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Designing Products with Sound by Amber Case, Aaron Day

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Chapter 3: Principles of Sound Design for Products

Introduction

Sound design is easy to get wrong. There are three main reasons for this. 

The first is the sheer number of variables. What kind of sound will you make? What auditory environment will it inhabit? How much information does it need to convey, and how specifically? Will it be pre-recorded, synthesized or algorithmically generated? The possibilities really are infinite. This can present tremendous challenges, but it’s also an opportunity to create something unique, that actively supports the user experience established by the visual components of the interaction. The key to getting this right is not getting distracted by the endless array of tools available for working with sound--it’s easy to get lost tool shopping when you should be wood-shedding.

The second challenge is that success is often difficult to measure. While it’s straightforward to evaluate whether a particular sound is appropriate or intrusive at a given moment, the real potential of an audio user interface is in the way it performs as a system. Well-designed sound can dramatically improve the experience of the user as they navigate the entire UI, but only when it’s part of a consistent, reliable whole, and takes some cognitive load off the visual interface. This is transformative, but also difficult to quantify.

The third challenge is that most of us are working with an incomplete set of guidelines and standards. Unlike visual UI, which has a rich ecosystem ...

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