Is Sound Important on Websites?

Updated IT News

When used intelligently, audio can elevate a browsing experience.

We’ve all experienced it: you’re casually surfing the web, enjoying a nice playlist of your choice in the background. 

All of a sudden, your pleasant browsing experience is interrupted by an automatically-generated soundtrack on one of the many websites in your browser tabs, sending you scrambling to find the culprit.

You can probably also recall an engaging or immersive experience that you had while browsing through an interactive website that featured audio clips, which caught your attention and mesmerized you.

These two common experiences of sound in web design indicate how audio elements can either make or break how a website is received and perceived by visitors. 

Knowing where and how to use this powerful sensory tool is of critical importance for anyone seeking to use it to boost their engagement levels.   

In this article we’ll explore the delicate balance between positive and negative auditory stimuli and the many ways they can be used in web design to achieve a variety of results. 

Interactivity

One of the most effective ways to use sound on websites is through interactive response. The most common application – which most of us experience on a daily basis – is for alerts and notifications. 

Though such alerts are customizable to your needs and many choose to keep notifications silent, the default “new message” notification sound from social media giants like Facebook is possibly one of the most recognizable digital noises in the world today. Such clearly-identifiable alerts can trigger immediate responses in our brains that call on neurochemical reward systems. 

These can have a major impact on our behavior and the time we spend on apps and websites. 

Similarly, many sites in recent years have implemented a chat option to provide customer service. In many cases, a window may pop up accompanied by a sound alert to let you know that this service is available. 

It is important to note that while this can be helpful for users, it can also cause an unpleasant distraction if the alert is too overwhelming. Therefore, alerts must be subtle enough to avoid disturbance, while being obvious enough to grab attention.

The use of interactive sounds prompted by clicking or moving the cursor is an effective way to provide a more realistic experience that can have a deeper psychological impact. 

In this example from Beyond The Pandemic, the user has the ability to independently explore a virtual environment while being guided by auditory and visual clues. 

When placed in the portrayed character’s position, the user can better relate emotionally. This achieves the ultimate goal of this website: increasing awareness about the inequality and hardships that women have been facing as a result of the current pandemic.

As we analyze how sound can be used interactively in web design, it becomes clear that it can play a crucial role when used appropriately. After all, effective entertainment equals successful engagement.

Ambient Communication

More companies have been investing in psychosocial research to better understand human behavior and how it can be conditioned to achieve more screen time and user engagement. 

Digital Behavioral Design – which we’ve discussed in a previous article – is one of the outcomes of this emerging approach. 

Though most of the information we consume is through reading, studies have shown that Ambient Communication is also a very efficient way of communicating to users through sound, among other sensory mediums.

While vision is perhaps the most commonly used of our senses, our ability to process complex information from sound may in some cases be more effective and intuitive than reading. Depending on the individual, they may be a stronger auditory learner rather than a visual one, which is something significant to consider.

Immersion

When we search the web for a particular product or service, we have certain expectations and emotional concepts that we want to satisfy. Complimenting attractive visuals with compelling sounds can mentally transport the user to a deeper, more convincing experience through sensory immersion.

Though the visual aesthetic of a web page is usually the first thing that makes an impression on us, research has demonstrated that the emotional response to sound can be even more impactful. Studies have shown that music can activate neural pathways that are more closely linked to our memories and feelings.

In this example from Jazak Natural Spring Water, we see how their beautiful visual design blends with the audio clips to elicit a soothing experience of traversing through pristine nature. This gives the user a positive impression of a quality product obtained from a pure, earthly source.

Art and Music

Today most people discover and listen to music through online streaming platforms like Spotify and YouTube. However, artists are always looking for new ways to showcase their creations in impactful and innovative ways.

Art and music often complement each other and can be used in tandem to enhance the audience’s experience. When coupled with tantalizing sounds and animations, art may come to life to invoke a more touching experience.

For instance, Penderecki’s Garden is a breathtaking website designed to commemorate the life and work of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. 

Being a monumental artist with a love for gardening, the website is presented as a virtual garden. The user can explore this virtual landscape, discovering interesting facts about the composer and his life while listening to his music, giving us a truly vivid experience of Penderecki’s legacy.

Special Needs

In our increasingly digital world, smartphones and the internet have become crucial tools for our daily lives. Though sound might be considered by many as an unwanted or secondary component in websites, it may also be absolutely crucial for those with impaired vision or cognitive abilities.

Disability awareness and other ethical developments have encouraged many designers to be more innovative. This has inspired many ways to utilize sound as a guiding force in web design for people with such impairments. 

The Downside

While we have primarily focused on the benefits of using sound in web design, it is very clear that there is a time and place for it. 

Other than the potentially annoying effect it can have on users, background music has long been regarded by many as outdated and even unprofessional. It’s important to consider that people have different tastes, so something that sounds good to you might be unpleasant for someone else. 

Sounds can have quite an invasive effect on our browsing experience if used in an inappropriate context.

Not to mention, running sounds requires more bandwidth, which may cause websites to run more slowly or produce unexpected complications. It is also important to consider that not all browsers and devices may be compatible for playing audio on websites.

Ultimately, there is no simple yes or no answer to whether sound should be used on websites. The truth is, it depends on what type of site you want to develop and how the sound is implemented. 

To minimize any negative reactions to sounds or music, it is always wise to consider an obvious sound off/on option to let the user know they have a choice. Also be sure to use the most compatible methods for integrating audio on a website.

As the digital race continues, we are sure to discover more new and exciting ways to include sound in web design. Until then, let’s not forget to exercise caution when choosing how to implement it.

Are you looking for interesting features to include on your website or app? Get in touch to learn more about how Bocasay can help you reach your web or app goals.

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