Feature Design Sony UI Sound And Light
[ 2012.1.31 up ]

Sound and light, speaking to us wordlessly

Interact with electronics, and they might respond through sound or light. Sony treats these responses as elements of the user interface and considers them a valuable design opportunity, all for the sake of better user experiences. Hear what Sony sound and light designers have been up to.

Kazuto Mugura
Kazuto Mugura
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Manager
Junichi Nagahara
Junichi Nagahara
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Senior Designer
Manabu Fujiki
Manabu Fujiki
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Designer
Masao Kondo
Masao Kondo
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Designer

From practical to emotionally engaging

designer1-1

Mugura:Turn a device on, and the power indicator glows to life. Press a button, and there's a sound. Signaling the status is a basic aspect of product functionality, and the most primitive forms of signals are sound and light. Sony designers do not overlook sound and light as meaningful elements in the language of user interface design, and they're part of strategic design that we're exploring.

I mentioned UI "language" because sound and light are like words in the dialogue between us and our electronics. They can fulfill this role impressively. We believe that beyond signaling the status, sound and light can appeal to our emotions.

Once you see a flash of LED light or hear a brief sound, for example, you're ready to perform the next action. The user experience seems less cumbersome, and the device, more responsive. But if the same product responded with a gentle glow or an elegant, sustained chord, you might find yourself interacting at a more leisurely pace. The latter effect is more desirable in categories of products that must complement interior design or maintain a certain ambiance.

How should sound or light acknowledge your actions? Our answer to this question affects the overall pace of interactions. When this physical timing matches people's mental rhythms, or when the pace fits the product's character well, operation is especially satisfying. Sound and light can make products more enjoyable to use. That's why we bring these elements of design to life with clear intentions and goals in mind.

Engaging experiences from subtle implications

Mugura:As meaningful UI elements, sound and light are totally different from the graphic user interface (GUI), but current products call on designers to take advantage of each element. What's so special about sound and light? In my opinion, the difference lies in how they can imply things, rather than spell them out.

GUI details such as text or icons indicate what to do. They're very convenient in design, because we can customize them and use them to manage multiple functions. But users face the task of reading, recognizing, and responding to the messages they convey.

In contrast, messages conveyed by sound or light are merely implied. When you're doing straightforward things such as playing music or videos, you only need to infer what mode the player is in. In this case, operations that don't rely on GUI details are easier. And the best UI elements for this kind of "hinting" are sound and light.

Another advantage is a sense of presence. Although recent electronics are increasingly networked, and media or content is more likely to be in the cloud, there's something reassuring about interacting with people or things right in front of us. This sense of a nearby presence can be insinuated by sound or light.

The challenge for designers, though, is that computer simulations don't reveal how useful sound or light will be. But once we give prototypes this functionality and hear or see it firsthand, it often proves surprisingly effective. The dramatic improvement it makes is clear and indisputable. Those of us in UI design have been raising awareness and demonstrating this for years, as we develop more products applying these concepts. As a result, sound and light design is now an integral part of design at Sony.

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