Image credit: Flappiefh has dedicated this work into the public domain
by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition
Our own Dr. Fink wrote about this fascinating article in the New York Times concerning new labelling of junk foods in one of the world’s most overweight nations, Chile. The use of the classic octagonal STOP sign as the shape of these labels is absolutely brilliant as it telegraphs nonverbally, the powerful message to STOP and THINK. Using the same shape for labels on extremely noisy products would surely have an effect on peoples’ awareness that noise is now recognized as a public health problem.
I should add that abundant research was done in the European Union before the recent launch of a noise-awareness label on many classes of products–from air-conditioners to blenders to chainsaws and industrial equipment. You can see the label pictured above and note that it is very different from the Chilean approach.
As you can see, a noise-rating, stated in decibels (dB) has simply been added to the EU-wide energy label. Piggybacking a noise-rating onto the standardized energy label is an excellent approach to getting the message out about noise pollution in energy-conscious EU countries.
You surely also notice that the EU label is strictly informational, it simply reports the decibel emission level of the product—so it’s not a warning at all. Proponents argue that the EU approach is “market-based” and isn’t “judgmental” at all, i.e., there’s nothing on the label that tells you what noise level may be harmful to your health.
But at least there are now two very different, well-researched examples of how labelling might work on noisy products, the EU’s information-only approach, versus the Chilean warning label approach. So now some researcher can take a look at the big question: do they work?
Some of us remember the excitement that surrounded the semiotically-inspired “universal signage movement” of the 1960-70s–from that movement sprang the ubiquitous signage used all over the world for “bathroom” and “information” and “currency exchange,” etc., and later spurred the development of all of the icons that now litter our mobile devices. If you remember all that, you will certainly recognize that the shape and color of a warning label, like the red octagonal STOP sign or the standard try-color traffic light (red/yellow/green) took years to develop, standardize, and implement worldwide.
Lately, the whole universal sign language movement has gained new life in the UX-User Interface world, where symbols have emerged for everything, including emotional states, i.e., EMOJIs!
In any event, it’s my hope that someone will study the effectiveness of noise warning labels, so that the global noise problem can be addressed in an understandable and effective manner!
David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.