Audio QuickStart: Why Use Sound?

ound adds a whole other dimension to a Web site. It can add mood, meaning, tone, and understanding. Until recently, sound has been perceived as too “high bandwidth” for most people to consider using, but that is beginning to change.

Why Use Sound?
Why indeed? Sound, say its detractors, adds lots of bandwidth and little value.

Of course, the same can be said for almost any technology or content that you add to a Web site?using it “because you can” doesn’t add anything, but used with thought and care, sound can add a great deal to your site. The real answer to “why should I use sound” lies in your own site, your own content, and your own audience.

Sound is about much more than a clip of your garage band playing yet another cover of “Gloria” or “Crazy.” Think of sound as a design element … and explore the possibilities.

Audio Logos: Use Sound as Branding Element
Think of almost any product and you’ll probably hear a jingle dancing through your head.

  • Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee!

  • New Fab, we’re glad, they put new lemon-freshioned borax in you.

  • Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us …

  • My bologna has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R …

  • N-B-C

  • Chime! Mac OS

Find yourself bursting into song? Or at least humming along? Then you’ve experienced the power of sound as a branding element. The notion of an audio logo on the Web is fairly new, but it can add the same branding power that the jingle, theme song, or unique sound does for radio, television, and computer programs.

Click: Using Sound as Feedback
How do you know you’ve pressed a key on your telephone pad? It beeps or chirps at you. What about a key on your keyboard? It thumps, clicks, or clunks. Pick an option on a Web site and what tells you you’ve selected it? Mostly, the sound of silence.

Sound is the result of most actions, from the soft crinkle of a page turning in a book to the hiss of a channel change with the remote control. Our ears anticipate sound as part of the feedback loop for things we use. Including sound as part of Web navigation feedback should be a natural.

A Deeper Shade of Pale: Sound as Mood
You picked that calming soft melon background with grey type for a reason, didn’t you? It makes your Web page feel calm and peaceful. And the red type on the black background put tension and intensity into the page. You’re accustomed to using color and graphics to set a tone and mood for your site. Sound lets you add one more mood element.

The soft sounds of a lullabye put your reader in a very different information mode than the sounds of a banker screaming “come on in!” Used with thought, background sound can enhance and complement the tone you’re setting with other design elements.

It’s It: Sound as the Content
For some sites, sound *is* the raison d’etre.

  • If your site is about your garage band, a big portion of the content is probably music clips of your latest recording efforts.
  • If you are a Web radio station, almost all your content is sound in one form or another.

When audio is the key content element of a site, you’ll be thinking about it very carefully. You’ll be displaying it in a way that makes it easy to use and hear.

Start Here: Sound as a Training Element
If your site is about showing someone how to do something, consider adding sound to it. There’s nothing quite like a friendly voice explaining how to attach widget A to gidget B. The sound of a human speaking can add a new dimension to your training site.

Snap, Crackle, Pop: Adding Depth with Sound
Sometimes sound can add depth and richness to a site. Little bits of sound content can bring a whole new dimension to the topic.

  • Are you showing the world your new puppy? Add a gentle woof-woof recorded from Spot’s mouth when readers mouse-over Spot in his doggy-bed.
  • Are you demonstrating the latest in tree trimming technology? Add the soft buzz of the latest model chainsaw.

The trick with using sound to add richness is to balance sound with silence. Use sound where it matches well and it brings a new level to your site. It’s a little like animated gifs?one can be charming, but 28 sends the reader fleeing.

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