An online museum of sounds—the recordings of analogue machines.
Sunday, September 30th, 2018
Thursday, August 30th, 2018
I had a great time chatting with Lea and Emily about service workers on this episode of their podcast—they’re such great hosts!
Here’s the huffduffed audio.
Wednesday, July 11th, 2018
Monday, July 9th, 2018
I talked for an hour about service workers ‘n’ stuff
(Also available on Huffduffer.)
Tuesday, June 26th, 2018
Building More Expressive Products by Val Head
The products we design today must connect with customers across different screen sizes, contexts, and even voice or chat interfaces. As such, we create emotional expressiveness in our products not only through visual design and language choices, but also through design details such as how interface elements move, or the way they sound. By using every tool at our disposal, including audio and animation, we can create more expressive products that feel cohesive across all of today’s diverse media and social contexts. In this session, Val will show how to harness the design details from different media to build overarching themes—themes that persist across all screen sizes and user and interface contexts, creating a bigger emotional impact and connection with your audience.
I’m going to attempt to live blog her talk. Here goes…
This is about products that intentionally express personality. When you know what your product’s personality is, you can line up your design choices to express that personality intentionally (as opposed to leaving it to chance).
Tunnel Bear has a theme around a giant bear that will product you from all the bad things on the internet. It makes a technical product very friendly—very different from most VPN companies.
Mailchimp have been doing this for years, but with a monkey (ape, actually, Val), not a bear—Freddie. They’ve evolved and changed it over time, but it always has personality.
But you don’t need a cute animal to express personality. Authentic Weather is a sarcastic weather app. It’s quite sweary and that stands out. They use copy, bold colours, and giant type.
Personality can be more subtle, like with Stripe. They use slick animations and clear, concise design.
Being expressive means conveying personality through design. Type, colour, copy, layout, motion, and sound can all express personality. Val is going to focus on the last two: motion and sound.
Expressing personality with motion
Animation can be used to tell your story. We can do that through:
- Easing choices (ease-in, ease-out, bounce, etc.),
- Duration values, and offsets,
- The properties we animate.
Here are four personality types…
Calm, soft, reassuring
You can use opacity, soft blurs, small movements, and easing curves with gradual changes. You can use:
- scale + fade,
- blur + fade,
- blur + scale + fade.
Pro tip for blurs: the end of blurs always looks weird. Fade out with opacity before your blur gets weird.
You can use Penner easing equations to do your easings. See them in action on easings.net. They’re motion graphs plotting animation against time. The flatter the curve, the more linear the motion. They have a lot more range than the defaults you get with CSS keyword values.
For calm, soft, and reassuring, you could use
easeInOutQuad. But that’s like saying “you could use dark blue.” These will get you close, but you need to work on the detail.
Confident, stable, strong
You can use direct movements, straight lines, symmetrical ease-in-outs. You should avoid blurs, bounces, and overshoots. You can use:
- quick fade,
- scale + fade,
- direct start and stops.
You can use Penner equations like
Lively, energetic, friendly
You can use overshoots, anticipation, and “snappy” easing curves. You can use:
- overshoot + scale,
- anticipation + overshoot
To get the sense of overshoots and anticipations you can use easing curves like
easeInOutBack. Those aren’t the only ones though. Anything that sticks out the bottom of the graph will give you anticipation. Anything that sticks out the top of the graph will give you overshoot.
If cubic bezier curves don’t get you quite what you’re going for, you can add keyframes to your animation. You could have keyframes for: 0%, 90%, and 100% where the 90% point is past the 100% point.
Stripe uses a touch of overshoot on their charts and diagrams; nice and subtle. Slack uses a bit of overshoot to create a sense of friendliness in their loader.
Playful, fun, lighthearted
You can use bounces, shape morphs, squashes and stretches. This is probably not the personality for a bank. But it could be for a game, or some other playful product. You can use:
- squash and stretch (springs.
The easing curve for elastic movement is more complicated Penner equation that can’t be done in CSS. GreenSock will help you visual your elastic easings. For springs, you probably need a dedicated library for spring motions.
Expressing personality with sound
We don’t talk about sound much in web design. There are old angry blog posts about it. And not every website should use sound. But why don’t we even consider it on the web?
We were burnt by those terrible Flash sites with sound on every single button mouseover. And yet the Facebook native app does that today …but in a much more subtle way. The volume is mixed lower, and the sound is flatter; more like a haptic feel. And there’s more variation in the sounds. Just because we did sound badly in the past doesn’t mean we can’t do it well today.
People say they don’t want their computers making sound in an office environment. But isn’t responsive design all about how we don’t just use websites on our desktop computers?
Amber Case has a terrific book about designing products with sound, and she’s all about calm technology. She points out that the larger the display, the less important auditive and tactile feedback becomes. But on smaller screens, the need increases. Maybe that’s why we’re fine with mobile apps making sound but not with our desktop computers doing it?
People say that sound is annoying. That’s like saying siblings are annoying. Sound is annoying when it’s:
- not appropriate for the situation,
- played at the wrong time,
- too loud,
- lacks user control.
But all of those are design decisions that we can control.
So what can we do with sound?
Sound can enhance what we perceive from animation. The “breathe” mode in the Calm meditation app has some lovely animation, and some great sound to go with it. The animation is just a circle getting smaller and bigger—if you took the sound away, it wouldn’t be very impressive.
Sound can also set a mood. Sirin Labs has an extreme example for the Solarin device with futuristic sounds. It’s quite reminiscent of the Flash days, but now it’s all done with browser technologies.
Sound is a powerful brand differentiator. Val now plays sounds (without visuals) from:
- Outlook Calendar.
They have strong associations for us. These are earcons: icons for the ears. They can be designed to provoke specific emotions. There was a great explanation on the Blackberry website, of all places (they had a whole design system around their earcons).
Here are some uses of sounds…
Alerts and notifications
You have a new message. You have new email. Your timer is up. You might not be looking at the screen, waiting for those events.
Apple TV has layers of menus. You go “in” and “out” of the layers. As you travel “in” and “out”, the animation is reinforced with sound—an “in” sound and an “out” sound.
When you buy with Apple Pay, you get auditory feedback. Twitter uses sound for the “pull to refresh” action. It gives you confirmation in a tactile way.
Marking positive moments
This is a great way of making a positive impact in your user’s minds—celebrate the accomplishments. Clear—by Realmac software—gives lovely rising auditory feedback as you tick things off your to-do list. Compare that to hardware products that only make sounds when something goes wrong—they don’t celebrate your accomplishments.
Here are some best practices for user interface sounds:
- UI sounds be short, less than 400ms.
- End on an ascending interval for positive feedback or beginnings.
- End on a descending interval for negative feedback, ending, or closing.
- Give the user controls to top or customise the sound.
When it comes to being expressive with sounds, different intervals can evoke different emotions:
- Consonant intervals feel pleasant and positive.
- Dissonant intervals feel strong, active, or negative.
- Large intervals feel powerful.
- Octaves convey lightheartedness.
People have made sounds for you if you don’t want to design your own. Octave is a free library of UI sounds. You can buy sounds from motionsound.io, targetted specifically at sounds to go with motions.
Let’s wrap up by exploring where to find your product’s personality:
- What is it trying to help users accomplish?
- What is it like? (its mood and disposition)
You can workshops to answer these questions. You can also do research with your users. You might have one idea about your product’s personality that’s different to your customer’s. You need to project a believable personality. Talk to your customers.
Designing for Emotion has some great exercises for finding personality. Conversational Design also has some great exercises in it. Once you have the words to describe your personality, it gets easier to design for it.
So have a think about using motion and sound to express your product’s personality. Be intentional about it. It will also make the web a more interesting place.
Saturday, June 23rd, 2018
Jake’s blow-by-blow account of uncovering a serious browser vulnerability is fascinating. But if you don’t care for the technical details, skip ahead to to how different browser makers handled the issue—it’s very enlightening. (And if you do care for the technical details, make sure you click on the link to the PDF version of this post.)
Wednesday, June 20th, 2018
A collection of collections.
This site is dedicated to compiling and sharing useful resources for Designers and UI Developers.
Monday, May 21st, 2018
The focus here is on performance, but these tools are equally useful for shining a light on just how bad the situation is with online surveillance and tracking.
Friday, May 18th, 2018
A lovely bit of audio work from Matthew Sherrett—six short spoken word pieces about the island of Rockall.
Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018
I really enjoyed chatting with Mark and Ben on the Relative Paths podcast. We talked about service workers and Going Offline, but we also had a good musical discussion.
Wednesday, March 21st, 2018
Monday, February 12th, 2018
047: The Web is Neither Good or Bad…nor is it Neutral. It’s an Amplifier with Jeremy Keith – User Defenders podcast : Inspiring Interviews with UX Superheroes.
This podcast interview I did went on for quite and while and meanders all over the place, but it sure was a lot of fun. I’ve huffduffed it, and so can you. Hope you like it.
Wednesday, January 10th, 2018
Saturday, December 30th, 2017
Audio I listened to in 2017
I huffduffed 290 pieces of audio in 2017. I’ve still got a bit of a backlog of items I haven’t listened to yet, but I thought I’d share some of my favourite items from the past year. Here are twelve pieces of audio, one for each month of 2017…
Donald Hoffman’s TED talk, Do we see reality as it really is?. TED talks are supposed to blow your mind, right? (22:15)
How to Become Batman on Invisibilia. Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller challenge you to think of blindness as social construct. Hear ‘em out. (58:02)
Where to find what’s disappeared online, and a whole lot more: the Internet Archive on Public Radio International. I just love hearing Brewster Kahle’s enthusiasm and excitement. (42:43)
Every Tuesday At Nine on Irish Music Stories. I’ve been really enjoying Shannon Heaton’s podcast this year. This one digs into that certain something that happens at an Irish music session. (40:50)
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis on Kreative Kontrol. This was far more revealing than I expected: genuine and unpretentious. (57:07)
Paul Lloyd at Patterns Day. All the talks at Patterns Day were brilliant. Paul’s really stuck with me. (28:21)
Long Distance on Reply All. It all starts with a simple phone call. (47:27)
The King of Tears on Revisionist History. Malcolm Gladwell’s style suits podcasting very well. I liked this episode about country songwriter Bobby Braddock. Related: Jon’s Troika episode on tearjerkers. (42:14)
Feet on the Ground, Eyes on the Stars: The True Story of a Real Rocket Man with G.A. “Jim” Ogle. This was easily my favourite podcast episode of 2017. It’s on the User Defenders podcast but it’s not about UX. Instead, host Jason Ogle interviews his father, a rocket scientist who worked on everything from Apollo to every space shuttle mission. His story is fascinating. (2:38:21)
R.E.M. on Song Exploder. Breaking down the song Try Not To Breathe from Automatic For The People. (16:15)
I’ve gone back and added the tag “2017roundup” to each of these items. So if you’d like to subscribe to a podcast of just these episodes, here are the links:
Monday, December 11th, 2017
I listen to a lot of podcast episodes. The latest episode of the User Defenders podcast (which is very different from the usual fare) is one of my favourites—the life and times of a NASA engineer working on everything from Apollo to the space shuttle.
You know how they say it doesn’t take a rocket scientist? Well, my Dad is one. On a recent vacation to Florida to celebrate his 80th birthday, he spent nearly three hours telling me his compelling story.
Sunday, December 3rd, 2017
There are many qualities one must possess to be a working writer or artist. Talent, brains, tenacity. Wealthy parents are good. You should definitely try to have those. But first among equals, when it comes to necessary ingredients, is selfishness. A book is made out of small selfishnesses. The selfishness of shutting the door against your family. The selfishness of ignoring the pram in the hall. The selfishness of forgetting the real world to create a new one. The selfishness of stealing stories from real people. The selfishness of saving the best of yourself for that blank-faced anonymous paramour, the reader. The selfishness that comes from simply saying what you have to say.
Sunday, November 19th, 2017
This is quite impressive—you edit the audio file by editing the transcript!
Saturday, November 11th, 2017
I spoke my brains on the Venturi’s Voice podcast. It’s a random walk through topics like sharing, writing, publishing, and bizzzzznis.
Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017
A massively in-depth study of boundary-breaking music, recreated through the web audio API.
- Steve Reich - It’s Gonna Rain (1965)
- Brian Eno - Ambient 1: Music for Airports, 2/1 (1978)
- Brian Eno - Discreet Music (1975)
You don’t have to be a musician or an expert in music theory to follow this guide. I’m neither of those things. I’m figuring things out as I go and it’s perfectly fine if you do too. I believe that this kind of stuff is well within reach for anyone who knows a bit of programming, and you can have a lot of fun with it even if you aren’t a musician.
One thing that definitely won’t hurt though is an interest in experimental music! This will get weird at times.
Thursday, September 14th, 2017
I’ve seen some lovely examples of the Web Audio API recently.
At the Material conference, Halldór Eldjárn demoed his Poco Apollo project. It generates music on the fly in the browser to match a random image from NASA’s Apollo archive on Flickr. Brian Eno, eat your heart out!
The latest issue of the Clearleft newsletter has some links on sound design in interfaces:
- Why strong sound design is critical to successful products by Amber Case and Aaron Day,
- UI Sounds: From Zero To Hero by Roman Zimarev, and
- Form Validation with Web Audio by Ruth John.
I saw Ruth give a fantastic talk on the Web Audio API at CSS Day this year. It had just the right mixture of code and inspiration. I decided there and then that I’d have to find some opportunity to play around with web audio.
As ever, my own website is the perfect playground. I added an audio Easter egg to adactio.com a while back, and so far, no one has noticed. That’s good. It’s a very, very silly use of sound.
In her talk, Ruth emphasised that the Web Audio API is basically just about dealing with numbers. Lots of the examples of nice usage are the audio equivalent of data visualisation. Data sonification, if you will.
I’ve got little bits of dataviz on my website: sparklines. Each one is a self-contained SVG file. I added a
script element directly in the body). Clicking on the sparkline triggers the sound-playing function.
It sounds terrible. It’s like a theremin with hiccups.
Still, I kind of like it. I mean, I wish it sounded nicer (and I’m open to suggestions on how to achieve that—feel free to fork the code), but there’s something endearing about hearing a month’s worth of activity turned into a wobbling wave of sound. And it’s kind of fun to hear how a particular tag is used more frequently over time.
Anyway, it’s just a silly little thing, but anywhere you spot a sparkline on my site, you can tap it to hear it translated into sound.