On the bustling streets of the city center, holding a long microphone, Li Hong (Senior Sound Designer at OPPO) looks out of place among the crowd. He has attracted the attention of many passersby as he conducts his meaningful work: collecting sounds.
Since his years in junior high, Li Hong has loved listening to music. “Music is the only time machine we have”, he said. During every period from childhood to adulthood, he used to record the music he listened to at each stage of his life, calling it “time travel”. At the Xinghai Conservatory of Music in Guangzhou, Li Hong heard classical music for the first time. That was when he discovered that in addition to rock and punk music, there also exists such elegant, beautiful music in this world. He couldn't help but think about how remarkable it would be to share the wonder and joy of discovering new music and new sounds, with everyone.
Li Hong also discovered how sound has the power to make people feel relaxed. Would it be possible to put white noise into smartphones to help busy, modern-day users catch their breath and relieve their anxiety? This gave him the idea to create white noise software for smartphones. At first, the idea was met with some doubt. “There are so many players in the market, and competitors can easily replace software of this kind”… or “White noise is too niche, and not many people will download it.”
Restless, Li Hong refused to give up. He continued to communicate and repeatedly raise the idea with his superiors, and ultimately decided to make a small-scale demo on his own. This required him to take on several roles: not just to handle the functional planning, but also to do the interaction design and sound design for the white noise demo. All day long, he went back and forth between his rational side and his emotional side to keep the project going. This was the environment in which the first prototype version of O Relax was born.
Although new products tend to receive many negative comments, Li Hong has found that, for the most part, negative comments are related to user experiences issues and glitches in the software rather than flaws in the product itself. And when the original intention of the R&D Department has been affirmed by users, the department becomes more supportive and increases investments and efforts for future software upgrades.
While collecting user feedback about software on Internet forums, Li Hong picked up on something interesting: Users always seem to make an emotional connection between certain places and memories. So, Li Hong thought that O Relax might be able to captivate users’ hearts by creating a personal space for them that stimulates their imagination. As a result, he and his team came up with the concept of the “Sounds of Cities”.
The first stop of “Sounds of Cities” was Shenzhen. Dongmen Old Street in Luohu District has a historical heritage that is unique to Shenzhen, and it is also where Li Hong spent his childhood. Recording the lively sounds of the city, he trekked through this bustling commercial district to Yuehai Street in Nanshan District, a densely packed area with thousands of merchants and 87 publicly listed companies in just 20 square kilometers. Li Hong also journeyed to the city’s office buildings to capture the sounds of Shenzhen's booming economy, continuing on to Shenzhen Bay Park. The serene seaside setting here gives Li Hong a lot of comfort, and he wished to share this feeling with everyone who loves Shenzhen.
Nowadays, the scope of coverage for “Sounds of Cities” grows wider and wider, with 600 million users listening to the Tokyo subway or the winds of Iceland through O Relax – and in 2022, O Relax’s “Sounds of Cities” won the Red Dot Design Award for Excellence. Inspired, Li Hong aims to leverage his expertise as a sound designer to build more connections between sound and other technologies, so that more people can understand the beauty of sound and broaden their own “frequencies”. Sound is just one element among OPPO's pursuit of beauty, and the brand’s 18th anniversary is just the beginning of this vision. In the future, OPPO will deliver more technological innovations and one-of-a-kind products to bring users a better, smarter lifestyle.