The SonicFinder: An Interface That Uses Auditory Icons

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The appropriate use of nonspeech sounds has the potential to add a great deal to the functionality of computer interfaces. Sound is a largely unexploited medium of output, even though it plays an integral role in our everyday encounters with the world, a role that is complementary to vision. Sound should be used in computers as it is in the world, where it conveys information about the nature of sound-producing events. Such a strategy leads to auditory icons, which are everyday sounds meant to convey information about computer events by analogy with everyday events. Auditory icons are an intuitively accessible way to use sound to provide multidimensional, organized information to users. These ideas are instantiated in the SonicFinder, which is an auditory interface I developed at Apple Computer, Inc. In this interface, information is conveyed using auditory icons as well as standard graphical feedback. I discuss how events are mapped to auditory icons in the SonicFinder, and illustrate how sound is used by describing a typical interaction with this interface. Two major gains are associated with using sound in this interface: an increase in direct engagement with the model world of the computer and an added flexibility for users in getting information about that world. These advantages seem to be due to the iconic nature of the mappings used between sound and the information it is to convey. I discuss sound effects and source metaphors as methods of extending auditory icons beyond the limitations implied by literal mappings, and I speculate on future directions for such interfaces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-94
JournalHuman-Computer Interaction
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 1989

Research Group keywords

  • Interaction Research Studio

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