Originally published on “Matters” by Designit
How do you communicate with a user when their eyes aren’t glued to their screen? As a motion designer, I firmly believe that motion design is a critical consideration in the world of experience design. As I’m learning more about sound design, I’m realizing that it is equally critical to a user’s experience.
I was inspired by Adi Robertson’s article, “Sound Decision,” in which she covers the audio branding created by Skype. Sound is something I pay particular attention to; maybe it’s my love of music that influences my interest or the fact that I am intrigued by experiences that touch on multiple senses. I really believe that sound is an area that should be explored and considered when creating unique experiences for people who are constantly bugged to look at their screens.
I’m not talking about pops and pings that demand your attention to the screen, I want blips and bloops that reinforce interactions I have made without picking up my phone to see that I “got it right.”
For example, Spotify has created cues for audio controls when pausing, playing, or skipping to the next track. These cues help the user understand that they made the correct — or incorrect — interaction, especially when listening through headphones. When using the headphone controls, you know when you hear the “double beep” that you are skipping to the next track in your queue versus pausing the current track which consists of a series of descending beeps to simulate “powering down”. Something as simple as listening to music shouldn’t require me to pull out my phone to understand that I accidentally skipped a couple of songs while I’m commuting to work.
Sound design in UX can also reinforce new interactions. When Apple introduced the first iPhone, touchscreens as personal devices were new and unfamiliar. The device only had a few physical buttons; besides powering on and off and controlling volume, most actions were made on the touchscreen. To make this new technology more familiar to consumers, Apple introduced a “clicking” sound for the keyboard keys to give the user feedback that the keys have been pressed. The sound linked to something physical that users were familiar with.
Not only can sound clarify interactions, it can also communicate brand. When I think about sound communicating brand, I think of the HBO opening sequence in which the logo clears through the television static and ends on a glorious chorus ”hummm.” The introduction is a cue that informs the viewer that they’re entering a unique experience that can’t be found anywhere else. As people become familiar with HBO, that sequence becomes an authentic and expected piece of the brand — similar to the iconic roar of the MGM Lion.
Sound communicating brand isn’t anything new; car manufacturers spend massive amounts of time and energy just to perfect the sound of a car door closing. For a brand like BMW, they want to make sure that when the driver steps out and closes that door, they know they were driving a luxurious car just by the sound of the door shutting. When Tivo was first introduced, they used sounds for different functions like “select” or “fast forward.” Not only did the use of sound reinforce interaction, but the playful “pops” communicated Tivo’s brand attributes.
I know not everyone enjoys sound because it can be disruptive and demand a person’s full attention, but imagine a future in which smart sound design can play a similar role in feedback as haptics or notifications in a more subtle and pleasant way. It’s important to consider not only visual cues but audio cues as well. Less screen time equals more face time.