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When you quit an application and it shows you a dialog box asking if you want to save or when you open a file and an error is encountered, some applications play a sound.

By sounds I mean short, but loud/semi-loud attention grabbing sounds, not long musical melodies.

I don't know where this methodology originates in terms of date, but I know a couple of very modern high-end apps that do this.

Is this a recommended practice to play a sound for warning and error messages?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Playing sounds can be useful when showing error messages, information dialog boxes etc.

However... It is not the responsibility of your application to force the user to hear these sounds. This is something that must be configurable by the user, and since most operating systems already have such a configuration possibility, I see no added value in creating another layer on top of this that is specific to your application.

Example: Windows 7

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That makes sense. I don't know why windows have them enabled by default though. –  Joan Venge Feb 25 at 20:18

The first question you should ask yourself is:
How many users are woking with sound enabled?
And how many of them are listening to music (surely with headphones)?
I just asked around in my office (28 persons in my room), and only 4 of them have the sound enabled and each of them are listening to music.

What I want to say:
If we take the numbers of my quick survey (sadly, I couldn't find any official survey's on the web), about 14% have their sound enabled so are able to hear the sound.
All of them are listening to music. It could be they don't even notice the sound, and when they do, they find it annoying.

So if an error occurs, the most of the user will notice it only by the visual feedback, and not with the audio feedback.

And exactly this is what I think. There are so many "troll"-videos with these annoying error sounds, so it would be better to find out a better to set on visual feedback, than audio feedback.
But for fatal errors, it also could be helpful to play a audio feedback...

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Playing a sound is useful when there's a chance that the user will miss the notification from the application.

For example, Skype play a sound everytime you receive a message. Otherwise, there's also the flashy icon that helps the user to notice the message.

So, in my opinion the best thing would be use both visual and sound notification.

Remember also to follow the operative system design guidelines.

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Skype at least lets you turn off (specific) sounds! –  Marjan Venema Mar 10 at 10:24

I would recommend playing a sound only when the user's attention is necessary. An example of that is the way Facebook makes a short beep when there's a new notification. A really compelling example of audio notification is the Podio collaboration tool, which make a pleasant and somewhat addictive "pop" sound when you receive a notification that someone in your team accomplished a task.

But if you know that the user is actively using your application, I find the sound redundant.

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Facebook's example is also one of the most annoying, but it shouldn't be keep you away from your work, or maybe you shouldn't have been on Facebook in the first place. –  Pierre Arlaud Feb 25 at 14:14

In my opinion, it shouldn't play a sound in this case because the user already have a visual feedback and it may be annoying for the user to hear a sound every time we close a document.
I think that it should play a sound only if the user still don't understand (for example if he continues to click on the close button), or if the error can't be shown in a "visual way".

Sorry if I did any error in english, I'm french.

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Or if the user lacks the ability to see but can still hear, in which case they would require audio feedback. –  JAB Feb 25 at 13:34
    
If a person using an application cannot see, then they would presumably be using a screen reader. If the messages are descriptive enough, they should be understood without an additional sound. –  JDelossantos Feb 25 at 13:58

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