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I'm developping an industrial monitoring interface, and as the user is not always in front of its computer, we need sounds to help the user differenciate different behaviours ( incoming error, incoming info, error gone, big error... ).

For now, there is an existing application (an old one) that does produce some useful sounds... ie a dot matrix printer that makes a lot of noise on a piece of cardboard.

If it were from them, they'd need us to just use this sound. But I think we can do more in 2011. And I need this application in other locations were people are not used to dotmatrix printer sounds :)

so is there anything I can read about this or what do you guys think?

For now I'd go with beeping sounds, more like in some airplanes. I'd use text-to-speech but it's not easy with java as it's not in english (it'd need to be for instance in french/dutch...).

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up vote 4 down vote accepted


If you're looking for a good, general overview of the use and affect of "auditory icons" and "earcons", this is a good read: Note that non-beautiful sounds tend to be what is most often used; little is really understood about spearcons (speech), and one sound rarely works across environments.

Not surprisingly there is a lot of discussion on this topic regarding medical settings (as well as aviation), and that is where a lot of the research comes from. See this for a good discussion on effectiveness in medical settings (the recommendations can be generalized to other settings, including manufacturing): Of most interest is the section on controlling the number of alarms.

For a comparison of different approaches, see this: See especially the auditory display type table - spearcons do best. (This is not, however, an analysis in an alarm setting - just general response times. Regardless, worth a look.)

There are numerous libraries out there offering sound sets for free (and for $$) - but you'll struggle to get something quite right. If you're "musically" inclined you could use these guidelines for a touchstone - They require an understanding of the composition basics, but any article that uses the phrase "sonify an interface" is worth a read.

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thanks that was exactly what I was looking for! – Nikko Mar 23 '11 at 16:26
Excellent answer! +1 – Vitaly Mijiritsky Mar 23 '11 at 18:08

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