The audio element is an excellent means of interacting with the audience when the visual aspect cannot be perceived by the user. However, audio is not always acceptable, especially when the other feedback sources are present and sufficient.
As most of our households utilize sound-based notifications for various events, web designers cannot help but wonder if they should focus on incorporating audio elements into their creation. Is the sound good for anything in web design? If it is, then what feedback mechanisms should be used? Let’s elaborate.
Audio is virtually everywhere!
Regardless of whether we are at home, at work or simply walking on the street we inevitably use devices that strongly rely on sounds. The common devices that employ audio to enhance the user experience are as following:
Trends indicate that the world wide web is moving towards mobile devices, which obviously implies smaller screens and users who are constantly on the move. Even though we’re not minimizing the usefulness of this approach, there is still a noteworthy issue: mobile owners do not always have the time or are unable to interact with their screens. The solution is very simple in this case: mobile user experience can greatly benefit from the audio element (like in the case of GPS apps).
- Consumer devices
The vast majority of household devices incorporate various sounds to indicate various actions, such as the need for modifying the current settings, reminder that the set has been completed or that something is wrong.
- Video games
If you ever played a video game, then you probably know that it is sometimes impossible to play without sound. Not only is sound important for setting the atmosphere of the game, but in certain games (Call of Duty), it can make all the difference, because they indicate unseen cause and effect.
- Speech recognition software
You only have to think of Apple’s Siri in order to understand the way speech recognition applications have revolutionized the way mobile users interact with their devices.
Audio is excellent for augmenting visual information and instruction
Let’s imagine you want to present a new and sophisticated service/product to your audience. You could describe what it is and how to use it. Or, you can incorporate a video on the product page, where the instructions and additional information can be explained much easier. Which do you think will help users understand better and use the product correctly?
On a side note, it is always a bad idea to leave your instructional videos on autoplay. The best approach is to include a pause/stop mechanism and some basic settings to allow users to adjust the sound volume independently from their playback devices.
Audio as a feedback mechanism
The audio element can be considered a feedback mechanism in the circumstance when it can determine the users to take action. However, as previously mentioned, sound can also be used for interacting and having conversations with the users.
In order to better understand how audio can become a feedback mechanism, then it is sufficient to remind you of the possibility of sending a text message with your voice via certain smartphones. In the eventuality that your audience is slowly shifting from desktops to mobiles, then providing audio support for the mobile website is a more than welcomed change.
Can audio humanize a device?
The short answer is yes and here is the perfect example to demonstrate it. A few years ago a radio station made an experiment where they asked kids to keep America’s favorite doll (Barbie) and one of the notorious Furby dolls upside down. Because the Furby doll incorporated a voice and described his mood to the children, it was perceived as a living hamster and hence, children could not keep it upside down too long. On the other hand, Barbie could he held like that forever.
Essentially, if audio actually helps convey a message, instruct, engage and enhance user experience, then it should be used in web design. On the other hand, if it is poorly created or utilized just because it is the new hype in web design (or other inappropriate reason) it will have the opposite effect: audio will annoy and detract the users from the experience you are trying to set.