Glasses used to be a school kid's worst nightmare. They are essentially medical devices for visual impairment and were stigmatised for being just that. But today, people will wear glasses that don't even have lenses in, purely because they want to be seen wearing them.
I wore my hearing aids for a few days at school then thought "no thanks, I actually value my social life" and then refused to wear them so that I would not be seen as ‘the kid with hearing aids’!
So how can hearing technology make the same transition that eyewear made from being seen as a medical device to something that is genuinely desirable?
I think there's two main principles: Disregard Discretion, and Change the Rhetoric.
Up until around the 1970s, glasses were mostly round with wire frames in an attempt to be as discreet as possible. But glasses frames are just pieces of plastic and metal that sit in the middle of your face. You can’t hide them. But since manufacturers advertised them as “discreet”, glasses were seen as something that you ought to hide and society agreed.
Eventually, designers embraced the obvious visibility as an opportunity to compliment your appearance. Having a range of colours and shapes gave wearers a choice of which ones to wear. Wearers could choose an accessory to enhance or highlight a part of their personality and the focus of the product fell less on the optical lens and more on the form factor as a tool for expression. There became a reason to wear glasses other than to simply aid a medical impairment.
Hearing technology designers have the opportunity to make the same transition as the eyewear industry by simply disregarding the need for their products to be discreet and giving wearers an opportunity to choose how they want to be seen. Being cool is all about confidence, and nothing shows a lack of confidence more than trying to hide what you’re wearing. So just like eyewear, hearing technology should be designed to be seen.
We don't call glasses "seeing aids". It's eyewear. It changes the meaning from being something you ought to wear to something you choose to wear. The way we talk about products can have a huge effect on how they are perceived and the term “hearing aids” brings up a whole range of negative connotations for many people about disability and ageing. It’s time to change that!
Glasses have been positioned in the market now as lifestyle accessories that elicit sophistication, like a symbol of intelligence. NBA basketballer, LeBron James had Lasik in 2007. He doesn't need glasses. But when you don't want the world to see you as just a basketball player. Wearing glasses gives him another visual identity that matches his philanthropist, business-focussed character that he plays off the court.
We need to talk more about how hearing technology makes you a better version of yourself, not what it does for your hearing. No one really cares about hearing particular sound frequencies better. They just want to be a more confident version of themselves when they are communicating with other people.
Positioning hearing technology more inline with eyewear as an accessory that makes you your best self will start to change the consumer relationship with hearing aids.
I’ve been taking these two principles with me on my journey to build the first ever designer hearing devices. Overtones are unapologetically visible hearing devices that have medical grade hearing technology inside and are inspired by eyewear design.
Overtones become a part of your look in just the same way that glasses do. Not as something that you’re trying to hide. Because just as much love has gone into the visible outside of Overtones as on the technology within.
If you want to be the first to get your hands on a pair, join the waitlist. I can’t wait to bring these to life with you.