A Sonically Enhanced Interface Toolkit

Stephen A. Brewster, The University of Glasgow

Abstract: This paper describes an on-going research project investigating the design of a user-interface toolkit composed of sonically enhanced widgets. The motivation for this work is the same that motivated the creation of graphical interface toolkits, which was to simplify their construction, allowing designers who are not experts to create such interfaces; to ensure the sonically enhanced widgets are effective and improve usability; and to ensure the widgets use sound in a clear and consistent way across the interface.


Why should sound be added to human-computer interfaces? There is a growing body of research indicating that the addition of non-speech sounds to human-computer interfaces can improve performance and increase usability (Brewster, Dix, Edwards and Wright 1995; Gaver, O'Shea and Smith, 1991). For example, speech sound is an important means of communication in the everyday world, and the benefits it offers should be taken advantage of at the interface. Such multimodal interfaces allow a greater and more natural communication between the computer and the user. They also allow the user to employ the appropriate sensory modalities to solve a problem, rather than just using one modality (usually vision) to solve all problems.

In spite of the increased interest in multimedia, little systematic research has been done on the most effective ways to combine graphics and sound, even though many computer manufacturers now include sound producing hardware in their machines. Arons & Mynatt (1994) suggest one reason for this: "the lack of design guidelines that are common for the creation of graphical interfaces has plagued interfaces designers who want to effectively build on previous research in auditory interfaces."

Using sound can be beneficial; however, because this area is still in its infancy, sounds can be added in ad hoc ways by individual designers and this can lead to them being ineffective. The aim of my research is to help designers create effective sonically enhanced interfaces, as I describe an on-going research project to construct a sonically enhanced interface toolkit.

Aims of the Toolkit

The four main aims of the toolkit are similar to those that motivated the development of graphical interface toolkits: