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Sound – The Future Of Experience Design?

I just read a fantastic post by Man Made Music that hit a personal sweet spot for me—tapping into sound as the next big differentiator in intuitive design. When I read the word sound, my mind immediately moved to music. I love music. I’m a singer and songwriter, play my guitar almost daily and even started a small rock music school. So when I read Kevin Perlmutter’s piece on the role of sound in experience design, I was pretty psyched.

 

Kevin talks about how 2016 is the “year of emotion,” according to Temkin, and how our brain can identify a sound in less than the blink of an eye. That’s a powerful tool when you consider the typical user spends 30 seconds or less scanning a site for information. Couple that with what everyone knows is true: sound makes memories stick. Sound crystalizes in our brains in ways that words alone simply do not. We all have proof of this in our own lives. For me, it’s the Chevrolet jingle I remember thirty-five years after it aired. If you grew up in the DC area, you’ll likely recall “You’ll always get your way at Ourisman Cheverolet.” I remember the entire song. Ironically—or perhaps not—I now own a Chevy.

...2016 is the year of emotion according to Temkin...

But, I don’t think Kevin meant adding music to your site. Let’s look closer at the meaning of sound in the context of Kevin’s article. I think the idea here is to explore and innovate with sound. We receive several affirmation and reminder sounds from non-connected and IoT devices every day. But I think Kevin is challenging us, experience designers, to think more deeply and truly come up with innovative ways to use sound in our designs.

 

This got me thinking about the sounds in my own life, those I appreciate, abhor, or wish I had. I love the sound of my home alarm confirming it’s set, the harp ring tone that wakes me each morning, and the ever welcome sound of the coffee maker percolating. I don’t love the sound of the power on the left side of the kitchen shutting down when I run the microwave, toaster oven, and coffee maker simultaneously. I wish there were a sound, inaudible to me, to deter my cat from waking me while I’m asleep.

 

Then there are sounds I am not even aware of as much as I likely once was, but that confirm and help along my day: the chime of an instant message, the clack of each key as a I type, the ding that my gas tank is low.

 

As I wrote that last paragraph, I had to think hard to identify helpful sounds in my life. I realized one simple truth: I am an introvert and risk taker; I shut off most sounds. I don’t watch TV and I don’t listen to the radio because I can’t stand listening to the talking or commercials. I love that my seat belt warning sound is faulty and only dings at me once I’m a mile down the road. I get to take this little risk through the neighborhood without big brother incessantly alerting me to put my seat belt on. I delight in not wearing it and in not being reminded for that brief moment. I further realized, my phone is always on vibrate and not a single app is allowed to notify me of anything.

 

Maybe I am an anomaly in the groups of people that we design experiences for, but maybe not.

 

As we approach thinking about how to add sound to designs, I think we need to remember the basic heuristic rules and allow a method for users to opt out of sounds for alerts, notifications, and confirmations. It’s something some apps do well while others ignore, perhaps on purpose. I like the idea of providing a way for users to set quiet hours, for example, from 11pm – 5am they can elect to not be notified of anything.

 

But what about the future of sound in design? I would not disable a sound that notified me the water in my shower were at temperature, or a sound that indicated my refrigerator were low on food and that the fridge, in its infinite wisdom, is emailing me a grocery list from which I can click “order” and be done.

 

As I look to what surrounds and excites me today about emergent trends in technology, I look at what I am addicted to. I binge watch Netflix—why do I do that and what could I do with sound to increase my watching? I’d laugh if every once in a great while Netflix played me a little sound and sent me a message telling me to get the f*ck off Netflix and go to bed. It would seriously endear them to me even more.

 

I am challenging myself to dig deeper into what makes me do what I do on and offline. What makes me walk for hours in the nearby nature reserve or read a book from cover to cover in one night? What is it about watercolors that fascinate me and hold my attention for three hours at a time? Why do I play my guitar all night some evenings? It’s these things, these sights and sounds that delight, engage, and keep me coming back for more.

 

I hope you check out Man Made Music, an exceptional company, and that you found this post helpful and thought provoking. Comment below if you have any advice you’d like to add or tweet it to me @karenlpassmore.

 

 

kpassmore
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