Project Decibel
A UX-design sprint with Andrea Kim and Gloria Kim for a healthcare startup in Chicago. Tools included Sketch, Axure, and Photoshop.
The challenge: How might we help music industry professionals start caring about their hearing wellness and take steps in hearing loss prevention?
Our solution: We designed a digital product built around personalization, transparency, and actionable options to empower music industry professionals to protect their hearing wellness.

Project Context

Jenna and Drew, the founders of Project Decibel, both have doctorates in audiology and are lovers of music and the music industry. They saw countless professionals in the music industry going about their work without any means of hearing protection and not even giving it a second thought. This was a problem. They started Project Decibel to help bridge that gap.
“Hearing wellness is an invisible threat. You don’t see it happening, and it only becomes noticeable when it’s gone.”
– Jenna
Their product aims to provide catered audiological services to professionals in the music industry—musicians and engineers— to help them take care of their hearing wellness by doing the following:
Offer a paid comprehensive hearing test to allow users to get their hearing checked
Connect users to an audiologist specializing in music-hearing loss prevention
Streamline access to customized hearing protection equipment
They approached our team in the early stages of their product development with only a few wireframes built out and a general structure in place. They wanted our team to help validate their selected product features with users, develop detailed wireframes, and build out a working prototype.
I. Research

DIGGING THROUGH
THE NOISE

With our clients elaborating on the current state of hearing wellness in the music industry for us, I jumped in with the following question and assumptions in mind: How do we get users in the music industry to care more about their hearing wellness?
Assumption #1
Most users in the music industry are generally unaware of the implications of hearing wellness
Assumption #2
Upon being aware of the risks of music-related hearing loss, people in the music industry want to take preventative action against hearing loss

USER RESEARCH

The first step for our team to start empathizing with our users was to get out and start talking to users in the music industry.
Interview Subjects
We conducted hour long interviews (in-person or over Google hangouts) and we began to empathize with our users and see common pain points from both the SME perspective and user perspective. With all this information, we created an affinity map to formalize our data and uncover common user narratives. 
 
With our affinity mapping, we we able to group up commonalities and draw out insights to paint a story for our users.

USer Insights

Insight #1 - Misconceptions
Misconceptions have convoluted the realities of hearing wellness. Misconceptions and a lack of understanding of hearing loss pushes hearing wellness to a back-of-mind priority for users in the music industry
Inevitability – Users felt that hearing loss was an inevitability and thus useless to address.
“A lot of people have a defeatist attitude; ‘I could get protection but I’ve already lost a ton of hearing’”
– Logan
Wealthy privilege – With the view that custom earplugs were only for the wealthy, users shied away from using them and associating with them.
“Just the perception of someone with custom ear plugs would be ’wow, this guys isn’t one of us’”
– Johnny
Insight #2 - Fear
Music professionals fear the consequences of hearing loss.  Users have a fear of the social and professional consequences of experiencing hearing loss, which discourages hearing wellness care
Decrease in professional value  – Professionals have a fear that they will lose their industry value in the instance that they experiencing even the slightest of hearing loss.
“It’s like this hidden deficiency that nobody talks about, but it’s there because you’re exposing your ear to much sound”
– Dee
Ignorance is bliss – User would rather live in risk than know the know the reality of their current state of hearing wellness to avoid know the reality of their situation.
“They will verbalize that they fear it -it’s one of your senses and you don’t want to lose that, but there is no tangible threat”
– Adam
Insight #3 - Stigma
There’s stigma around using hearing protection. Although there are efforts to raise hearing wellness awareness in the music industry, the negative stigma of using hearing protection is very present.
Shame culture – Users of hearing protection occasionally faced persecution when using hearing protection while performing or listening to live music.
“If you can’t take the volume, what’s wrong with you?”
– Craig
Badge of honor – The older generation saw hearing loss more as a badge of honor and a result of working in the industry rather than a valid health concern.
“Dudes in old metal bands see it as a badge of honor… They celebrate the fact that people’s ears are going to get destroyed”
– Johnny
Insight #4 - Disconnect
There’s a disconnect between the audiology industry and the music industry. Audiology is not regarded as an industry where people seek help and resources.
Lack of emphasis on hearing prevention – With more more money on the hearing loss treatment side, there aren’t many audiologist focusing on hearing loss protection.
“Your regular audiologist focus more on post hearing loss rather than hearing loss prevention”
– Brian
Hard to access the right resources – Users have difficulty getting themselves in front of an audiologist, especially one with specialized skills.
“This isn’t a secret. The important thing is to let people know there’s something they can do about their hearing loss”
– Adam
Lack of advocacy and promotion – There just isn’t any means of education or advocacy for hearing wellness in the industry, especially from audiologists.
“I hear more about changing my oil in my car than checking my hearing”
– Daniel
With these key insights, we saw that people in the music industry all ended on a commonality.
This statement drove our team to question the implications behind this user state and ultimately pose the question: Why are they content in their ignorance? This drove us to dig deeper to see if there were any underlying causes for this, and what we found was that all these insights stemmed from a single mindset.
Mega Key Takeaway
Hearing wellness is not seen as a lifestyle, but simply just as a product.

“Hearing wellness is not perceived as an industry but rather just a pair of earplugs” - Logan
This contradicted our assumptions we made in the beginning, that most music industry professionals were  unaware of hearing wellness. We found that nearly everyone knew about earplugs or in-ear monitors, and that hearing loss was a possible consequence of their lifestyles. They however weren’t wary enough to make any changes in their lives.

COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS

Despite being such a small field, we were able to identify direct and indirect competitors. As we started to draw out this spectrum, we saw that competitors were binary in their offerings, either falling into product driven company or a general awareness advocacy, with no one with an offering that bridged the gap.
Companies like Musicians Hearing Solutions, Sensaphonics, and Sound Check provide customized ear protection tools. Mimi is a digital product that alters sound to cater to user needs experiencing hearing loss. Starkey - Listen Carefully was the only service that addressed hearing wellness education and advocacy, but is directed at teenagers listening to music loudly without any offerings for actionable change.
Musicians Hearing Solutions

Musicians Hearing Solutions is an online service geared towards providing musicians customized hearing products. There is no means of letting music professionals learn more about hearing wellness.

Mimi Hearing

Mimi is a consumer facing software that allows users to adjust the their music output from their device. Geared towards users that already have hearing loss, it allows for minute frequency changes to allow for precise customization.

Listen Carefully

Listen Carefully is one of the few advocacy and education resources for hearing wellness. It is however geared towards teens who listen to music at high decibel levels without any actionable options.

Our key finding from reviewing the competitors was that there are no services out there addressing the issue of hearing wellness from a lifestyle standpoint. All of them were actually just a means of selling their products, which further augmented the problem of hearing wellness being seen as just a product and not a lifestyle.

DEFINING THE PROBLEM

The issue we started to see was that hearing wellness is not cared for enough, causing hearing protection to be considered unimportant and underutilized. This allowed our team to condense the scope of the problem and start to really focus on addressing the reasons behind this disconnect.
The Problem
Misconceptions and a lack of understanding of hearing wellness has pushed hearing wellness into a back-of-mind priority for users in the music industry. For that reason users are content in their current state and ignorant of the necessary precautions to protect their hearing.

How might we increase the depth of awareness with Project Decibel users, so that they are informed enough to shift their attitudes and make intentional efforts to maintain a hearing wellness lifestyle?
Design Guidelines
These design guidelines helped us embody Project Decibel's purpose for the user and kept our design solutions true to the research and problem statement.
Make it stick
Becoming a good musician starts with repetition and practice.
Project dB needs to provide actionable options for users to start making engaging with hearing wellness in their lives.
Don't BS me
Musicians are upfront and only want to see what they need to see.
Project dB needs to help make the reality of the user’s current hearing loss situation transparent with minimal fear and misconceptions.
Meet me where I am
Musicians have particular and unique lifestyles and needs.
Project dB needs to provide information that is approachable and understandable for their specific needs. 
II. Conceptualizing Ideas

SCOPE OF WORK

As we started to conceptualize design solutions for the problem, we were overwhelmed with the different approaches we could take when addressing this problem. This caused us to define the scope of work and revisit our insights to ensure we could provide the best and most realistic design solutions for our client given our time frame.
These first three points provided actionable opportunities for us to specifically design for, so we decided to keep these three in mind as we dove into ideating and concepting.
We felt that there were too many business barriers here for our project scope

IDEATION

We went through multiple rounds of ideation to ensure we created solutions that addressed our problem clearly and the business goals laid out for us. With so many possible routes for our solution, we drew up a priority matrix to help us indicate what features were most valuable to design.
Through this process, we highlighted what features were most important to address and had the potential to have high impact. This led us to two themes of ideas that best would help address the problem we outlined.

Onboarding COncepts

Note: I took charge of the upfront value onboarding concept in designing an approach to help users learn about the features and services they benefitted right away before getting into the product itself. As one of the first things a new user sees, I determined it was important for users to understand what sort of product they opted into and help them get engaged by revealing opportunities for them to utilize upfront.
From our testing we drew out some key takeaways:
  1. The language and layout needed to be digestible enough for users to utilize and engage with.
  2. Users loved being able to personalize the product. We found that musicians were comfortable and more than willing to share about their experiences when it came to their music background.
  3. The onboarding process needed to help users understand the value of the product, so they know what they get themselves into.

FEATURE COncepts

Note: One of the biggest features that both our client and my team pointed out was having a means of accessing audiologists with specialized music industry care.

I took the lead in designing a more transparent and humanistic way of approaching a professional healthcare provider, an experience that many of our users pointed out to be an intimidating and uncomfortable one.

I saw that first contact with an audiologist was potentially the most important point of contact, so I designed a choice-based messaging system that allowed users to quickly select a category of need and attach some optional specific details. Also, to improve transparency, I created a connection screen that revealed when an audiologist connection was made and indicated whether a message had been seen.
From our testing we drew out some key takeaways:
  1. Users needed a way to be directed with actionable options to help them get more engaged with their hearing wellness.
  2. Users reacted positively to the transparency when connecting with an audiologist and the personalization of their interaction, but felt that overly professional language was unapproachable.
  3. Users found functions such as resources to be helpful, but they had a difficult time seeing the actual value using it.

Areas of Opportunity

As we started to break down our feedback, we pulled out these key areas of opportunity to help lead us into converging our concepts into a more holistic and meaningful experience for our users.
III. Iterating and Converging

INTEGRATION

As we began to converge into a single idea, we were still confused on how to create a cohesive and holistic product that didn’t feel thrown together. To alleviate this, we drew an app map to help us categorize features and pinpoint where to place actionable options for users to utilize.
We used the app map to specifically pinpoint how we could start to integrate actionable options into the education feature and hearing test feature.
Based on our areas of opportunity, research, problem statement, and design principles we started to converge and center our product around a solution to build out this converged and holistic product.

CONVERGED CONCEPT

The Project dB app not only lets users know about the product offering, but also informs the user about the importance of hearing wellness and creates actionable options to maintain hearing wellness.
Onboarding feature
For onboarding, we decided to turn the focus of the approach to allow users to personalize their information and learn of features upfront to get them engaged and convinced of the value they will receive in the product. We expanded on the personalization to make sure we hit the right questions but made sure it was straightforward and short enough for users..
Education resources feature
For our resources, we moved away the course-style education concept because we saw that users were deterred by entering into a course commitment with no real understanding of the value behind it. We changed it into a simpler interface with sliders to encourage exploration from the explore tab while allowing personalization with a recommended tab and a save tab.
"My Hearing" feature
The My Hearing portion combined the user’s personal information and options when it came to addressing their ears. This feature was split into two entities, “my ears” and “my audiologist” to give distinct value and weight to each of those categories. The hearing test was put into the “my ears” section, while the messaging system was put into the “my audiologist” section.
IV. Final Design

ReCEPTION

After making iterations based on our feedback, we presented our final prototype to Project Decibel, a product that gave professional in the music industry a means of taking control of their hearing wellness and gaining convenient access to specialized audiological care.

Our client was thrilled to see a working functional prototype of their product. They took it back to their team and officially signed off on including our designs as a part of their MVP to pitch to potential investors and plans to build out the UI for a future release.
V. Next Steps & Recommendations

NEXT STEPS

Given our time frame, I’m extremely proud of what our team was able to achieve, especially when it came to bringing health awareness to an audience that was mostly unwilling to learn. Not only did we receive feedback from users that the product helped open their ears to the reality of hearing wellness, but our client also felt comfortable enough to move forward with our designs into development.

However, we weren’t able to address all the issues we came across. We compiled a list of recommendations to help our client continue their growth with a user-centered design framework.

Recommendations

Iterating and testing
Challenge:
We weren’t able to go about performing enough rounds of iteration and testing.

Recommendations:
- Continue iteration on the prototypes and concepts from user feedback and input.
- Keep testing the prototype with users; more specifically testing around “My Ears” category for user understanding, different means of driving value for users, and soundscape usage.
Addressing our skewed user base
Challenge:
A large majority of our users were familiar with Project Decibel from before, which potentially skewed our user base away from the general music industry population.

Recommendations:
- Continue further testing on users that have no connection to Project Decibel.
- Start considering push recommendations within the product that are more relevant to a wider user audience (i.e. offering entry-level hearing protection products).
Exploring different content strategies
Challenge:
Difficulty in determining how to display the content to users with different mental models with varying age and background.

Recommendations:
- Consolidate language used to accommodate all types of users.
- Explore different means of educating users about hearing wellness to determine effective means of deepening awareness.
Finding a distinct value for users
Challenge:
There wasn’t a clear understanding of the business value proposition from users.

Recommendations:
- With so many cheap alternative hearing tests and a lack of understanding, it will be crucial to distinguish how Project Decibel’s services are unique and valuable.
- Test where the paywall best fits within the product to determine at which point the users understand the value of purchasing a premium version.
VI. Beyond the project

What i learned

This project started to help me see the importance of backing all my insights and recommendations from research. Jumping into a brand new space, it was especially tough to gain familiarity with all the nuances of both the music industry and the audiological space. By taking the time to research the domain and speaking from user research, we were able to talk with our client in full confidence. This added credibility to the decisions we made and gave reassurance that we were designing for both the user and business.

I learned that as much as my familiarity of a certain industry may be lacking, when I listen to the users and advocate for them, I can tackle their problems and offer solutions with confidence.
Like what you see?
Learn more about me or connect with me below!