• Transform magazine
  • May 18, 2022

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How user experience sound design can benefit your product and brand

Ruslana

Ruslana Kruchek, co-founder of VP Production audio agency in Odessa, Ukraine, analyses the ways brands can utilise sound design. She also argues it is worth doing for reasons of inclusivity, capturing an audience’s attention and improving a brand’s overall perception.

As you may have heard, our world is now living in a state of 'continuous partial attention,' making it more challenging for products and brands to keep in touch with their audiences. That’s where the sound comes into play.

And while brands, little by little, start paying attention to sound and music on social platforms, in digital and physical retail, and across above the line communications, audio in user interfaces (UI) remains either overlooked or underrated. This approach results in the creation of silent, chaotically- or standard-sounding apps, which leads to missed opportunities.

At this point, many people would pull out an argument that this topic isn’t of much relevance because millions of people have constantly muted smartphones. While it’s a valid point, millions of others still don’t silence their phones. Don’t they deserve a better experience? Especially those with vision disabilities, for whom thoroughly sounded apps are vital.

Inclusivity is the first benefit that user experience (UX) sound design provides to products.

Also, correctly designed and implemented sounds contribute to:

  • instantly capturing the user’s attention – think of notifications/alerts;
  • supporting the right mood during the Customer Journey – during a start-up flow, for example;
  • providing clear feedback, building context and understanding of a use case, which are essential to a successful user experience.

Overall, sound can give expression to interactions and reinforce a specific product’s functionality. You can learn more about best practices for applying sound to UI on the Material Design website; it has decent guidelines.

But what if we look at the bigger picture and not limit ourselves to UX sounds utility?

There is plenty of evidence that the correct use of audio can significantly increase brand consistency, engagement, recall, and differentiation, all of which can influence consumer behaviour over time.

This leads us to conclude that UX sounds should also be treated as an audio branding asset. And there are two ways to perform that.

The first one is more conservative and suitable for brands that have an app among their other touchpoints. In this case, everything follows the usual audio brand creation pipeline: you create an audio DNA based on the brand's promise, values, and personality and then adapt it to all the touchpoints, including the app.

That’s how we designed a set of notification sounds for FUIB Online, a mobile banking app of the First Ukrainian International Bank. In this case, it was essential to create an ‘extension’ of the bank in the clients' smartphones, so the set used an audio vocabulary defined by an audio DNA with tested efficiency.

The second approach is for those cases when the app is a centerpiece, like monobank, another Ukrainian banking app. This time around, everything begins with the app’s sonic identity: sounds are designed based on their functional roles but get an emotional glow-up according to the brand spirit; and then their usage is extended to other touchpoints (in monobank’s case, it’s TikTok, TV and digital ads, and influencer integrations).

While these two options may seem like total opposites, they actually follow the same principles:

  • UX sounds aren’t purely practical, and they carry a brand identity;
  • app sounds are a part of a more extensive system of audio-enabled touchpoints;
  • consistent usage of sound has the power to strengthen brand awareness and recognition.

To sum up, a well-thought-out UX sound design can benefit your product and brand. You can take either path: focus on merely reinforcing the app’s functionality or go further and work on your overall brand’s perception. Anyway, you’ll enhance the user experience for your customers, which matters most.