Making sonification more adequate and useful

General & important remark :
No sonification samples should be normalized at 0dBFS !!! (see MacOS 9 alert sounds)


I. When sonification seems necessary

In regards to our personal computer user experience, along with all the examples studied in the previous chapters, it is possible to draw certain intuitive conclusions concerning the cases when sonification seems necessary. For example, in the following cases :

1. document saving confirmation
2. end of task notify (or during the task to check the advancement)
3. network operation succeeded (more generally when something difficult / unsure is succeeded)
4. in a big list, notify events that could have not be seen otherwise (ex : mail inbox)
5. from the IM basis : when event monitoring is done on a non-active window.
6. confirms an invisible action - or not instantly visible (ex Mac CD player eject)
7. In 3D worlds, where things are not as easy to localize as in 2D


Why ?

1. When an important project is going on, and the user saves its work constantly by using the keyboard shortcut (ctrl + S or apple + S), it seems reassuring to have an audio signal to confirm that the work is indeed saved. Now it shouldn't be as sharp & clear (and almost aggressive) as the "saved" audio signal that can be found in Office Mac 98 : saving is not such a victory ! It should be quite soft, just here for confirmation.

2. So the user doesn't have to go and watch all the time !
Ideas : an audio countdown when processing - and more interesting : a periodic reminder when over

3. Typical example : file transferred in IMs - transferring files in IMs is always so worrying...
The samples use here can be quite loud. IM designers have already thought of that (cf ICQ & AIM)

4. Typical example : OutLook express "you've got mail / no new mail" couple. Extremely useful when having 250 mails in inbox.

5. Typical example : "toc toc toc" in ICQ.
This takes place in network operation monitor. Could possibly be expanded to any kind of monitor, if any.

6. let's take a CD player without CD inside,that the user opens - nothing confirms it visually and it takes some time.
If the computer is not close to the user, the problem gets worse

7. It is enough to watch a 3D videogame (see Zelda) to be convinced of this point.


II. When sonification seems a nuisance

Certain examples we have met during the previous samples show that sometimes, unnecessary or abusive use of sonification can really get disturbing, and in certain cases, downright obnoxious. For example in the following cases :

1. when happening too often (ex ICQ message typing - Windows window maximizing / minimizing)
2. sounds too agressive (too rich in hi medium) - sonification should generally be very smooth
3. exceedingly redundant with visual infos ; for example :
- moving a window - ex MacOS 9 Platinum sonification
- scrolling - idem
- typing - ex ICQ message typing
4. underlines a completely unimportant action (loads of examples in MacOS9 platinum scheme)


III. Different methods to convey meaning

Sonification consists in associating meaningful audio samples with certain functions.
In order to be a success, sonification must use meaningful samples, that will convey the right meaning.

In regard with all the examples we have studied in the previous chapters, it is possible to distinguish between three methods that can be used in order to associate functions with samples.


1. morphological profiles

Morphological profiles are a simple way to convey a given meaning.
Below are typical examples.

function origin
sample for "open window" Windows 98
mel profile
sample for "close window" MacOS user scheme
mel profile


2. harmony rules

Especially in longer samples, classical harmony rules can be of help.
In the following example, a plagal cadence is used in the logoff sample to "say goodbye", whereas the logon sample contains no cadences, which is quite wise when avoiding any kind of conclusion.



3. metaphoric means

The use of images is a method that comes readily to mind : a door closing to sonify a window closing, a bell to warn...
Three examples :

function origin
sample for "close window" Windows 98 - Robotz theme
animal going away
sample for "close window" Windows 98 - Jungle theme
pneumatic door closing
sample for "warned by user" - feedback degree -3 AOL instant messenger - user scheme
fake animal cry mixed with electronic alarm


4. sample spectrum

Sometimes simpler means can have the most efficient effects. The following samples have in common their low spectrum, and are used for extremely negative feedback.

function origin
sample for "warned by user" - feedback degree -3 AOL instant messenger - official scheme
sample for "you lose" - feedback degree -3 Starcraft