Soundscapes: towards a quieter NICU

Núria Viñas Vila

Núria designed SOUNDscapes, a digital platform that maps and localizes sound events occurring at the NICU to help reducing harmful sounds.

A soundscape is the acoustic environment that constantly surrounds us. Soundscapes in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can negatively affect the well-being of newborns, their families and healthcare providers. Currently, sound is analysed using decibel meters, which ignore the effects of tone and frequency. This project aims to help medical staff understand and map the complex soundscape to ultimately reduce harmful, unnecessary noise.

This project began by identifying a gap in the literature through a semi-systematic review. This was followed by observations and interviews to understand the user, their context and the technology that could enable the design intervention. These insights led to the formulation of a design goal and requirements. Several design solutions were then explored through a collaborative brainstorming session triggered by the “how might we” question.

The result was the design of SOUNDscapes, a digital platform that maps and localises sound events in the NICU. It displays sound trends in real time and assesses the quality of the environment through two main visualisation pages: sound level trends and the constellation map. The aim of providing real-time feedback is to make nurses aware of specific (sound) behaviours and their consequences. The SOUNDscape dashboard motivates them to change their attitudes towards harmful sound events by ultimately triggering a change in behaviour. More awareness can create better health outcomes for new borns in the NICU.

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