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How sound design works in apps

We spend a lot of time using cellphones in our daily life. If we need to send a message to somebody, we get to choose a lot of applications. There is also plenty of applications for online-calling. Mobile phones help us a lot in our daily life if you need to talk to someone while traveling. We can also get acquainted with new people using apps. We easily can find a couch to sleep in another country and even find a partner in a dating app. However, there is one thing which makes some applications stand out among others. It’s sound.

Why do applications need sound design?

When we first launch the application, we pay attention to the visual design of the applications. Everything should be helpful and comfortable to use.

There are several functions of the in-app sound:

  • Feedback

Sounds that perform the feedback function let us know that some element of the application has been activated or deactivated. In other words, the program reacts to our actions. It is a good way to make interactive content. This system works everywhere. The microwave would play an audio signal to let us now the food is warming up after we pressed a button. The car would play an audio signal when you use blinkers or hazard lights, and so on.

In this video, you can see how the Memrise app responds to correct answers. When we answer correctly, there is a green frame around the name, but additionally, we hear a clearly positive audio signal. False answers will have a red outline, plus there is an audio signal that we can efficiently identify as wrong.

  • Notifications

Sound alerts or notifications are common in apps. We hear them, for instance, when we receive a new message or an incoming call. This feature helps us to find out about any events that require our response. This also includes notifications of significant actions. For example, if we cancel an order in an application, it is going to sound big so that we do not accidentally click where we should not, and once again think: “Do I really want to cancel the order?”

Facebook Messenger makes it easy to navigate through sounds. Each action is followed by one or another sound signal. According to them, we can understand that the person we are talking to has read our message, replied, or still typing an answer.

Sonic Identity

All UI elements may have the following sound, but how, among other programs, can you not get lost with so many sounds? This is where sound identity (a.k.a. sound branding) comes in handy. Many of us remember the sound of launching Windows XP. This is a great example. Sound design, like a graphic one, can be a solid clue to the branding style of the application. The sound of running Windows XP can’t be taken for anything else, and this trend of sound identity continues to this day.

Let’s get back to Messenger. The audio notification of an incoming call cannot be confused with the sound of another messenger. We will immediately understand that someone is calling us in Facebook Messenger app hearing this audio notification signal.

Skype also has a magnificent sound identity:

By the way, it also has a business version, in which the sounds are different. This also differs the business version of the app from the regular version for ordinary users:

The Tinder development team approached the creation of sound design even more seriously. They also added tempers to the sounds to stand out from the contest with other apps. They turned out bright and encouraging if the user had a match. However, some sounds can even be called flirting with the user.

Tinder is a great example, because if the sounds cause you to have emotions as feedback, then you will surely come back to the application to repeat your actions. It will make you feel those emotions again, even though if it was just a match in the dating application.

How to make good sound design in apps

It’s an art to create a sound identity, but we can still outline the basic principles of good sound design in applications.

  • Sounds should be useful

If you just come across some good sounds, it does not mean they are required for the application. Think twice if this is a sound that will be helpful for UX. Do you need it at all? Hearing the audio signals, the user shall understand the functioning of the application, such as feedback to his actions, etc. 

  • Use similar sounds

All sounds of your application should be related. If the sound design is well-made, you would simply determine which program the sounds belong to. Of course, they should also have the same volume level or length. Don’t forget to pay attention to the equalization and reverberation of your sounds – these parameters should not differ much unless there is no other goal.

  • Don’t be annoying

The repetitive sounds need to be taken care of. They should at least not be intrusive or removed at all in this situation. Otherwise, not only can the user turn off your application’s sounds, but it can also be totally deleted. The specific review is also required for long sounds. If you like an audio file, but in fact, only one second of it would be useful, just cut it off.

Using apps all the time, we do not even think sound design affects us that much. By the type of sound, we can immediately determine from which messenger it comes from, and sometimes even know in advance who is calling us. The impact on our emotions is also huge. The sound design in applications makes UX more interesting because due to this, we can fully get into the idea of ​​developers and use the app the most comfortable way for us.

Bonus: how to play ringtones and other sounds of popular applications on the piano

Pavel Novikov

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