How do they work? An analysis of the creative process in Sound Design obtained through an online questionnaire

Nicolas Donin and I will be presenting our talk “How do they work? An analysis of the creative process in Sound Design obtained through an online questionnaire” on behalf of our team, at the next Tracking the Creative Process in Music in Lisbon (10-11 October 2019).

Laura Zattra, Nicolas Misdariis, Frank Pecquet, Nicolas Donin and David Fierro.


Professional practices related to sound design are not new, but they were only recognized as such during the last century. While sound design practices do not equally describe professional activities worldwide, they nevertheless may well relate to a specific research field in design sciences. As such sound design covers different domains: visual and digital arts, cinema and TV, architecture and urban environment, advertising, ecology and acoustic regulation, industry, communication and marketing. However, despite a permanent interest as shown in specialised publications – magazines, blogs, podcasts, etc. -, in academia – literature dedicated to historical, practical, epistemological issues and different collaborative research projects such as Sonic Interaction Design (Rocchesso et al. 2008) -, and despite the concentration of studies on artefacts and products, more insight discussions with regard to concrete sound design practices and actors engaged in such practices are necessary to better determine how sound designers work.

Our project is called “Analysis of Sound Design Practices” [ASDP] (March 2018-February 2019, with ongoing researches and results). It is based upon the analysis of sound design practices to enlighten the sound design features as well as that of Sound Designers’ in Europe.[1] By taking into account sociological, geographical and historical issues, the project analyses sound design practices from artistic, technical and scientific perspectives. ASDP project framework relies on Nigel Cross’ concepts in his “Designerly ways of knowing” (2007) study by dividing three “sources” for research in design – «people», «processes» and «products».

The ASDP project explores the first aspect – «people» -, including articles and literature on the topic, products investigations and, to a certain extent, single practices and/or specific sound design project. It is laying on specific data: web documentation, an online questionnaire, interviews and analytical results. Our research methodology, literature involving a theoretical framework, questions related to terminology and translation of the expressions “sound design” and “sound designer”, and preliminary results of the online questionnaire have been discussed in (Zattra et al. 2018).

In this communication, the ASDP team will expose the results obtained in relation to the second and third part of the questionnaire launched in July 2018 and closed October 31th, 2018. 108 participants answered for 450 emails sent (a 24% result). Analysis methodology is based both on quantitative and qualitative data (closed and open questions). The questionnaire took into account some preliminary hypotheses of general matters to be investigated (creative working strategies, skills, tasks, workflows, psychological, information technology, cognitive, socio-economic know-how, musical and aesthetical talents, self-evaluation, career development, age, training, typical experiences, nationality and contextual issues). The method of data analysis is based on “grounded theory” (Glazer and Strauss 1967), a method that allows interpretation of observed (coded and afterward categorized) data without predetermined preconceptions.

We will present sound designers’ modus operandi, with regard to the interdisciplinary background proper to the sound designer’s profile, and the fact that in most cases it (still) is (and might always be) a self-taught profession, with shared knowledge between other professionals and/or protagonists of the “learned by doing” process inherent to design methods. On the other hand, tables containing analytical results (history and age groups of the profession) show that the sound design activity benefits from new specialized training courses, which are flourishing in the different countries. We will discuss the sound designers’ working positions as well – role and recognition, timeframe and communication with the main actors (duration of a project / phases), typical communication strategy and working methods (brainstorming, development, testing, revisions), personal archival of a project, hardware and software environments, technical features in collecting sound. Skills required in sound design practice are heterogeneous, and the results obtained tend to indicate that so far there is no standardization (every participant indicates his/her own specific expertise).


Bibliographical references

  • Cross Nigel: Designerly ways of knowing, Springer Science & Business Media, 2007 pp. 125-126.
  • Glaser Barney, Strauss Anselm, The Discovery of Grounded Theory, New Brunswick – London, Aldine Transaction, 1967.
  • Rocchesso, D., Serafin, S., Behrendt, F., Bernardini, N., Bresin, R., Eckel, G., … & Visell, Y. (2008, April). Sonic interaction design: sound, information and experience. In CHI’08 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems(pp. 3969-3972).
  • Zattra Laura, Misdariis Nicolas, Frank Pecquet, Nicolas Donin, David Fierro, “Analysis of Sound Design Practices [ASDP]. Research Methodology”, Proceedings of the XII CIM (Colloquio di Informatica Musicale), Udine (Italy), 20-23 November 2018.


[1] The team comprises members from the LABEX CAP (Création, Arts et Patrimoines); the ACTE Institute (Arts Creation Theory Aesthetics); IRCAM’s APM (Analysis of Musical Practices) and SPD (Sound Perception and Design) teams.


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