Glasses used to be a school kid’s worst nightmare. But today, people will wear glasses that don’t even have lenses purely because they want to be seen wearing them. I wore my hearing aids for the first few days of school and then thought: “No, thanks, I actually value my social life” and then completely refused to wear them.
So how can I ensure hearing technology makes the same transition that eyewear did to become something that’s actually desirable. I think there’s three main steps: Disregard discretion. Change the rhetoric. Ride the wave.
Glasses frames are just big pieces of plastic and metal that sit in the middle of your face. Eventually designers embraced the obvious visibility as an opportunity to complement your appearance. Hearing technology is never going to become cool if you keep trying to hide it. So I’m designing something that’s purposely and unapologetically visible. We don’t call glasses “seeing aids”. It’s eyewear. It changes the meaning from something you’ve walked to where you ought to wear, to something you choose to wear. So I’m going to change “hearing aids” to hearwear.
We talk about glasses as accessories that elicit sophistication. It’s like a symbol for intelligence. LeBron James had LASIK surgery in 2007. He doesn’t actually 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-focused character that he plays off the court.
We need to talk about what hearwear enables. Not what it does. No one actually cares about whether a sound frequencies are being changed. They just care about whether or not they can be the best version of themselves while they’re communicating with other people. That’s who I’m building hearwear for.
Sunglasses becoming cool definitely helped prescription glasses become accepted. But we’re now part the headphone generation. In 2003 apple changed the meaning of earbuds from functional accessories to brand symbols. And in 2008 Beats did it again, making $300 headphones, a status symbol rather than an audiophile's gadget. Today Airpods and the likes have made it cool to have something in your ears. So now is the time to add hearing enhancement to the mix.
I’m taking all of these points into account as I design my hearables to take hearing technology from “hearing aids” to hearwear. So if you want to be involved in this mission in any way, shoot me an email and I’d love to hear from you.