Shall Versus Should

Ed Wenck | Aug 18, 2020

documents1As CEDIA marks its approval by The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as an Accredited Standards Developer (ASD) (check the details here), it’s likely a good time to explain the difference between a “standard” and a “best practice.”

The quickest way to delineate the two? “Shall” versus “should.”

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “shall” in this case as a word “used in laws, regulations, or directives to express what is mandatory” (definition 3b). “Should” is less definitive: That word is “used in auxiliary function to express obligation, propriety, or expediency,” propriety being likely the operative word in this instance (definition 2).

The Audio -- and the Auto -- Example

Walt Zerbe, CEDIA’s senior director of technology and standards, explains the difference with the illustration of a “best practice” set of guidelines developed for audio, CEDIA’s CEB 22. “If you have a standard for speaker placement, that means you can only put that specific speaker in that particular spot in a room – and we know that ‘perfect placement’ isn’t always desirable or even possible.” Client desires for aesthetics, the room’s limitations due to construction or cost – all of those factors make for a situation where “should” is vastly more reasonable an ask than “shall.”

Peter Aylett (HTE), who volunteers as part of the committee developing these practices, likes to use an automotive analogy. “I would argue that if someone that had never driven a really decent car drove an Audio, BMW, or Mercedes, they would think, ‘Wow, this is amazing! This is the last car I ever want to buy.’

“However, if you then let them drive the other two from that trio, the chances are they're going to have a preference. Now that doesn't make the original one bad and you can't really criticize the engineering of any of those cars.”

The Difference Is …

The cars all perform within a set of parameters – from acceleration to braking to suspension and handling – that put them in a particular performance category. In “practice,” however, they’re different: different fits, finishes, looks, and “feels,” from sporty to more sedate. Perhaps an even better example: all three comply with safety and emissions standards, but the seat-belt buckles and exhaust systems may be vastly different.

“They're fundamentally incredibly well-engineered, but the art is all about a balance of compromises,” says Aylett.

“And as we know, every single time you design an audio-visual experience for a customer you're having to balance compromises. There are certain things that are art -- but you can't argue the physics. The physics of sound is the physics of sound.

“You can discuss the implementation of the physics, how it's interpreted, but you can't say the physics of sound is somehow errant.”

For more on CEDIA’s Best Practices, check out this CEDIA Podcast.