Adding Sounds to UI

Adding Sounds to UI

We use a combination of vision and audition every day to gather information and interact with the world around us. However, this combination is not yet reflected in web interfaces. Most UIs are extremely vision-oriented/graphic-driven.

We use a combination of vision and audition every day to gather information and interact with the world around us. However, this combination is not yet reflected in web interfaces. Most UIs are extremely vision-oriented/graphic-driven.

In the past, because of my music background, I always advocated for the use of sounds on websites. A marriage of vision and audition could be a powerful tool for interaction with human-computer interfaces.

Rafa Absar and Catherine Guastavino, authors of the paper Usability of non-speech sounds in user interface(2008), note that:

“If all the information is presented visually, it may lead to visual overload and may also lead to some information being missed, if the eyes are focused elsewhere.”

At the time, the conventional wisdom was that sounds should be used only in gaming applications. This perception came from a misunderstanding that users had their full attention on the desktop. They would hardly ever get distracted. Therefore, the use of sounds would be unnecessary and could even detract from the user’s experience.

There were also technical limitations that could make the whole experience poor — lack of browser compatibility with audio formats and slow connections (it took time to load audio files on most devices).

Fortunately, things changed. There is less guesswork in UI development, UX became a predominant field, and the number of studies around the use of sounds in UI began to grow.

ux sound-design javascript ui-sound front

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