I'm making an app for a small business that alerts the user when they have a new order. It should play some kind of ding to get the user's attention. People will be using this app for eight hours a day or more, so I'm worried about creating a chinese water torture effect from the poor user hearing this ding over and over all day long.

Is this a legitimate concern? Are there certain sounds that are more pleasant to hear over and over? Would it be worth it/a bad idea/unnecessary to have a variety of different sounds?

  • 1
    Is the user able to turn the audio notification on and off?
    – Matt Obee
    Aug 22, 2013 at 13:17
  • @Matt Obee, that would probably be up to the boss, if they allow their employees to turn off the alert. I would go with no, since these orders are time sensitive and they need to be alerted when one comes up. Aug 22, 2013 at 13:19
  • 4
    What about letting the user choose the sound from set? At least he could feel (an illusion of) control Aug 22, 2013 at 13:56
  • What's the context? Is the app running on a mobile device or a desktop? Is the device shared by multiple users or does each user have it running on their own device?
    – Matt Obee
    Aug 22, 2013 at 14:10
  • 1
    There are probably some "Acoustic issues" - certain sounds / beats are probably more intrusive than others. This might be worth looking at ux.stackexchange.com/questions/14170/…
    – PhillipW
    Aug 22, 2013 at 15:44

4 Answers 4


First, an anecdote from Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder:

One of the programmers set up the computers so that a bell would ring every time an order came in. A great novelty at first, it quickly got annoying and had to be turned off.

Then an idea of how to live with your "bells" (you have several ones!). Setup two types of alert. On new order comming:

  • first display visual alert (changing color of a block on the page, blinking tab title in browser or favicon to focus attention to the order page, notification in Chrome etc.). Visual alert is less distractive for operator and other people in the office.
  • use sound alert in case of no reaction from operator within reasonable period of time.
  • change sound alert as a function of time, starting from quiet and gentle sound to more loud and urgent one.
  • use snooze while signalling.

This approach allows to minimize bell rings and sound distraction in your office.

There is also important psychology trick which I've mentioned in a comment. If the sound alert is mandatory you could use false dilemma effect, (choice without choice). It's a situation in which limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option.

An example is a question: "Would you like a tea or coffee?" which pushes user to choose between two options while he actually would prefer just a cup of water. This is NLP trick ).

For sound alert it could be used, too. Let user chooses a sound from a set. Making a choice, user will feel a freedom of choice and control. While actually it's only illusion of control and choice from limited set of options is actually "choice without choice".

And more anecdote from Inmates Are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper concerning bad designed in-flight entertainment system:

With cash collection connected to content delivery by computer, the flight attendant had to first get the cash from the passenger, then walk all the way to the head end of the cabin, where the attendant's console was, enter an attendant password, then perform a cash-register-like transaction. Only when that transaction was completed could the passenger actually view a movie or listen to music. This inane product design forced the flight attendants to walk up and down those narrow aisles hundreds of extra times during a typical trip. Out of sheer frustration, the flight attendants would trip the circuit breaker on the IFE system at the beginning of each long flight, shortly after departure. They would then blandly announce to the passengers that, sorry, the system was broken and there would be no movie on this flight.

This is a hint of why some sound speaker in your office could be non-working suddenly.


You're right about worring if too much / too frequent audio notification won't bother your client / his employees.

I don't have more details about your app and the business it's related, so I'm not sure if these alternatives could be discussed with him:

  • does it really need to be an audio ? Couldn't be some visual sign, and and audio alert after ´x´ seconds / minutes if nothing is done ?

  • how loud does it have to be ? Too loud is anoying, too soft and people will get used to it and will ignore...

  • Can't it be an audio alert for every x requests ?

  • Couldn't it be customizable ?


Make it non-repeatable (at least within a given business day).

Even if an order takes on average 5 minutes to process, then at peak days you still have less than 100 orders per person. It's not that hard to make a library of 100 sounds: the simplest approach would be to announce "order number one", "order number two", ..., "order one hundred" . This is pretty simple to record (even with different voices), and will give your users minor feeling of curiosity ("how many orders am I going to have today?", or "wow, it's order 60 already, and it's not even lunch"), or competition, or whatever.

If you feel ambitious, you can add programmatic voice modifications, tone modulations, and other bells & whistles -- to keep the users forever entertained.


First of all it is a legitimate concern, and secondly an audio notification should definitely be something that can be toggled on and off. If there are individuals that should not be allowed to turn it off, then you can just define permissions on the audio option, so that only certain users can turn it on and off.

Also, if you're worried about users becoming tired of the sound, it maybe worth it to allow them to select from a variety of sounds. That has a few benefits:

  • If a user grows tired of the sound, they can select another one.
  • If there are multiple instances of the software running in earshot, users will be able to distinguish which one received a new order.
  • Alerts sounds are a very personal setting, and it has been extremely common for software to allow their users to customize them.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.