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I'm considering adding sound effects for interaction on my site. I'm fond of the quick, < 1/4s sound effects on iPhones when sending mail, messaging, etc. I'm thinking it gives a nice, positive feedback. The sound would play when a user clicks a voting button. The other question on this site is not the same; it is asking if music should play upon first visit, which is not the same as this question.

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99.9% of the time the answer is: no. –  DA01 Mar 10 at 5:05
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No. Awful. But if you must, disable them by default and let the user explicitly choose to enable them. Nothing worse then being somewhere where you're supposed to be quiet or where only certain sounds are acceptable (at work, in an audience, or even doing something else that requires sound with your computer connected to some speakers) and having surprise sounds on a web site. Bonus annoying points if you can't disable them without muting all sounds on your system. –  Jason C Mar 10 at 6:21
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For the love of God, NO! –  Affable Geek Mar 11 at 1:21
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I hate, with a passion, the websites that play audio on load. There have been quite a few times when I have avoided restaurants whose websites played music whenever I opened their menus. –  happybuddha Mar 11 at 4:28
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@CodeMaverick Sorry, I disagree... As you can see from the answers, almost everyone thinks "No, except in very special circumstances". I haven't seen anyone say "Yeah it's a great idea". So at the very least there's a consensus on what constitutes good design. I don't see what else you'd expect on UX? –  Basic Mar 11 at 18:37
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9 Answers 9

up vote 65 down vote accepted

Context is important here. Sound feedback can be very useful when people need or expect it. The ATM. That annoying credit card pad that only accepts a button push every 3rd time at the pharmacy check out line. A cash register.

And maybe it can be important for your web site, but realize that that is a very atypical behavior and not something your users are likely expecting. Beyond alert sounds, most computer operating systems, and therefore web browsers, and therefore web sites do not by default have any sort of user-input sound effects. There's likely two good reasons for this.

  1. It'd be pretty annoying if every menu click or keyboard tab produced an audible 'click' on your computer. You'd tire of it very quickly. Unlike the previous examples which are UI's you use sporadically, for many people their computer is an 8+ hour of day device. Like our kids, sometimes the less noise they make, the more we tolerate them. :)

  2. Any sounds above and beyond alert sounds would make alert sounds less effective. If everything is making a sound, then effectively nothing is making a sound.

And then there's the practical side of things. Lots of people are wearing headphones while on their computer. Listening to music. Or skyping. Or what have you. They are in control of the sound on their machine and may not be thrilled that your web site has decided to add to that.

And most work environments either frown upon or just omit speakers from the workplace machines altogether. So keep those things in mind.

But like most rules-of-thumb, if you have a really good reason to break the rule, absolutely give it a shot.

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Any sounds above and beyond alert sounds would make alert sounds less effective. If everything is making a sound, then effectively nothing is making a sound. Well put. @Chloe I would advice only using sounds for notifications or other things that need immediate attention from the user. –  Paul Mar 10 at 10:16
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I hate those buttons. –  Vreality Mar 10 at 16:51
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It'd be pretty annoying if every menu click or keyboard tab produced an audible 'click' on your computer You mean like that stupid default IE navigation click? Friggin' hate that sound! –  istrasci Mar 10 at 21:22
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@Basic What, Internet Explorer? –  Jamie Bull Mar 11 at 19:44
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@JamieBull I mean the "Navigation" sound used by IE and Explorer but yes, IE itself is a close 2nd :) –  Basic Mar 11 at 19:46
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I would ordinarily not offer an opinion here (as I am just barely worthy to read this site), but I would remind everyone that while the vast majority of users are sighted, introducing sounds can interfere with visually impaired users. If you do add sound (which I think is an excellent idea), please make sure that you include a way for those with difficulties to turn them off.

Conversely, hearing impaired users probably won't have speakers.

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Sound effects are a type of attraction to the user, true. But take care of the following things while implementing sound:

  1. The sound should be pleasant, which means it should not be annoying or irritating. Different people have different preferences. Be aware of that.
  2. People working working at offices prefer silence. If a user opens your website and a sound starts playing while at work it could be an uncomfortable situation. If he doesn't know how to stop the sound, he will close the website.
  3. Sound definitely will take extra time to load.
  4. For the front page, I would recommend not playing sound. Alternatively you could provide a POP like something asking the user whether they want sound or not. Keep a record of that, and after a few days / weeks, just check how many there are who preferred sound. You will get your answer from that.
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not just at the office. If a website starts blaring sounds at me I close it and don't come back. Being able to turn it off makes no difference. –  jwenting Mar 10 at 14:26
    
"If a user opens your website and a sound starts playing while at work it could be an uncomfortable situation." -- ah, the strange world of people who (a) don't want any sound from their computer at work/library/whatever, and yet (b) do not completely mute their speakers under those circumstances. I'm not saying those people don't exist and don't need our sympathy, but I don't understand them ;-) –  Steve Jessop Mar 11 at 11:49
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Sound is like the Blink & Marquee tags - it may seem like a great idea to the page designer, but most users will hate it (while a few might like).

I.e., you will create a lot of ill will with a lot of people at the price of a little good will with a few.

Do not do it.

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They're far worse than blink / marquee. The scope of blink's annoyance was limited to the user viewing the page. Sounds affect everybody nearby and are highly intrusive. It's also worth noting, I think, that the same considerations for sounds on web pages should be given to sounds in desktop applications as well. –  Jason C Mar 10 at 23:24
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Quite honestly, no.

If you want to try adding sounds then make them optional for the user to turn them on, not to turn them off. But I would be surprised if you have over 1% of users opting to turn them on and any that do will turn them off again rather quickly.

Whilst the lines are blurring, a website is not an OS, nor is it a device — as previous posters have pointed out this is atypical behaviour for a website to the point of confusing rather than helpful.

Others have made the point that this could be helpful feedback for visually impaired users, so if that is a large proportion of your users then maybe, but otherwise I would wholeheartedly avoid.

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Chloe, I think sound effects are completely underutilized in web UX and I encourage you to include them.... when attached to events that the sound would bring meaning to of course.

Meaning, if you are thinking of bringing the midi background music back from the 90's, please don't. But if you are notifying a user of an event that has enough weight to get their attention I think it's a great idea. Just don't make an arcade. Use sparingly :)

Post your site here when you do and let us know any feedback on the sounds you apply.

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If you must, disable them by default and let the user explicitly choose to enable them. Nothing worse then being somewhere where you're supposed to be quiet (or where only certain sounds are tolerated) and having surprise sounds on a web site. Extra irritating if the only way to disable them is to mute all sounds. –  Jason C Mar 10 at 6:27
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It's underutilized for a reason. –  Venemo Mar 11 at 12:05
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No no no no no excessive sounds are one of the most terribly annoying things you could possibly put on a site. –  Doorknob Mar 12 at 2:32
    
@Venemo, You are right, the reason is nobody knows how to handle them and they were up until recently difficult to incorporate. Sound is an integral part of our mobile world, I think the desktop should catch up. I stand by my answer. –  Itumac Mar 14 at 20:56
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With multi-tab browsing becoming the norm, your uses may often times have the page open but not visible.

And few things are more annoying that trying to figure out what tab is playing sounds you don't want.

If you do add them, make them off by default. And only add them to actions where they enhance the user experience. For example, in Mail on the Mac, I will hit send and then immediately switch to a different program or move to the next message. The "jet send" sound effect lets me know that yes the message sent. It is audible confirmation that I no longer need to worry that the message sent. IF you add sound effect to your site they should serve a similar purpose.

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Do not use sound.. its a way back story, when you used to have sound/Music on your sites..mostly with flash sites. Think..if you are opening a site in your office and all of a sudden a music plays and you do not know how to turn it off..and now everyone is looking at yourself... embarrassing..ehn?

having said that this is completely dependable on your business or what you want to portrait to your user. You can certainly give provision to turn it on if user want to.

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Not sure you read the question. It's not music, and it's not when they open the page. It's sound effects, when they click on something. –  Chloe Mar 18 at 16:07
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yup! multiple clicks will create music for sure!!! –  Hem Mar 19 at 4:48
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Give him an option to play sound, but don't play by default. If he loves music in every clicks he will definitely find it and enable it

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It's not music, it is just sound effects. –  Chloe Mar 18 at 16:06
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