Key areaSound design

Sound design

Sound is a natural part of everyday life. Talking and listening is perhaps the most important way of interacting with other people. Sound reaches our ears from all directions and informs us about events, materials, distances, directions and much more. Still, however, interactive applications are strangely silent, with a few exceptions.

An increased information load in many user contexts requires designers to focus on multimodal solutions rather than purely visual solutions. By using a multimodal approach, we will be able to build interfaces that lead to more efficient human-machine interactions as well as more attractive working environments. Using sounds creates opportunities for eyes-free interaction, which in many situations is safer and less demanding as it does not require the users’ full attention.

Today, sound as a medium for interaction is very underused in most user contexts. Unfortunately, existing auditory solutions are typically neither good nor inspiring. In order to change the existing view on the use of sound in interfaces, it is important to develop good examples, build solutions that users accept, and stop contributing to bad sound environments.

At the RISE Interactive (formerly called Interactive Institute), we commonly make use of participatory design in our projects. This, in combination with our competencies in cognition research, sound design, acoustics, sound analysis, sound programming, interface design and concept development, makes a good platform. We are experienced in project and innovation management, and most of our projects result in working prototypes. Using our mixed competencies and experiences, we can go from problem and idea - through a research-based design process - to prototype and evaluation.

We see a great potential for the use of sound interaction in a range of domains, including the vehicle industry, the process industry, and other areas involving intense information flow and demanding decision-making. Other interesting areas are the service industry, the media industry, the creative industry and product design.

Highlighted projects


Completed projects

Sound Design for Operator Interfaces

The field of sound design and multimodal solutions are getting increasingly important within industrial applications. Existing IT solutions such as the control and surveillance of industrial processes are by tradition mainly visual tasks. A constantly increasing and more complex information flow in these kinds of environments contribute to the risk that users will become more distracted and confused in critical situations.
By also using sound, one can design multimodal solutions that efficiently utilize human capabilities and thus contribute to a better working environment. Sound can be used to express many types of information, ranging from direction and distance to emotions and priority.

In this project we have studied alarm sounds in control room environments. With experience from areas such as game design, media production, and vehicle interface development we have been able take a whole new approach to methods within alarm sound design.
Poor alarm management and poorly designed alarm sounds are common problems in control rooms within the process industry. The purpose of an alarm is to alert the operators to deviations from normal conditions, and the goal is to prevent physical and economic loss through operators acting on conditions causing the alarms.

Key factors in operator effectiveness are the speed and accuracy with which the operator can identify the alarms. Consequently, this project aimed to develop a concept for alarm sounds which both informed about and guided operators to the production section involved. Sounds that conveyed urgency information and were accepted, perhaps even liked, by the operators.

A prerequisite for us to be able to investigate and develop our design ideas was a test bed. The local paper mill, Smurfit Kappa Kraftliner was well suited for our needs and through a highly user-driven process we developed an alarm sound concept consisting of in total seven production sections.

Each alarm sound consisted of two parts, one part conveying urgency information, and the other part conveying information that could be associated with the alarming section. In collaboration with the operators a variety of associative sounds were identified that could represent incidents in the process. 

An iconic water drop sound is representing an alarm in the washing unit where the used cooking liquors are separated from the cellulose fibers.

A breaking twig sound raises awareness of an alarm situation in the mechanical pulping process. For instance, there could be something stuck in the wood chipping section.

Chemical pulp production is the cooking of the wood raw material with chemicals. The sound of a steam kettle boiling informs the operators of an issue in this section. An alarm can for example be triggered due to tolerance limits deviations.

During the development process, the concept has been continuously evaluated. The evaluations were mainly conducted through questionnaires and focus groups. Results indicate increased operator effectiveness and a clearly improved working environment.

Sound design for indoor cycling

Most indoor cycling classes are coached with music. Often, the music chosen by the instructor is dance or rock music set to a dance beat. In this project we aimed at developing a new concept for indoor cycling, in which the music was replaced by a narrative sound design. The design consisted of rhythms and sound effects that aimed at recreating the sense of cycling in different kinds of environments. For instance, in one part of the class, the sound design built a soundscape where the participants could imagine they were cycling in the jungle being hunted by tigers.

Instruktör Camilla Lundberg

The concept was tested during an indoor cycling class at Korpen Piteå. After the class the participants were given a questionnaire to provide feedback about the concept. The results of the questionnaire showed that the participants generally liked the concept. Additionally, several participants commented on the concept’s great potential for further development.

If you’re an instructor and interested in trying the concept at your gym, please contact us.