This week we were asked to get out into the world to observe people’s natural behaviors, tendencies, inclinations, frustrations and pitfalls interacting with some…thing.
A microphone is an interactive, digital tool.
Interactive because it’s a physical device that we input information or action (in this case speaking) and it returns information or feedback (hopefully not the deafening, high-pitched kind) to us. Tool because it takes a natural ability that we have and literally amplifies it. It augments both our vocal and aural abilities. Digital because it’s translating our analog audio signals into zeros and ones in order for other parts of the system to be able to use.
It’s a common scene. A flustered speaker in the spotlight. Awkward silence as they turn the mic over in their hands. Hushed whispers off stage as a technician is summoned. The mic being passed like a race baton back and forth. The mic belly-up in someone’s hand, their fingernail scratching at the tiny nub of a button on the bottom.
This isn’t how microphones should operate. They should be as intuitive as speaking itself. Natural. Seamless. An extension of our thoughts. There are a couple simple fixes that would make the common handheld microphone easier to use.
One, a more obvious “on/off” indicator. Instead of a dim red LED on the polar opposite of the place you’re naturally holding upright, maybe a LED ring on the handle or attached to the ring around ubiquitous metal mesh covering the sensitive electronics up to. The indicator should be obvious enough that as it’s passed from person to person (or as it’s approached from off stage) it is readily apparent if it’s hot or not. A eye-catching indicator light might also help hold people’s attention longer, by naturally drawing people’s eyes to the speaker’s mouth. (This sounds weird, but I’ve always noticed that my hearing seems to improve when I’m listening to someone and looking at their mouths form the words.)
Two, don’t make it rocket science to equalize the output. Yes, of course, there’s an art and a science to getting the sound right. But when we’re talking a college lecture hall or some on a smaller scale than a Beyonce concert, it makes sense that it should be as easy to operate as possible. Here I’m thinking about whatever audio-tech has been shrunk down to fit into smart phones. There must be some auto-equalizing going on to make your voice come through clearly and not too loudly.
Using a microphone might not be the most common interaction in the world, but I there’s still room for improvement.