I am sitting in the office this morning trying to decide what to write for my next blogpost and cannot concentrate because the office is full… several people are on the phone and I can’t hear myself think.
An age old problem it seems…
In 1925, an American inventor, Hugo Gernsback published a design for ‘the Isolator’, a creepy-looking helmet that blocked out sound and vision so the user could focus on their work.
As a newspaper explained the problem at the time:
‘Suppose you are sitting in your study or your work room, ready for the task. Even if the window is shut, street noises filter through, and distract your attention…A telephone bell or a doorbell rings somewhere, which is sufficient, in nearly all cases, to stop the flow of thought.’
The helmet was intended to almost completely eliminate noise. Gernsback estimated that the first version, made of solid wood, lined with cork, and covered with felt, would cut out 95% of outside sounds. Another version added a cushion of air to make it even quieter. When he realized that people were getting sleepy under the hood, Gernsback also added an oxygen tank…
A look around any office usually indicates that people use headphones as a solution to the problems of distraction. As well as blotting out the sound of noisy neighbours, headphones serve another useful function... Wearing a pair of prominent earphones shows that the person wearing them doesn’t want to be disturbed. If like me however, you need silence to concentrate this solution is not necessarily much better than the noise from your co-workers….
There are several products on the market that are aimed specifically at giving people somewhere to take them out of the hubbub of the main office. One of the most prominent of these is the Alcove system designed for Vitra by Ronan and Erwin Bouroullec. This type of product is now a staple in offices and testifies not only to the need for us to find some privacy in the office but also the crossover of a less corporate aesthetic in office design.
Sound masking is the addition of an unobtrusive background sound, similar to airflow, often referred to as ‘white noise’. Masking is introduced to help alleviate the effect of noise traffic across the office space. It provides increased privacy for all conversations taking place. (Including reduced distractions for incoming calls as the background conversations across the space are masked). Research shows that there is a 10% improvement in people's ability t o recollect a series of numbers and words after the addition of Sound Masking.
The Return of the Helmet?
Astounding as it may seem there are now products on the market that, at least in part replicate the isolator. I think the most interesting argument here is whether you would in fact sit or stand under these products in order to concentrate… I guess I should give it a go!