipment was in fact just providing information - important information, but no cause for an alarm. The solution was to create a new information group of sounds which could use the more friendly product navigation sound pallet and not have to use high volume warning signals. This instantly reduced the number of alarm signals and significantly increased the perception of reliability and quality.

03 Step: Tuning

The current generator models use sinus tones as signals.
For each function of the generator, one or more numeric Hertz values are defined. 
The seal & cut sound of thunderbeat for example was a modulation between two tones of 250Hz and 500Hz.

The modulation was „in tune“, because the two values given (250/500Hz) form a clean octave in relation to each other.

The corresponding end signal, however, defined with 980Hz, was a tone, that hence is slightly out-of-tune in relation to the seal & cut sound (should be 1000Hz for a clear octave).

Furthermore, the relation between the different functions eg. „seal & cut“ and "seal sound" was as well out of tune (250/500Hz vs. 440Hz)

The solution to this was to consider the tuning of real instruments, such as a piano. On a piano all tones relate to each other and are as well defined by numeric Hertz values:

Following this concept all generator sounds were tuned in relation to each other to avoid the perception of out-of-tune sounds.

04 Step: Advanced Tuning

Considering the start up tone of the generators (the Olympus Sound Logo) the concept of „tuning the generator“ was enhanced further.

The Olympus Sound Logo provides a so called „root note“ in terms of tuning (an A4 concert pitch - 440Hz) as well as a scale (A-major).

This provides the possibility to tune all generator sounds corresponding to the root note of the Olympus Sound Logo. Thereby the generator behaves like a real instrument, playing each tone within a fitting Olympus scale that leads to a consistent perception of Olympus in all touch points.

The concept of tuning provides several positive effects:

• out-of-tune sounds are perceived negatively
• tuning the generator bases on a major-scale leads to a more positive and likeable sound perception
• enhanced feeling of quality


Olympus Thunderbeat Product Preview

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