Buzzing in the Hive its all about sonic branding

My work is a drop in the bucket, a speck in the cosmos. I’m just a pea in a pod, another cog in the wheel, maybe a more appropriate descriptor of insignificance for me is a tool in the shed – a very blunt one. Idioms aside, being a bee in the hive need not be a harbinger of doom. Particularly when you’re a bee in the hive at the B:Hive in Auckland New Zealand.

After spending time at this new workplace collective, I felt anything but paltry. Buzzing with the swarm left feeling like I belonged, despite not knowing a soul in a place. The B:Hive is home to several disparate tenants, each has their own secured office space, but they share amenity. Unlike the stereotypical co-working cohort, many patrons of B:Hive come from established companies that fall outside the sexy start-up epithet. But hey, who’s to say selling non-corrosive coatings isn’t sexy.

Tenants at B:Hive are naturally attracted to the networking opportunities that sharing space offers, but they also like a delivery model that enables them to expand or contract twice a year. More importantly, officing in the hive grants entry to a community of organisations that share the same values: rejection of waste and opulence, refusing to accept that being small dictates a work life of suffering in shitty, soul crushing, suburban office parks.

Instead they’ve opted for daylight, fresh air and amazing amenity: break areas, technology enabled meeting rooms, places to focus, hold assemblies and play ping pong. A plethora of interesting furniture groupings supporting different workstyles and demands is on offer. BUT WAIT THERES MORE. The steak knives of the deal come in the form of a bright orange corkscrew stair that any sane ambulant person would choose over the lifts. It’s gloriously fun to use and the exercise keeps your behind right sized.

One enters the B:Hive by traversing The Good Side, a conglomeration of food and beverage purveyors who have sipped the same ‘communal ethos Kool-Aid’. Shared outdoor seating encourages customers, or non – customers, to seamlessly flow between the dozen or so retailers. Permeable boundaries suck in occupants from surrounding buildings and neighbouring residential areas.

The resulting cornucopia of users is what makes the experience unique. Stumbling on an assembly of retirees enjoying a coffee next to a corporate faction in the throws of a serious business discussion is par for the course. Children frolic as their mothers eat lunch; climbing up, around and underneath concrete tables. In this cross-pollinisation of humanity anything goes, there’s no fear of damaging property or retribution from traditional workplace stick in the muds.

What makes this possible is a very deliberate non-precious aesthetic and a welcoming vibe. Apologies for the pun, but it’s what gives B:Hive its buzz.
There is a real buzz too, an omnipresent background noise in both workplace and at The Good Side that serves as an aggregate binding the incongruent parts together. The soundtrack to B:Hive has been carefully curated, it is the brainchild of the CEO, who amongst other things, was once a DJ. For a person with the concentration qualities of a dog near a squirrel, I found the sound honed my focus and I felt less pathetically alone.

Human beings for the most part experience sound subconsciously, we tend to focus on what’s seen and pay little attention to the noises that impact our experiences. Like most things, these can be positive or negative such as shopping at Coles and listening to ‘down, down the prices are down’ ad nauseum. It makes you want to go to Woolies just to hear the ‘fresh food people’ song.

Songs trigger emotional responses, jingles have historically been an integral part of branding, but beyond catchy tunes sound is an effective and very underutilised tool in design. This concept became clear at a conference I attended in San Francisco where we in the audience were asked to listen to tones Apple uses in the iPhone. Then we voted on what sounds would be appropriate for a fictitious Apple Airline: music at the gate, check in, the tone your phone makes when you receive an upgrade.

It became obvious that some sounds are on brand and others are way off. The strategic use of sound to convey rich, emotional stories is referred to as ‘Sonic Branding’ it’s the focus of agencies like Man Made Music in New York who worked with companies like AT& T to identify their brand’s sound. They’re responsible for the six – note chime used in ringtones, commercials and in-store music for AT&T.

Scientists have experimented with integrating senses to improve experiences. One interesting study conducted at the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford in 2010 drew connections between different tones and pitches and the way we experience basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. By pairing music tracks with tastes, they found sound altered a person’s perception of food.

This is due to a rare neurological phenomenon that causes one sensory pathway to be experienced through another called synesthesia. Chefs like Heston Blumenthal are on to this, he loves to tinker with the relationship between auditory and olfactory senses and taste. So too does sound designer Felipe Carvalho; he used synaesthesia to compile a soundtrack for eating. No kidding, you can purchase “Sound of Chocolate” online.

In the UK venues like Spiritland are jumping on the sonic band wagon by touting their restaurant / bar as a place to have an acoustic eating experience. Conceived as a ‘dining room of sonic architecture’, Spiritland has velvet curtains, rounded leather booths, custom ceilings and walls that deliver superb sound quality and acoustics.

At least six more venues in London follow this new trend of providing high level listening, eating and drinking experiences where sound quality is as important as the taste of the food. With top-notch sound systems and a return to vynal, they’re an audiophile’s dream. Some say heralding a return of quality over convenience, inviting us to engage with music in a more purposeful way.

I suspect the intent of music at B:Hive was not a deliberate overture in sonic branding; never the less, the impact it has there and at The Good Side leads me to believe sonic branding may be more than a buzz word earning a square on the workplace bullshit bingo board.

But before you go full hog designing noise into your next project, heed the advice of sonic branding experts. They warn a little sound goes a long way and recommend leaving plenty of white noise e.g. silence, to balance out the sound the world throws at us. They say everyone could do with a little less noise these days. I’m inclined to agree.

Smith, Jessica and Walker, Josh; “Listening Clubs”; https://www.LS:N Global Music: Streaming: Retail; January 30, 2017
Sedacca, Matthew; “Sonic Seasoning is the Growing Scientific Field That Uses Sound to Make Food Taste Better”; Quartz; December 24, 2016
Zemni, Hakim; “A Sonic Branding Revolution is Going on and You Are Not Ready For it”; Insights Consulting; November 29, 2018
Molloy, Shannon; “Victoria Police Hunting for Bourke St Hero dubbed ‘Tolley Man’ Over Alleged Burglaries”;; November 16, 2018
“What Does Your Brain Sound Like?”; Fast Company Co-Design; October 22, 2014


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