More posts by Intelliware Development

Positive Siren Songs

Remember the last film you watched? Think back to how every scene had its own musical score, and how that music made you feel. You realize quickly that your experience was heightened by the music as an additional avenue for your movie-going appreciation.

Music is a key feature of sound design. It allows for a more emotive experience which, in turn, makes it a memorable one. When key scenes in a film are heightened by the musical score, the moments become all the more memorable for the audience. UI sound design should follow a similar experience pattern—preliminary examples of this can be seen already, just think about the arrangement you hear when your Mac starts up.

Interactions with voice interfaces would benefit from a more complex use of music which would allow the user to be further immersed in their current interaction. Simple feedback sounds provide key checkpoints during the user’s journey, but music over an extended period allows the user to be continually engaged in the experience, therefore keeping them immersed for longer.  This is key for certain types of interactions which require the user to be present for a prolonged period of time, a good example being a GPS navigation system. When a user begins active navigation, there are brief points of silence in between each set of directions. These moments are pivotal as they are an opportunity for other stimuli to break the user’s experience with the GPS, distracting the user away from the current function at hand only to be reminded of it moments later by the next set of directions. At this second point of re-entry, however, the user is less engaged and more likely to begin to make errors as their focus of attention has been disrupted.

A better experience for a GPS unit would be a more passive way of reminding the user that they are still a part of an ongoing interaction with the interface. This is where music can come in. As the user awaits the next instruction, they could be played a musical arrangement that corresponds to the direction of their movement. The arrangement could also be made unique to the application and would allow the user to continually recognize that they are on the correct path and are still following their GPS (e.g. something pleasant sounding). Conversely, if the user goes in the wrong direction there could be a vocal notification followed by the playing of a corresponding arrangement (e.g. something harsher). Music, used in this way, is another tool that can be added to the designer’s toolbox that would allow for a richer, more rewarding experience.

Imitation Is Flattery

Who you are is almost always reflected in how you sound. Your personality shines through your voice interactions and begins to form a key part of others’ memories of you. This extends itself to human-machine voice interactions as well. An interaction with a machine with a personality is a more empathetic, more rewarding interaction.

As a user, you have an expectation of the type of interaction you will have with a voice interface. This expectation comes with allowances for several considerations, such as a reduced sense of disappointment when the device fails to give you the most precise response. However, these expectations can be exceeded and leveraged to create better and more memorable experiences through the use of personality. If the device sounded more personable in its tone, you may be forgiving of its error.

Much like any real interaction, personality adds colour and creates increased engagement in the experience. If the UI you are interacting with actually learns to talk to you in a way that is pleasing to you, you are more likely to want to interact with it again and begin to form memories of it. Empathic experiences that are tailored to the user will allow the user to see an increased value in the experience. Seams in the programming can also begin to be masked in this way as cycled answers that may be used in conversation trees will begin to appear more dynamic to the user as they are partially distracted by the amazement at developing a more human experience with the interface. An experience like this with interactive voice interface is one you will remember, and one that can be reinforced, by having the UI’s personality have more of the user’s context and personality reflected in the conversation.


Enriched voice experiences are the logical next step to trying to drive adoption of this new form of interaction. Taking a more human approach to designing these experiences will allow them to become more engaging and inclusive. Using emotional design, we can begin to create experiences that are going to look past being simple services and more as valuable, memorable, human interactions.

Further Reading