Saturday, June 30, 2007

Audio and the User Experience

For most people, sound is an essential part of everyday living. Sound can deliver entertainment—like our favorite music or the play-by-play call of our hometown baseball—and vital information—like the traffic and news reports on the radio as we drive to work.

Audio signals also help us interact with our environment. Some of these signals are designed: We wake to the buzz of the alarm clock, answer the ringing telephone, and race to the kitchen when the shrill beep of the smoke alarm warns us that dinner is burning on the stove. Other audio signals are not deliberately designed, but help us nonetheless. For instance, we may know the proper sound of the central air conditioning starting, the gentle hum of the PC fan, or the noise of the refrigerator. So, when these systems go awry, we notice it immediately—something doesn’t sound right. Likewise, an excellent mechanic might be able to tell what is wrong with a car engine just by listening to it run.

Since people are accustomed to such a rich universe of offline sound, it’s notable that our digital user experiences—while far from silent—do not leverage audio information to the same extent that they do visual information. When designers and developers create user experiences—be they for Web applications, desktop applications, or digital devices—audio is often a missing ingredient.

Digital audio is well established in many areas. It’s a common delivery medium for products and experiences like podcasts, music, and streaming Internet radio. Digital audio is becoming a common two-way communications medium through all the varied forms of voice over IP. And as a medium for interaction with computers of various kinds, voice interfaces are rapidly developing. In fact, advances in voice recognition and voice interfaces for phone support systems are making it increasingly likely that you’ll talk to a computer when you dial a customer service line. But despite these robust applications, the integration of audio into graphic user interfaces is still a rarity."    (Continued via UXmatters)    [Usability Resources]


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