Symbiotic Design Theory For AV?

symbiosis av technology design

WARNING: Might be best-read with incense burning.

Symbiotic relationships. Yep, I’m going to go there. I’d like to talk about symbiotic relationships specifically as a design theory in relation to technology and AV. If that seems like a lot, bear with me, read on. In architecture, this principle already exists, and I truly believe this concept to be a cross-discipline design theory for many sectors — yet untapped or at least not being leveraged (or even discussed in many cases).

So — can symbiotic design theory apply to AV and specifically AV design? And should it? Well, yes! I love this design theory both as it relates to AI (using machine and data-driven symbiosis), and how it relates to the application of technology hardware using the built environment and our emotional senses. Most importantly, I think the development of this type of vocabulary into our technology lexicon will help guide some design relationships between various disciplines and provide a better result for everyone involved in any given project. 

Admittedly, the way I see this concept or theory is far-reaching within machine and data-driven symbiosis within AI, but it has a place in discussion. An easy example of understanding data symbiosis with AI is to consider any modern vehicle in production today. It has multiple sensors, servos and processors — aka the little machines collecting data like speed, other objects, weather conditions, etc. Then, the machines translate that data into actions like steer the car, brake, accelerate, park, warning light, etc. These systems depend on one another to properly function. They need one another to work together harmoniously to create mutual benefit — the key to successful symbiosis. But this is data, logical and linear in practice. I do consider the advanced applications in this realm a little more complex than this example, however, but I digress.

Things start to get interesting when we relate this design theory to technology and AV technologies; we transition the conversation and discussion toward physical hardware application (endpoint products) into the built environment. Can we find symbiosis and work to create a visual harmony and mutual benefit with us — the human onlookers and users of these spaces and technologies?

Although this may seem logical and tangible when just scratching the surface, the success of the results becomes impalpable and very difficult to find universal harmony. As AV professionals you understand our success is graded on any one person’s individual perception. AV is not IT, it’s not just data moving from machine to machine — AV is visceral. It’s seen and heard. It depends on people’s feelings and senses, our interpretation of what we like or dislike. So, symbiosis becomes a lot more difficult and critical to success in our industry — because now we’re involving the human condition (I don’t like that term either, but it works in this case).

So, specifically in AV design and factoring symbiosis as a deciding design principle — let’s look at audio as an example. Before you just start grabbing a typical in-ceiling or surface-mount speaker, or whatever free-hung or stacked goto speaker you like, engineering or placing them accordingly for best audio performance of the speaker specification — have you considered the context of the architecture? Have you engaged in conversation about how the interior designer wants the space to feel? Even more so, have you considered the overall visual design intent holistically and gauged the overall feel of how the architect or interior designer wants the space to engage the senses through sight and sound? These are all extremely valid and important questions AV designers need to be asking.

With technology and AV, these analogous nonlinear intangibles need to work together in harmony with the linear pragmatic practice of hardware (and even software) to find a mutual benefit in the context of AV and our human perception. This is not an easy practice or even something that can be quantified by data sets or boilerplates. 

Our industry is so lucky to have so many options at our disposal, and more are coming online every day. It’s a time of unparalleled adoption of all technology. More and more design discussions and armchair experts are chiming in all the time, making improvements to hardware and finding more visually appealing options that work for the masses.

So, we should be asking: Why force the architecture around our speaker? Why force interior designers to walk into a room and see an erroneously placed speaker on the wall? If we can harmonize our hardware realities with the collective design intent of the space — and work to find a solution that fits with the built environment where we see mutual benefit for the human experience — then, we’re on the path to symbiotic design theory success in AV.

Before the incense burns out, I have an old saying from a colleague that touches on this concept: “The best audio is heard not seen.” I know, cue the collective sigh from gearheads everywhere. Start a collective chant: “Show me the rig! Show me the rig!” Seriously though, compromise, harmony, discussion and designing around people’s feelings and emotional impact — in context with the built environment — is key to success in our industry. But it’s not easy and very few get it right, or even attempt to have that conversation because it might be too “in the ether.” 

I think by adopting and using this design theory more commonly in our AV and technological design interactions, we may be able to make our design approach more relatable and less adversary. We often take the pragmatic, straightforward approach of plug A into B and you will have your desired result. This is much to our detriment. We need to find better ways of communicating our design intent and clarify our appeal to emotional sensibilities while finding harmony with the hardware, specifications and realities that are AV.