MHCI+D Spotlight: Chris Seifert, Industry Instructor

Human sensory memory can lead us on a wild ride. Hijacked by the hippocampus, a scent, image, touch, taste, or sound can take us away from our current moment launching us into a memory we haven’t thought about for years or had perhaps escaped our memory completely.

The power of everyday sound had a deep impact on MHCI+D instructor and Amazon Futures Design lead, Chris Seifert. As one of the world’s leading multi-modal sound designers, Chris was shaped by the sonic landscapes of his childhood. From the clacking of horse hooves on the trail carried by the wind blowing through a tree near his small Northeast Ohio childhood town to the urban cacophony of nearby Cleveland, Seifert was greatly influenced by his euphonious surroundings.

“It affected me intensely and I knew it impacted others as well,” says Chris “I wanted to use sound to communicate in ways words can’t.  Currently, I use recordings of city soundscapes  and other environmental sounds to emphasize that point in my MHCID course.”

After earning a BA in Mass Media – Speech Communications and a Technical Degree in Audio Recording and Production, Seifert developed a broad range of skills as building blocks to take him into a variety of industries. Much like a rather popular singer of today, Seifert breaks his career down into three distinct eras:

The Recording, Mixing, and Performing Music Era: “At Wavetrap, I retrofitted a warehouse into a commercial recording studio focusing on mixing and producing local artists. After a decade, I relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area where I continued producing and mixing albums. A highlight was having the opportunity to record and engineer several artist projects at the Skywalker Ranch Scoring Stage.”

The Video Game Era: “Working at Electronic Arts (EA) and the Maxis/Sims Studio inspired and enabled me to develop as an interactive sound designer and storyteller.  I learned from my mentors and peers how to create more than a sound, but systems of them, culminating in my work as a sound designer on the Spore Franchise, where we created 50+ languages for a universe of characters.”

The Alexa- Interactive Sound Design Era: “Now entering my second decade at Amazon, I have been able to work on some groundbreaking design teams. As the first Senior Sound Designer at Amazon, I was a member of the original Alexa and Echo Design teams. As Alexa grew, I continued to seek and support opportunities throughout Amazon where sound could provide both emotional and functional guidance.  For the last year I have been leading sensory design initiatives within Amazon Futures where we create the future of multi-modal, multi-sensory experiences.”

Chris Seifert teaching Advanced Interfaces in the MHCI+D studio during Winter Quarter.

Having guest lectured on voice user interface at UW and Seattle Central Community College in the past, Seifert enters his second year teaching Advanced Interfaces in the MHCI+D program. “I try to leverage my experience in industry to help students navigate their own path acknowledging that their experience will be different,” Seifert said.

A piece of advice to pass along to current students and those interested in sound engineering and design?  Seifert emphasizes the need to be multi-faceted. “Become a ‘T-Shaped’ designer. Gain a breadth of knowledge as a generalist, while also being an expert at one thing. Everything is moving so fast these days so keep learning in order to apply your specialty. You have to keep adding to your toolbox.”