In an application like Skype for example, there is a thoughtful sound design that complements the user experience - for example, when an user logs in/out.

There are multiple examples of such interfaces, but quite a few that you can think on the websites that we come across regularly. We perform a lot of similar tasks in all these web services we use, like logging in/out, alerts/notifications, expanding/collapsing a section to name a few.

Why is there a neglect for sound design on these websites? And is there a good reason for it?

Looking at few community opinions, how about we think in terms of the website's responsive version - and related sound design? It makes more sense there, I believe. Since mobile web is tending to native apps more and more (debatable), sound design could be that extra step towards realizing it.

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    no evidence one way or another but I'd guess there isn't sound on websites because there isn't sound on websites. The medium is firmly established as a soundless one which leads people to use it in locations where they need to be quiet or to have an alternative sound source running whilst they surf (tv, music, etc...) – the other one Dec 21 '15 at 8:21
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    I can't think of anything more annoying than sound for websites, plus in a lot of environments like the office, I do not even have sound available. – PlasmaHH Dec 21 '15 at 14:02
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    For the record, "Options - Notifications - Disable all sounds" is the first thing I do after installing Skype on a new computer. – Dmitry Grigoryev Dec 21 '15 at 14:34
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    When I'm playing a game, is about the only time sound is acceptable, and even then I should be able to turn off the sound and music independently, and both ASAP. – aslum Dec 21 '15 at 15:37
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    Might mention that I absolutely hate the Skype sign-in/sign-out sound, but maybe that's just me... – cybermonkey Dec 21 '15 at 20:18

13 Answers 13

Because it is almost always annoying.

You probably recognize this situation: You’re surfing the web looking for inspiration, you click on some links, monitor your Twitter feed, and open pages in the background for later review. Suddenly your computer starts to scream!

It’s some rock song, very loud and unrecognizable because of it’s way-too-low bit rate. You don’t know where it’s coming from but you want it to stop immediately so you close all browser tabs and it’s quiet again.

Almost all people I ask about background music on websites tell me they find it totally annoying. A website just isn’t a thing you would expect to make any sound. People often listen to music while browsing the web, there’s no room for an extra layer of sound.

There’s a difference between background music and interface sounds though. I believe the right use of the right sounds can actually improve the user experience of a website.

Source: SOUND ON WEBSITES: A SENSITIVE SUBJECT

But if you need it or want it – here are a few tips on how to do it:

Using sound on your website isn't always a good idea. In fact, it annoys people more often than not. This is probably caused by the enormous amount of web sites containing crappy sounds. The right use of sound though, can enhance the user experience. So if you want to do it anyway, here's a list of 10 tips to make the experience as pleasant as possible:

  • No background music A lot of people are listening to music while browsing the web. Don't interrupt them by playing music on your website. For some sites the use of music might enhance the overall experience, like web/sound-art and some specific sound-related web sites, but don't do it without warning your visitor (see tip 3). If you really want to give your website a continuous soundtrack, consider using a background atmosphere (see tip 4).
  • No auto-play If you decide to use music, don't have it start without the visitors' permission. If you ever opened an auto-playing MySpace page in a new browser tab for later review, you know what I'm talking about. And provide a mute-button: if a user doesn't like the sound and there's no way to turn it off, he/she will leave your website.
  • Unobtrusive interface sounds Adding sounds to user-interface items can absolutely enhance the usability of your site. Try to keep these sounds unobtrusive in a way that a user can still hear them, even while listening to music, but without being disturbing while browsing in a quiet environment.
  • Keep sounds short A good way to prevent sounds from becoming annoying is by keeping them short. Imagine navigating a website with a second-long sound playing for every link your mouse cursor touches, that wouldn't be a pleasant experience, would it?
  • Use the right frequencies The human ear is most sensitive to sounds between 1kHz and 5kHz, so if you want people to hear the sounds, even on crappy laptop speakers set to low volumes, focus on this frequency range.
  • Make sound and design match Try to create sounds which match the design of your site as close as possible. If your design is rather futuristic, it would be strange to use very natural or recognizable instrumental sounds. In this case abstract electronic sounds would most probably complement the graphic design much better.
  • Care about the overall user experience Don't just add sounds to your website because you think it's cool. Ask yourself what it means to the user, and how it will improve the overall user experience. If you don't find a clear answer to these questions, don't do it. Most internet users still prefer web sites to be silent. Be precautious, don't act like you don't care.

Source: 10 TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE WEB SOUND DESIGN

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    Just a note about: "You don’t know where it’s coming from but you want it to stop immediately" - I'm not sure about others, but Chrome and Firefox show a loudspeaker icon over any tab that is playing some sound, Firefox even allows to mute that single tab by clicking on the icon (not sure if Chrome allows this too). Still, it would be annoying at the very least. – ROAL Dec 21 '15 at 14:48
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    @ROAL, Chrome and Firefox added that icon to help users deal with this exact problem. This should help underscore the idea that many (most) users detest all audio on web sites. At the very least, any site's audio should be opt-in. – John Deters Dec 21 '15 at 15:03
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    Those icons are a god-send. I reflexively close tabs with unexpected speaker icons. – Dan Lyons Dec 21 '15 at 18:36
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    The “Add extra functionality” bullet is, as written, a terrible suggestion, because it suggests that sounds would be adding information not otherwise indicated. I very, very often browse with my computer muted, and then there are people who always do everything on mute (i.e. the deaf). To be in either of these situations, and not being able to even notice that you’re missing something sounds like an awful, confusing, and frustrating experience. Sounds that complement visual cues might be a decent idea, but any kind of augmentation to those visual cues is very problematic. – KRyan Dec 21 '15 at 20:48
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    Also, as others have pointed out, you're missing one of the biggest legitimate uses of sound in websites: to purposefully interrupt you to alert you that something (that you were presumably waiting for or wanted to know about) has occurred on the page while you were looking at some other page. See most web-based chat programs, for examples. – KRyan Dec 21 '15 at 21:05

I think the other hand question is why sound is used on Skype login, and the answer is because the way we usually use Skype. Considering that Skype is one of the most common (if not the ONE MOST common) application to make online audio and video conferences, playing a brief sound on logging in is a way to check if audio is currently on and well configured. Apple Mac's sound on boot was thought-out for the same reason.

Besides that, most web pages with communications features like Facebook and Google Hangouts play a sound as a part of a notification that someone talked to you. Like with Skype, that sound notifies a direct action addressed to you to call your attention.

Many of the other answers touch on very good points, but I will add something that I did not see mentioned to the proper degree. Respect. For both the user, and others who might be near them.

Keeping in mind that the internet is not something that is only used when you're at home in a secluded space focused completely upon the computer screen, the internet is everywhere. Its still at home, but its also at work, in the car, in pockets around the planet, in hospitals, schools, churches, airplanes, subways, etc. To this end, the internet and the developers who create the pages that reside on it, have to understand that not every location that a web page is accessed is suitable for suddenly having noise in it. Someone in a hospital waiting room waiting for news on a possibly dying family member does not want to suddenly hear random dings, bings, or whatever other sound effects someone programmed to play while the guy next to them is checking their email. Neither does a teacher supervising an important exam while also updating an online lesson plan want random sounds to be issuing from their laptop just because they did not expect to need to hit mute.

Web pages or applications like Skype, Facebook, or the like can get away with some sound because of the nature of their business. Sound plays an integral role in Skype and Facebook relies on notifications to keep people participating with the site. In contrast, going to my bank's website to check some balances, then to Google to read a review on a gadget, then heading to Amazon to purchase said gadget is a different story. None of those three things are dependent upon me listening to any sounds to accomplish the goal, so why bloat any of those webpages with something unnecessary?

A similar topic would be things like the modified mouse cursors that were popular in the '90s and could get very annoying when they were shaped oddly and constantly dripping sparkles or whatever the page designer thought was a good idea but, thankfully, became mostly extinct on the modern web.

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    Good answer. If you don't want your computer to annoy people within earshot, then you don't want unexpected audio from websites. – jkdev Dec 22 '15 at 8:11
  • It's interesting to note that both auto-playing background sound and graphically modified cursors are somewhat popular on Tumblr, as they were on sites like Myspace (when those sites allowed them) and Livejournal and such in the past. These sites are intended to form a semi-private personal space for the user and their friends. Because of that, these audio and graphical elements serve as a desired exclusionary force for random visitors - If you don't like the user's choice of sound and cursor, you can leave. Not a good choice for a site intended to attract high traffic. – recognizer Dec 22 '15 at 17:06

I like Benny Skogberg's answer, and I agree with his advice, but I wanted to elaborate on the specifics of what makes sound annoying.

The main problem with sound is that it is inherently very intrusive. A banner ad can be ignored relatively easily to reach content, and even a popup can be ignored by switching to a different window. A sound playing from a particular Web site dominates even if the user is looking at something else.

Relatedly, users can usually listen only one sound at a time without getting an unpleasant jumble. A user may much prefer to be listening to their own music, rather than your choice of background or a "symphony" of alerts and notifications.

Also, there is the issue of expectations: users usually don't expect Web sites to play sound without being asked. In a somewhat extreme case, a user may be in a quiet environment, like a library. Unexpected and hard-to-turn-off sound may be annoying to others as well as to them.

Note much of the above is much less of a problem with short, relatively unintrusive sounds meant to convey a (hopefully useful) message, like receiving a message. However, even in that context it may be better to use visual Desktop Notifications, or at the very least allow sound to be turned off by the user.

  • Its possible to check if a tab is open, therefore you could argue that websites could add more sounds to their interface if the tab is currently open. – Nathan Merrill Dec 25 '15 at 18:36

Tradition is important. If you think in terms of web 1.0 there are far fewer events that might logically need sound. A couple of examples of when someone might put sound in, but it wouldn't add much if anything: You log in/fail to log in; a page loads (this could be done in the browser, I have an idea there was an option/add-on for this in netscape). About the only really useful notification would be chat events, and with windowed browsing this was fairly obvious (assuming you weren't using dedicated chat apps; most regular users were).

Going back to a similar era, desktop computers in shared spaces (e.g. offices) were major targets. If Yahoo had made an annoying noise (i.e. any noise) when your search results loaded, everyone who knew how to change their search engine/start page would have gone for Alta Vista or anyone who was silent. Also "To hear our company jingle, please install RealPlayer" -- sound support was patchy when web traditions were being established.

It's only recently that the major browsers have added the sound icon/mute button to tabs. In the days of windowed browsing, that would have been much harder to implement as the title bars aren't so much under the application developers' control.

It's only really with the rise of the mobile web that notification sounds become worthwhile -- when every application is full-screen (to a first approximation) you need some way of letting the user know when a message arrives (for example, but a phone could be seen as a messaging device). Phones beep all the time and people don't pay too much attention. Smartphones also have a reasonably standard way of both stopping the sound and notifying the user without sound (vibrate). In an app, you download the sound with the app -- a planned download that you can do with good bandwisth. On the web, the sound would be downloaded when you load the page, and page load times can be pretty slow even on 4G if lots of users are using the same backbone connection, or poor quality broadband.

User respect is also an issue -- auto-noise-making adverts were a driver for the early days of ad-blocking (even back in the days of copy-and-paste into a hosts file). With slow page loads annoying users, this is an issue again, even though we now have highly compressed streaming audio built in to the browser. There's no point in annoying your users unnecessarily.

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    I don't think that "tradition" is a good argument at all. Traditionally, there was no web at all. Then, there was a web but, traditionally, there were almost no images on it. But, now, images and sounds are both well-supported by computers, and bandwidth is cheap and fast. Yet the "tradition" of having few images has been discarded, while the "tradition" of having little sound has not. – David Richerby Dec 21 '15 at 18:02
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    @DavidRicherby, generally speaking you're right. But when dropping a tradition enhances the experience, and people try dropping it, their sites don't lose traffic. Noisy websites have a different effect to graphics-heavy ones. There are of course diehard traditionalists, who use tools like instapaper/readability or have scripts to block YouTube autoplay. Despite my sympathy for this view, I accept that is a minority. But I suggest a straw poll of Web design types would be against sound. – Chris H Dec 21 '15 at 19:37
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    I agree that a straw poll of web design types would be against sound. I'm disputing that that has anything really to do with "tradition". – David Richerby Dec 21 '15 at 20:06

Annoying is the key here. Just to add another common (to me) use case.

I open many browser tabs relatively quickly when I'm looking at news sites. I'll see a headline I'm interested in, right click to open in new tab then read the next headline, etc. Similarly, on this site I just went through the 'hot questions' links and this is the first of 8 questions that interested me - all of which are open in different tabs. If they all played some sort of sound it would be annoying.

This happens often on news sites, like CNN, NBC, etc. - one of them will, after some short period of time, start playing a video and then another one and then another one. Then I have to go through all the tabs I've opened to find out which one is playing and stop the feed. Or just turn off the sound because I can't find it. If I was listening to something else, like Pandora, now I have a jumbled mess of sound and just end up closing all the tabs because it's annoying.

When you open Skype it's an application. You expect it. Opening many tabs on a browser is very different.

  • Plus Skype doesn't make random noises all the day. It normally starts/shutdown with system startup/shutdown. We are not listening to any music at system startup/shutdown, so we don't get annoyed. Moreover we are used of listening random sounds at system startup, so one more doesn't matter – VarunAgw Dec 30 '15 at 10:45

Back in the day when Flash first became popular, we had an endless list of website using sound. It was really annoying and everyone hated it. Before that there was MIDI background music on GeoCities/MySpace pages, which was likewise an object of much scorn. Almost everyone (except marketers and angsty teenagers) agreed that the best amount of sound on a website is zero.

Others have explained the "it's annoying" angle in detail, but I don't believe that is why sound on the web has fallen out of fashion: There are lots of practices which are very annoying, but people continue to do them. For instance, doorslams (when websites nag you to download their app), excessive JavaScript, Flash-animated sites, flashy banners, adblocker counter measures and so on. Clearly there are a lot of designers who couldn't care less about how annoyed you are, if it helps them further their aims (such as charging the client $$$ for a "modern and sleek website design" or maximizing ad click revenue). So sound could not have disappeared simply because it is annoying.

The real problem is that sound introduces an extra issue: A lot of people will not have speakers. Some will have the sound muted. Some will have the volume at an inappropriate level. Some will be playing loud music that overpowers the website sound. This means that for any given visitor, there's a high probability that the sound of your website will break. If sound is important to the UX of your site, this is very bad news - it means for a lot of people, the site is broken! Perhaps you could ask muters to unmute (how many will bother, instead of just googling a competitor's site?), but you can't ask the speakerless-es to go buy some speakers just for your site.

People can have different goals in mind when designing a website, but almost everyone would want that when somebody visits the site, it actually works. With sound, this is really, really difficult. Skype is the exception that proves the rule: The main reason to have Skype is to make phone calls, which means you wouldn't have Skype if you didn't have sound working. Therefore for Skype, there is minimal risk of sound breaking for the typical user, and they happily use sound.

Because you have somewhat two to five seconds for convincing a typical web visitor that it makes sense to give attention to your website.

During such a short time, it is not possible to play or say something impressive or convincing (apart the scream of death maybe but this does not suite well for every topic).

Text and graphics simply serve better for attracting the initial attention. The user can read, and especially "scan", lots of visual material in these few seconds.

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    I don't know, I think in two to five seconds if I hear unrequested sounds I know very well if I should give attention to your website ;) – Wayne Werner Dec 23 '15 at 21:02
  • If you can do this for your topic, great. But this is challenging to achieve and may not work well for every topic. – h22 Aug 10 '17 at 7:12

In addition to all the answers already given, I'd say that many users often have a lot of tabs open. I have 10 tabs open right now. Imagine if all those tabs started making sound.

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    10? That's nothing. I average 150-200 in Firefox usually! – user530873 Dec 25 '15 at 6:06
  • 200 tabs? I don't even... – Kokodoko Dec 28 '15 at 10:28

Sound has been rather challenging to support. In the olden days, web browsers did not support sound. Then sound was supported by plug-ins, which were often incompatible with each other. Then people started to like Flash. But users complained. Flash started to become less popular, as HTML5 became more popular, and web browsers started to add features like placing a speaker icon on a tab that makes noise. That feature was probably so desirable because of all of the advertisements that used Flash to make noise.

There's also been an entire industry that has always been needing lots of new graphics, including customizing graphics. However, there hasn't been nearly as large of a perceived need for people to keep creating new sounds for web page interactivity. So, fewer professionals have been actively doing that.

I expect that some people will continue to view sound with disdain. However, the younger generation is likely to appreciate websites that feel more interactive, and entertaining to the point of feeling "game-like". With HTML5 making things simpler to have features work on multiple types of devices, it will only be a matter of time as more websites figure out ways to grab and satisfy the audio attention of some of their visitors.

  • +1 I think relevant sounds will start to gain ground, as the Web starts to become more like apps and games and visa versa – RemarkLima Dec 26 '15 at 21:50

Because it is annoying to say the least. Also at many places where silence is needed like in office or library it would be very disturbing to others even at low volume. And even if there is some sound and there is no way to stop it or control it I'll most users will immediately close it and will not visit it again or will but very rarely.

In fact when I use some video website like YouTube I know videos will be making sounds but I keep volume button at closed because they make weir and annoying sounds if multiple tabs are opened.

I can go on and on and on and on about reasons why people hate sound and tell you about every bad experience I have come across but Google is bountiful in those results so I'll leave that to Google.

However, I think it is important to point out a website which actually uses sound to it's benefit and provides a unique and memorable experience:

www.nightdivestudios.com


For future readers

The website above is designed to feel like an underwater scuba scene where you see bubbles and other aquatic items at the bottom of the sea. For me, it is reminiscent of BioShock.

enter image description here


One other instance where sound is greatly appreciated would be FaceBook messenger because it will ding when a new message arrives if you have you chat window open.

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    But the experience is sub-optimal when navigating the site: I just tried to see what they are doing, and at every page load, the sound stops somewhere in the middle, and begins again. To be immersive, the "web architecture" would require to keep the sound running while staying on (parts of) the site. – virtualnobi Dec 23 '15 at 7:38
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    referred to a site (www.nightdivestudios.com) which shows the design flaw with sounds: As you navigate a site, you load different pages. Sound is associated with each single page, which means every navigation step stops the sound at some arbitrary moment (not even exactly when you click), and starts the (same?) sound once the new page loaded. To create an immersive experience, sound would need to run for (parts of) the whole site. – virtualnobi Dec 23 '15 at 7:43
  • @virtualnobi As you've pointed out, there is some room for improvement. I think that overall, the site did a good job of knowing when and how to use sound. Think positive and you will come into contact with positive. – MonkeyZeus Dec 23 '15 at 15:05

Answering my own question - trying to see if there are any positives, among a generic opinion, that sounds in websites should be avoided.

Look at these examples of sound attached to UI elements: http://rcptones.com/dev_tones/#tabr4 Assuming, there are easy enough ways to switch on/off these sounds (control), I can straight away see that these could be really helpful in establishing immediate feedback, which we all know is super helpful to enhance UX. Could they help in accessibility to some extent too? Just thinking out loud, before we jump to a conclusion?

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    I tried those clicks and it rankled. I think it's because web browsing is private; I expect to be able to sit quietly with others, all of us using laptops / phones / whatever, without disturbing each other. The first sound out of a tab says "I'm going to blurt something inappropriate to your friends." Not so with other activities like games, though. – Steve Cooper Dec 21 '15 at 19:30
  • My answer doesn't say it should be avoided all together. Just that a feedback should be "improving user experience" which I think your link is all about. I can live with those click sounds on a web page, and provided that I have an option to "silence" the web page all together in a simple click. Much like Candy Crush on iOS. +1 – 4rchit3ct Dec 21 '15 at 19:50
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    Sounds attached to individual controls just remind me of the "busy box"-style of developmental toys geared towards toddlers. I honestly don't need a beep/chirp/click/chime to inform me that my input has been recognized, and if I do then the site is too slow or is otherwise deficient. The only time I can see sound being useful is for alerts for exceptional conditions (e.g., a tone when tabbing out of a required field I didn't fill in). – TMN Dec 21 '15 at 19:53
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    I don't think the "option to silence" is enough. We all get too many interruptions from sites and applications that think they are important. They aren't important unless we tell them they are important. A web site should ask us if we consider it important enough to annoy our colleagues before it does so. – Max Haaksman Dec 22 '15 at 15:47
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    My macbook button clicks when I click on it. I suspect that your mouse does, too. And if, like mine, there is a delay between when your mouse clicks and the click plays then it's really just annoying. So it's not really providing immediate feedback - and the sound doesn't really provide any information that we didn't already get from the visual nature. – Wayne Werner Dec 23 '15 at 21:06

protected by 4rchit3ct Dec 22 '15 at 17:31

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