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Its long been the case that the public perception of what we do has been very different from our image of ourselves.When I worked briefly as a sound engineer for a small cabaret performance, an artist insisted on calling me "sparks". The general perception is that sound engineering is predominantly about electrical knowledge. I think this may be why so many sound engineers had ponytails. To distinguish them from electricians and align themselves with the creative side of the music industry. I have been excluded from the ponytail fraternity as I am follicly challenged. I have had to argue that we are different because I cannot demonstrate it with creative hairstyling.

Perceptions change. Now the problem is that building contractors and venue managers see sound design as part of the IT industry. It is true that sound is transmitted around a venue as data and because of this sound engineers need a good understanding of IT and data transmission skills. But once the transmission has reached the loudspeakers, acoustics becomes the dominant discipline.

Sound engineers will never become just IT people, because they need to understand dynamic range, limiting, compression, masking, speech intelligibility and other sound engineering concepts. But most of all they need to understand what happens when the sound leaves the loudspeaker and that is acoustics.

A recent audio troubleshoot in a city meeting room, led to the discovery of an incorrectly wired aerial distribution system. The interconnections resulted in several diversity radio microphone receivers, getting the rf input from only one aerial into their A & B aerial inputs. Guess what? It did not work as a true diversity system resulting in signal level fluctuations.

I had to smile when I thought of the hours of intelligent design followed by hours of painstaking electronic engineering in order to make the first diversity receiver, and how it was all nullified in a few moments of unfocused action by a well meaning installation contractor.

But this is indicative of what I perceive as a far bigger problem; the disconnect between the design of products and the user of the product, in this case the installer.

The connection between the designer and the user is the, often frustrating, user manual, written by an intermediary - a technical writer. I notice that some products do not come with user manuals anymore. If you need to understand them, load a CD or go on-line. As technology becomes more sophisticated the need to understand a product becomes increasingly relevant and more difficult. Will all products have a small LCD display built-in which accesses the user instructions? Perhaps the user manuals will all be available on-line for us to access when required? Sometimes, as with an amplifier I recently encountered, the product was built in China but the DSP programming was done in USA resulting in a product with only partial instructions. Either way it is important that the user of a technologically advanced product gets a GOOD, CLEAR, CONCISE description of how to use all a product's facilities. Better still, lets make the device itself so intuitive to use with colour coding and clear labelling, that we do not need to access the manual all the time. I know some people who would prefer not to read a manual at all!