An audio testcard turns into an experience

March 12, 2009 — 6 Comments

I came across a lovely example of unintentional experience design when I was back in the UK last week. Apologies to those of you who reside in the UK and discovered this some time ago but for those of us living in the desert of commercial radio in the US this quirky accident is delightful.

If you tune to the right channel on the UK’s digital radio system you get a continuous, 24 hours a day soundtrack of birds and woodland. It is beautifully peaceful and an incredibly good background soundtrack to work to. I will let the text from the UK digital radio website explain the back story.

The audio was originally recorded for the test transmission of Classic FM prior to its launch in 1992. It was later used for the imaginatively named station “D1_temp” and won plaudits from listeners who complained when it was taken off air in June 2005.

Birdsong returned to the airwaves in early 2008 and was upgraded in April of the same year to become available in stereo and for 24 hours a day. Listeners and Birdsong enthusiasts should be aware that the transmission could cease at any time and that the recording is not commercially available.

Please note that the line up of birds featured in the cast may change without warning due to illness, weather and migration.

For those of us outside the UK it can be played from the website here.

Tim Brown

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6 responses to An audio testcard turns into an experience

  1. While this discovery was undoubtedly a delightful experience, am I the only one who find the inclusion of the word design in “unintentional experience design” rather nonsensical? Design is an intentional act or process by definition…

  2. Good point.
    It was a poor use of terminology but I still think it is a lovely experience.

  3. Perhaps a derail comment but I was drawn to the image of the video test card. It’s one of those great examples of how we learn – slowly – the details of interfaces and the details of cultures. If you grew up in North America, back when they had “test patterns” or channels ended a broadcasting day (because it’s all infomercials now, isn’t it?) you’d recognize a certain image. Of course, if you watch enough TV or film, you’d see those images recycled into plotlines, even if you haven’t experienced them yourself.

    Anyway, I only just learned that image above from the UK series “Life on Mars” where the protagonist falls asleep – in 1973 – with the TV on and then has a few encounters with the smiling girl from the testcard.

    Now I have to be careful of cultural reverse engineering because it’s entirely possible that in creating this post Tim used the testcard as seen in the show which is NOT actually the “real” historical testcard. Anyway I could Google it and find out in 10 seconds, but I just felt like narrating a small piece of discovery.

    If this is too much of a derail, feel free to delete this comment!

  4. Steve
    I love the comment on the testcard. I think the only difference between the image above and the original is the type. If my childhood memories serve me right the images are the same. Happy to see what you can dig up on Google though.

    I don’t know what it was like here in the US but as a kid I remember quite often watching this testcard while waiting anxiously for the first kids program of the day to start. No 24 hour TV in those days.

  5. I love the phrase “unintentional experience design”.
    Probably because I love test cards, test patterns, test tones, and have a collection of CMYK test sheets. I like Kraftwerk’s album Radioactivity, Testone by Sweet Exorcist, and Michael C. Place’s design for Sun Electric’s Ahhh EP, with the registration and test CMYK printed in the middle of the gatefold, where the album name and play speed are inside of that. I have torn apart boxes to look at the test print for as long as I can remember. I think these patterns are so fascinating, because they tell you about our dialogue with the capacities of the given media, as well as the capacities of our own perceptions. It is as if we took a little time-out from speaking each day, just to say the alphabet, to make sure all systems are go. I like fax pilot tones, hearing tests, TV colour bars, CCTV signage, and antenna on the horizon with lights flickering in the dusk. I believe that there is a hidden mythology in these things tell us more about ourselves than we would care or dare to admit.
    I like how the beautiful birdsong sounds form D1_temp sounds similar to some shortwave utility stations. I like how urban or urban-edge it sounds too. I would probably like any audio feed called D1_temp, but this is something special. Thank you for the link. I want more unintentional experience design experiences!

  6. The little girl is Carole Hersee…. and she holds the record for the most exposure on television… 70,000 hours!

    She is now 50 years old.

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