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Sounds Like Heaven: Dmitry Novikov Talks about Audio Design in Applications

Today there are lots of different devices around us. It seems natural that each application has its unique icon and UI interface that allows us to navigate them quickly. But at the same time, many users or even designers don’t give enough attention to how the application itself sounds. Dmitry Novikov – art director and sound designer MacPaw shares thoughts on why the sound in interfaces matters and shares some of his findings on audio mastering. 

Reason #1 – Sound helps us differentiate

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We distinguish the sounds of incoming messages from different chats, and based on this we can often differentiate who writes to us: for example, Viber doesn’t sound like Telegram, but we know that audiences are also different.

A good trend is that unique sounds are now available in different applications: they can be installed in instant messengers for various contacts.

Of course, most people use their smartphones in silent mode, and they don’t have a clue about the world of sounds embedded within each application.

Fortunately, you can set not only sound but also custom vibration. This is a separate audio track, but the principle of differentiation is the same. Vibration acts directly on the nerve endings, which creates a new experience in the interaction with the device that is already familiar to the user.

Reason #2 — Sound gives the application a character

Programs are so different – each has its own personality and unique visual solutions. Logically, the sound design should also support the intended style. For example, if the program is about the future, then you likely to create music entirely from synthetic sounds. This can be done independently using the library of synths in any music editor.

Some programs require a completely different approach. Designing an expensive application, it is more logical to use the recording of live instruments. They are recorded accurately for the case or found in professional libraries collected by sound masters.

DO and DON’TS for audio design applications

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  • The designed sound should be quieter than the sound of a system

Rule number one – if a person listens to music or communicates via video link, the sound of the application should not muffle the voice or stun.
The sound may be approximately 70% of the system volume for notifications of primary importance and 50% for secondary ones. 30-40% of the volume is considered acceptable for the voice of the interface.

Always use free utilities

The reason is simple – it is faster and easier. If, for example, you don’t have a personal computer with you one day, and you need to do the work, you don’t have to spend time downloading heavy software or paid extensions. Basic things can be done in any program.
Get at least a free editor Audacity. It has an ugly icon and interface, but it does its job.

Remove the tails in the tracks

The tail is the end of the sound wave, which should be led to zero. If this is not done at the end of the track, a click will be heard.

Test the sound on different devices

The sound should be made as readable as possible – there should be sounds in different frequencies. Before releasing in production, you need to check how the sound behaves in large and small speakers, in the car, in different types of headphones. Use the maximum of the middle range and cut the spurious frequencies.

Try to keep the sound always friendly

Sounds should not break into your personal space. Their task is to be positive, and in some cases, it is preferable to remain neutral. For example, in various instant messengers. A good example is the iMessage sound. This is just a note. She has no color, there is no transition to a major or minor chord. This is the right decision because no one knows the message with what content you received. Sounds on Android are far from neutral. Fortunately, there is a Google Pixel – such an iPhone in the world of Androids with fairly good sound design.

Where to get inspiration? Good examples of sound design

Illustration is made by DarkCube Studio

The value of audio accompaniment has long been recognized in the fields of game design and cinema. Unfortunately, applications are most often issued deaf-mute. But there are good exceptions.

* Disco – is an application to record audio tracks to disk. It had a beautiful icon – a black disco ball burned with black fire. When filing a disc, the program began to smoke. It was possible to blow on the microphone, and the smoke dissipated. I count is as complexed sound design. 

* AppleWatch sound design – is a recording of a wooden hammer tapping on an empty watch case, and it’s pure magic.

In some cases, the sound is part of the game mechanics. For instance, The Messenger – 16 Bit Ninja Pro Game – a masterpiece of game design with a lot of findings, including the sound.

One Thought To Keep:

A person has 5 senses, but product designers continue to massively affect only one of them – vision. As authors, we are guided by the desire to correctly convey our plans to the consumer. To this end, whenever possible, we will use all means.

Properly selected sounds:

  • create a holistic picture of the product;
  • give feedback;
  • increase usability.

Another good example is aroma marketing. Some boutiques and restaurants have learned to use the maximum amount of funds so that the impression of their product is the most complete. Sound design serves the same purpose.

Dmitry Novikov

Art Director & Product Designer at MacPaw
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