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A Day In The (Sound Of) Life

Have you ever noticed how many times in a day you are exposed to sounds that are meant to tell you something? Sound plays a huge role in human life and companies are getting increasingly aware of this and how their products can be perceived in a specific way by using the right sounds.



Let’s try counting the sounds that a person might encounter throughout the day. More specifically we are not talking about conversations with other people, traffic noise, a dog barking, or rain falling on a tin roof. We are talking about sounds that are meant to convey a specific message to you. Of course, a dog is barking to tell you something, and a human conversation is filled with messages, but we are focusing on the auditive user experience of objects; sounds made to warn, notify, confirm, etc. There are probably more audible touchpoints than you think.


Imagine a weekday

People and days are certainly different, so read this as an example and probably even a low estimate.


You are probably using an alarm clock to wake you up, so literally the first thing you experience in the day is a sound (sound count #1). Maybe you use a traditional alarm clock that is designed to only be an alarm clock or maybe you use your smartphone – which is a whole chapter on its own. We will get to that in a minute.


You get out of bed and want some coffee to wake you up, and the coffee machine makes a “beep” sound to let you know the process is started/finished (sound count #2). You turn on the radio (sound count #3 - or probably more as you may be subjected to multiple radio ads, station IDs, etc. but let’s keep it simple for this experiment) and toast a piece of bread on your toaster, which beeps when it is done (sound count #4).


While eating breakfast, you give in and pull out your smartphone, and this is where the sound counting gets a bit sketchy, as a smartphone is a serious cornucopia of sound. There are the sounds of the operating system of the phone itself; all the notification sounds, ringtone, alerts, and sounds in conjunction with haptic feedback, it will remind you of your appointments, confirm that you have taken a photo, tell you when someone is calling or messaging you, confirm that you have sent a message, etc. as the basic functions. That amounts to an estimated 20 different sounds. Then there are all the third-party apps, which also include UX sounds. You can play games, surf the internet, message, work, be creative, transfer money, and pretty much everything else. We will estimate these to be about 30 more sounds. This summary of smartphone UX sounds amounts to an estimated 50 sounds (54) throughout the day. Before leaving for work, you start the dishwasher (55) and turn on the burglar alarm (56).



Time to commute

Your car makes sounds to confirm that ignition is on (57) and when the turn signal is on (58), and while driving, you hear another car using the horn (59). You park the car and walk the last bit of the way. At the pedestrian crossing, one sound tells you to wait (60), and another tells you to walk (61). On your way, you hear a woman’s phone ring (62).


Finally, you arrive at work, where you swipe your access card to get in (63). You sit down and start your computer (64). A few emails come in (65), and you reply (66). During the day you get a few different alerts like “you are about to delete this file, are you sure?” (69). You have to call a client and turn on your headset (70). The client does not pick up immediately, so you listen to the music on hold (71). Now it is time for lunch, and you use your credit card to pay. A sound confirms the payment (72). In the afternoon somebody rings the doorbell (73) at the office to attend a meeting. Some participants are attending remotely and are called via conference phone. It rings a couple of times (74).



Let It Beeb

Time to go home. You swipe your access card, and it does another sound (75). On foot you encounter some of the same types of sound as earlier; a different car horn (76) and the same pedestrian crossing signals. On your way home, the car tells you that it is low on gas (77). Other car sounds are the same as on the morning commute.


At home, you turn off the burglar alarm (78) and start preheating the oven (81). You turn on the radio (79 - let’s just say 1 again for simplicity) and sit down to relax for a bit. You are very likely to look at your phone now, but we have already counted it in for the whole day. After dinner, you have to do some laundry and a sound confirms that the machine has started (80). For the rest of the evening, you read a good old silent book before going to bed.


This day contained approximately 80 different UX sounds divided between approximately 25-35 different touchpoints depending on how many apps are used. Imagine what the amount will be over a year! And again, this is probably a low estimation, and some people will encounter a lot more touchpoints in a day.