The below is an excerpt from Beckerman’s book, The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy. Beckerman is presenting “The Inescapable Influence of Sound” at PromaxBDA The Conference 2015 on Thursday, June 11 at 9 am.
There are all kinds of sonic opportunities left behind when it comes to the design of user interfaces. They’re the ways we access technology. And the goal of the best user interfaces is often to make the technology itself disappear into an experience. “It just works” is how Steve Jobs described the user interfaces of Apple’s devices.
People play with sonic triggers in user interfaces, but too often those sounds don’t benefit anyone, don’t mean anything, or don’t tell a larger story. They’re neat, at best. Take, for example, the way scientists and designers have sonified the volume of trading measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average. But why don’t Wall Street traders use these kinds of sonic tools to help convey an urgency when a price dips or spikes so they can act accordingly? Aren’t traders analogous to the fighter pilots who use sounds to warn of incoming enemies in this type of situation? Chefs or home cooks managing multi-part dinners could be using different intuitive notification sounds to tell them when various courses were done. Your calendar could tell you when have a certain number of minutes until your next meeting with a helpful sound instead of the intrusive paragraph of text that pops up in the middle of your work after a clunky bonk. Sound could create the landscape in which we make these important decisions and lead to better, more considered outcomes.
On a lighter note, sound in user experiences could save us time and effort. Think about your last trip to your bank’s ATM. If it didn’t make a sound, how hard did you have to watch the screen to make sure the buttons you pressed actually registered? That same system could be part of a rich sonic strategy for a financial institution. What if more banks created better sonic identities? Like AT&T’s anthem, a bank’s score could capture all of the distinguishing characteristics of the brand: the people’s bank; the world’s most convenient bank; the world’s most trusted bank, and so on. The anthem, which would be heard on TV and radio, online, and everywhere the bank brand appeared, could be distilled into smaller instances of sound that would show up wherever the bank enabled a transaction. At the ATM, each progressive note of your four- or five-digit PIN could be a note in the theme of the bank’s anthem.
Getting money would become a satisfying game: Your individual PIN would always be unique, and no one could hear the numbers you’d typed, but the first, second, third, and fourth numbers (whatever they were) would always play the notes of the familiar sonic bank logo as you made your secure transaction. Your brain would hanker to complete the little song because it craves familiar patterns, and you’d have heard this one all over the place. Plus, you’d know not only whether you’d actually pressed the button hard enough but, without looking or paying that much attention, whether you were on the first, second, third, fourth, or fifth number of the PIN. And when you’d finished playing the little song, you’d get cash. The feedback loop would continue every time you heard that sound—as part of an anthem or even during an otherwise inconvenient time spent on hold with customer service. You’d remember that feeling of getting what you needed, and the sound would rein- force a positive experience.
My company recently had the good fortune to work with Weather Channel, which owns and runs one of the most popular mobile apps, with over a hundred million downloads and counting at the time of this writing. We created alert sounds that let you know (if you opt in, of course) when rain — or something more threatening, like a hurricane or tornado — is on the way. And the signal becomes more insistent with the severity of the weather event, sounding almost like an alarm or warning that sonically suggests you hightail it out of wherever you are and run for cover.
The point is, you feel the message of impending threatening weather before you even take your phone out to look at the details. The sound helps you instantly know what level of attention is required.
In an age where we’re buying more and more online, digital stores should be more deliberate about their use of sound. The shopping website Gilt.com is pushing into this space with mobile alerts it sends to registered customers who opt in. They hear the energizing, urgent-sounding notification play the instant a flash sale starts. Each day, thousands of aficionados love the rush of excitement that’s triggered when they hear that sound. What if online stores played a sound when you unlocked a special VIP experience or discounts on luxury items? As long as you were already in a receptive frame of mind, the right sound could subtly nudge you along in the shopping experience.
Joel Beckerman is the Founder and Lead Composer of Man Made Music. A 20-year veteran of music for media, Joel is an accomplished composer, producer and arranger who has created a unique and distinctive sound for hundreds of brands, marketing campaigns and television shows. He has received the prestigious ASCAP Most Performed Themes Award for nine consecutive years, and his team has received twelve PromaxBDA Gold Muses and The Broadcast Design Association Pinnacle award. In 2010, Fast Company named Man Made Music the #3 Most Innovative Music Company, after Apple Corps and Spotify. Joel was also selected as one of Fast Company’s “Most Creative People in Business 1000.”
As innovators and thought-leaders in their field, Man Made Music specializes in Sonic Branding, which is defined as the strategic use of music and sound to build brands. The music company has worked with dozens of television networks including (NBC, CBS, ABC, Showtime, HBO, FOX, Discovery, FX, History, A&E, ESPN) and global brands such as Disney, IMAX, AT&T, Southwest and E*TRADE.