Sound in user experience design

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works…and sounds.

The web is home to thousands of sites dedicated to showcasing great design, but the majority of these are focused purely on the visual, meaning that the audible aspect of design is often overlooked.

It’s an issue that user experience designer and musician, Jordan Kolasinski, addresses with his latest project, Beyond The Beep, a blog described as “a look (and listen) at the use of sounds in user experience design”.

It’s a project that combines his love of both design and music:

Sounds from our digital devices can achieve so much – they give feedback to our actions, communicate different states of a system, talk to us when we’re not looking, and enforce the personality or brand of products. Despite their great efficiency and potential, UX sounds have a reputation of being annoying, and if their depiction in TV and film was accurate, every little thing a computer did would be accompanied by an early 1990’s-sounding beep.

From a lifelong love and study of music, I’m definitely biased towards the enormous power and communicative potential of sound. I hope to use this bias to help you appreciate the tiny music our digital devices make, and to maybe even inspire the creation of more clever and communicative sounds.

So far Jordan has analysed the sounds of products such as the iPhone, Apple TV, Skype and Facebook. Speaking of which, his analysis of the latter lead to a surprising, but delightful, discovery:

When one of your friends attempts to initiate a video chat with you, a louder “ringing” arpeggio plays and repeats. What are the notes in this sound, you may wonder? It plays the first 4 notes of the F Major 7 chord, which are – I kid you not – F, A, C and E.

Pretty cool, right? Be sure to check out the rest of Jordan’s post on Facebook’s UI sounds here.

What is your opinion of sound in UX design? Do you have any favorite examples to share? Let us know in the comments.

  • AndrewPoison

    Sound ist the worst thing a website can do. Even if it “fits” or only comes to life after I’ve taken some action.

    No sound. Never. Ever.

  • Pat Alexander NY

    If a website has music playing when I visit, the 1st thing I do is turn it off. If I can’t instantly find the turn off button I vamoose. I do, however, like the melodic tiny beep my Mac makes for some little action. Have never heard Facebook sounds. Am not a member. Too intrusive for me.

  • nk

    „Pretty cool, right?“


  • Isis Marques

    I understand the point of the text and I also agree that sound can enrich the user experience in some cases but, in web, I just find it unnecessary and intrusive…

    IMHO, sites with music, or sounds in the buttons are disturbing. I prefer visual clues to show interactions.

    Maybe I’m just used to the muted web, but music seem to be something so personal that I think the only way to make it enjoyable to the user would be to change the sounds according to the historic of preferences to each user. Maybe in a not so distant future! =)

  • Friv Jogos

    Great stuff here. The information and the detail were just perfect.

  • Sébastien Conejo

    I think like AndrewPoison, I never appreciate sound in a website but it’s a good way to give feed back.

  • Elie

    Sounds in tech products can be described as noise. It disturb others in the room, some time loud… and it doesn’t affect much the user experience. Unless its used in specific artistic manner as SFX in websites where the user ask for some kind of experience, its a no.

  • friv 2 friv 3 friv 4

    I never appreciate sound in a website but it’s a good way to give feed back…