This Design Practice Focuses On The One Sense Most People Ignore

Designers tend to ignore sound, but Yuri Suzuki’s studio is built around it.

Design’s primary sense is indisputably sight, but for the Japanese designer Yuri Suzuki, hearing is just as important. “One fascinating thing is that hearing itself is the closest sense to the brain. It’s more effective than sight,” Suzuki says. “It is really powerful and has to be really carefully designed. But it’s totally invisible and the effect is so difficult to prove, so it hasn’t been investigated for a long time.”


[Photo: Rosie Harriet Ellis/courtesy Yuri Suzuki]
Suzuki runs an eponymous sound design studio in London, where he creates experimental instruments and sound installations for companies like Disney and Google. His musical platform Ototo lets you play music using any object that conducts electricity, like pots, pans, fruits, and vegetables. Another project, Looks Like Music, features a robot that drives along lines it identifies on paper, playing different notes depending on what color users scribble over its track. As designer-in-residence at the Design Museum in 2012, he created a radio out of a circuit board modeled on the London Underground. Now, he’s writing a book about sound design and its psychological impacts, in an attempt to codify this area of design.

Suzuki, who is dyslexic, started his career as a musician but struggled to read conventional music notation. Many of his musical inventions are deliberately designed to be accessible to anyone who can’t read traditional sheet music.

[Photo: AkioFukushima/courtesy Yuri Suzuki]
While in London, I spent some time with Suzuki at his studio, where we discussed sound design and he demonstrated how his accessible instruments work. Before long, I was using the AR Music Kit he developed for Google to strum chords using nothing but a piece of cardboard and some Post-its.

If Suzuki’s vision for the future of music and sound design comes to pass, then anyone–even those with learning disabilities–can join the band.


About the author

Katharine Schwab is the deputy editor of Fast Company's technology section. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable