Earconography sound design
Advanced mobile computing platforms such as BlackBerry 10 not only include a UI, they also provide a sonic language that is represented by audio notifications, event feedback, and system sounds.
BlackBerry 10 is the world's first platform to offer the universal earconography approach to sound design for standardized audio notification events. A universal sound language has existed for decades in the analog world, for example, door bells, alarms, phone ringers, and desk bells. Anyone who hears these sounds knows what is being communicated immediately.
The goal of earconography is to achieve a sonic language with all audio notification events so that the user is more informed about the who, what, why, and when of an event. You can build the same kind of familiarity with your app's notifications by following universal sound patterns, but with the aesthetic freedom of slight sonic variations.
Consider the visual language of a graphical UI. An icon of an envelope can be different colors, have a stamp on it (or not), or be tilted 25 degrees, but as long as it still looks like an envelope, users will know what it represents. Same story for sounds.
You can build variation into the base sounds easily if you think of each sound effect as having three layers:
- X is the fixed structural pattern that identifies a specific earconography sonic event that occurs (for example, phone, text, or reminder). This is like the structural pattern of Morse code, which is specific and different for each letter, but isn’t really about sound. Morse code can even be ‘played’ by a light source.
- Y introduces textures and instruments to provide tonal variation and sonic identity to ensure each event is unique and differentiated from all other notifications in your suite.
- Z is the treatment layer that provides a variable amount of waveform modification. This includes effects processing such as reverb, delay, modulation, gain, panning, and Doppler. These effects provide more complexity, indicate urgency, and allow you to customize and personalize the sound.
BlackBerry 10 base sounds
Your files should have as little silence as possible at the head and tail of the file. Any silence should be uniform to promote a linear playback performance.
Pushed notification effects should be .m4a format, with a 48 khz sampling rate, and should use either a constant or average bit rate of no lower than 128 kbps.
UI feedback effects should be full-resolution .wav format in order to achieve low latency playback for responsive user feedback.
A good use of sounds is a rare use of sounds. Don't include feedback for something that happens every few seconds in your app, like the movement from one screen to another, or the activation of a control.
Above all, your notifications should not be annoying. Choose instrumentation, pitch, and volume that can be heard several times a day without annoying the user.