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You might not realize it yet, but the ways which we communicate with our preferred electronic devices – whether it is a smartphone, a smart speaker, a computer or who knows what type of device in the future – are changing rapidly.

Voice-user interfaces, or VUI, uses speech recognition technology to enable these interactions using just our voice.

As you may know, VUI has exploded in popularity over recent years.

Along with the “Big Five” tech companies—Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook – a myriad of startups are spending hundreds of thousands dollars to develop powerful algorithms that allow for real-time translation and transcription.

For obvious reasons, the focus of the design process is usually placed on the ‘voice’ element of the project.

But non-verbal audio, such as audio cues, can enhance the effectiveness and emotional connection that users will experience when using and interacting with their agents like Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant.

According to Comscore by 2020, 50% of search will come from images and voice.

Also the same year, 21 million American households will have a smart speaker (2).

In 2022, voice shopping will represent revenue of $40 billion, per OCC&C Strategy Consultants.

For brands that are contemplating launching their own voice/audio- enabled apps, there is a huge, potentially lucrative opportunity to broaden their market horizons and to start infusing their own musical DNA with Earcons to reinforce their identity, enhance recall and create preference.


So what are Earcons?

Earcons are to your ears what icons are to your eyes. They are short and distinctive sounds that represent  specific events or that signal information to help users interact with technology.

Think about the notification sound of your favorite app, every beep and boop our computer makes, the end cycle tone of your dish washer, or the connecting sound  Alexa makes when it is activated. These extremely brief audio messages provide an emotional, natural way to help the user better understand what is happening, hence their effectiveness compared to a plain, old aural message.

For instance,  the ‘swoosh’ sound you hear when an email is sent on its way is recognized more quickly by your brain than any visual or automated “your email has been sent” message.

As a marketer, imagine how powerful it would be to have a distinctive sound when you ask your agent to connect with your brand? Now think about a series of other brand navigation sounds, consistent with each other’s, indicating instantaneously  that a task has been completed.

Brands need to think about these audio cues as critical elements of their audio universe. and incorporate their own custom sounds into these new voice-enabled communication platforms.


How do you craft Earcons?

Earcons are part of the audio universe of a brand. So when designing a family of Earcons, the first step is to create your sonic identity.

This requires not just a unique, strategically-sound creative approach, but a rare set of skills and expertise to complete successfully. That’s where an established, experienced  sonic branding agency can help you to bring your own personal sound to life, a special musical DNA that is unique and recognizable by your customers and constituents.

The second step is to define and match the specific task or message to the appropriate Earcon. Is it an error message, a reminder, a confirmation of a task or an indication that the system you interact with is down?

Finally comes the design of each individual Earcon. Rather than being representative, meaning using natural sounds from our daily lives,  sound designers can start playing with timbre, register and rhythm to create a basic structure.

Additionally, pitch, intensity, chords or sounds effects – such as reverb or delay – can be used to ensure  the Earcons are recognizably different.

What’s absolutely critical is that there is  consistency between all of the Earcons to trigger an unforgettable memory of the brand they are designed to represent.

Less is more, but whatever that sound is, it must make an indelible, lasting positive impression.


 (2): Activate (Oct. 25, 2016)


Olivier Jamin Changeart

Olivier Jamin Changeart

Founder & President, OJC, Artisan of Sound