How Important Is Sound Design for UX?

Updated IT News

Every day, we move closer to a high-tech future where multisensory design is the norm. 

When was the last time you remember experiencing complete silence? The truth is, as long as we are alive we are hearing some sort of sound. Whether it is the electrical hum of a household appliance, a car driving down the road or the sound of your own breath – we are constantly tuning in and out of an intricate soundscape.

Over the years we have developed complex neural systems which allow us to focus on specific stimuli and interpret them as useful information. Like many other animals, humans are programmed to react to a wide variety of auditory cues that help us better understand our environment and accomplish our goals.

It is no surprise that designers and top players in the industry are paying more attention to sound and how it affects user experience (UX). By analyzing the impact of different timbres (or sound characteristics), dynamics and other auditory properties, companies can create more customized sounds that represent their brand more accurately.

Sound design is now an essential tool for major brands who are looking to breathe life into their products – and create an identity that can be recognized through more than just a logo.

Visual aesthetics are often the first priority when it comes to design. However, considering the auditory component is crucial to developing a complete UX which fully engages the user.

Below are some points that highlight the importance of sound design and its impact on UX.

Realism and emotional response

Our natural environment is made up of an array of colors, sounds and textures that we are constantly processing to make sense of our surroundings. In order to create a UX or User Interface (UI) that feels real, designers must consider the qualities in our environment that define a real-life experience. This is as important in audio as it is in visual design.

As we observe the many roles that sound plays in nature – a menacing bark, a mating call or a soothing pur – we can better understand how and why certain sound qualities can have a subtle but significant emotional impact on us. 

Although we may not be aware of the complexity of sound design – as it’s after all a relatively new field – there has been a wealth of thought and research emerging in recent years. This study explores the definition of sound design, and how it is implemented to play an impactful role in multimedia design. 

By analyzing psychoacoustics – the study of how we perceive and psychologically interpret sounds – designers gain a better understanding of the qualities that make up sounds and use this to elicit a desired emotional response.

When using an app like Duolingo, one encounters a triumphant horn sound when completing a level. This instantly gives the user a sense of accomplishment. The more they experience this, the stronger the positive association with this sound becomes. Though we may not notice it, a lot of thought went into designing this sound to accomplish just that.

Realism – the quality that represents an accurate representation of true life – is an integral tool that can be used to immerse the user in a life-like experience. The more realistic the UX, the stronger the emotional response from the user. We see this all the time in film and more recently on apps and websites.

Even minor details like the frequency response or slight alterations in the timbre can have a significant impact on how we perceive a sound and the psychological effect it has on us.

Functionality

With today’s overwhelming availability of apps and websites to help you accomplish even the most unthinkable tasks, it is no wonder that there is a plethora of different sounds that go along with them. 

Auditory cues have been around as long as we know, whether it is a horn signaling imminent danger or a school bell prompting students to return to class. It only makes sense that as our society becomes more complex, so do these sonic signals as they find their place in our modern digitized world.

Alerts and notifications

The most common application of digital sounds is messaging alerts and app notifications. These sounds have become so commonplace that our behavior is inevitably linked to these signals, which cause immediate responses, almost like a reflex. 

The ‘ping’ sound of a received Facebook Messenger text or a Twitter notification are forever ingrained in our minds as a significant cue that requires attention. Though they only last a moment, the length, smoothness, pitch, timbre and psychoacoustic properties of these sounds are carefully considered during the design process to induce the desired effect.

Creating ambience

Music and background noises are often used on websites to create a certain atmosphere for the user. Whether it’s soothing sounds of nature for a Spa webpage or background music for a live venue’s website, the goal is to make the user feel like they are in a sort of simulation that represents the real experience advertised.

In this example we see how Japanese composer Ayako Taniguchi’s music is brought to life through an elegant design that fuses his music with visualizations that flow with the sound. Such a design gives the user an ethereal experience, complimented by the dreamy soundscape.

Voice User Interface

Also known as VUI, voice user interface is becoming more common as devices become more compact and automated, diminishing the presence of screens. This practical application of sound design is a key function as we move towards increasingly hands-free technology for multitasking convenience. 

Staples of this tech like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant are now commonly used on a daily basis. Everything from the type of voice to the culturally neutral tone must be considered to generate the most effective and generally positive UX possible.

Brand Identity

Some companies spend millions on developing the perfect logo that represents their brand. Sound design is quickly becoming equally important as multimedia production is becoming the standard.

For instance, any Macbook user can instantly recognize the epic startup sound that was carefully designed to welcome us to the world of the iconic Apple product. Coca Cola’s “Always Coca Cola” jingle has become an international staple of the product which can be heard in most major languages around the world.

This auditory hook coupled with an effective logo is a guaranteed way to establish sensory depth and create a memorable experience associated with a product. 

Sound design not only adds to the UX but is a critical tool for any brand that uses it effectively. Audio is an essential aspect of the human experience, thus its application in technology and design is essential.

It’s hard to imagine a world without sound. Soon it might also be hard to imagine a UX without sound, as web design becomes more realistic and representative of everyday life.

Do you have a web or app project you want to turn into reality? Get in touch and we’ll be happy to chat about how Bocasay can help you make it happen. We have several IT centers around the world : Vietnam offshore development center, or in Madagascar, Mauritius etc.

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