When you think about user experience in a FinTech app, you probably notice overall design and copy. What about sound? Flying below the radar, it’s an inseparable part of any modern digital product. What is UX sound design and how audio UX can help both users and app owners?

Audio UX Sounds

Table of contents

What is audio UX?

A user experience (UX) sound design is a system of prompts that signal different things to a user. It contributes to better navigation, understanding the product by the customer and more conscious choices within the app itself. Visual components of the FinTech application are very important but they can’t do everything. Not when the user is busy, on the go, distracted by another stimulus.

What do UX sounds actually do? They:

  • draw attention to important information
  • provide feedback to the user’s actions
  • inform about system status
  • provide context
  • help establish the app’s personality and on a larger scale – the brand’s identity

Sounds are not there to just buzz in the background. They play (pun intended) an important role in informing the user about virtually everything. When you have an in-app sale, sound can prompt the user, informing about the starting date or time left to hop on board. They can inform the user about a successful operation or a software error. Provide necessary context about the application and its environment. Finally, they can even become iconic, like the Windows startup sound.

The key to thinking about audio UX is that we don’t always need sound but it’s always necessary to think of it as a useful equivalent to visual design and other components. In other words, we can replace certain elements of the application’s design and have an option to play sound instead. Helping users in a situation when classic understanding of design is not enough.

Even haptic experiences can fail sometimes, so does sound. Users can turn them both off but if we implement everything and let users choose, they can adjust the experience to their own needs. That’s a level of personalization tailored for today’s market. Applying UX sounds to every single action and button can easily create annoyance but equipping key one with satisfying audio feedback gives people information and helps them avoid mistakes. After all, that’s what FinTech is all about – assistance.

Two types of UX sounds

We can break down in-app sounds into two distinctive types: interaction sounds and notification sounds. Both of them, aside from playing their distinctive roles, also complement each other. A user needs to tell them apart but also know that they are safe with them. UI (user interface) sounds exist to inform and provide comfort at the same time. Financial technologies take care of people’s money and money is basically life. Losing it because of a wrong decision or a missed tap would be disastrous. As software development teams, product owners and designers, we must protect users, sometimes even from themselves.

Audio UX is about information, branding and balance

One does not simply walk into Mordor… or overwhelm the user with information. That’s what balance is for. Designing audio experiences in the context of a FinTech application means that we always have to aim to provide useful responses to the user while carrying the load for the brand. The past generation of iPhones was instantly recognizable by its iconic start button. Newer generations brought the famous notch. The same goes for sound; every application has to have not only a graphical representation for the brand but also user interface sounds that are noticeable and clearly linked to the specific company.

How to achieve all this? We must decide whether to leave the action alone or strengthen it with a sound in the first place. Then, we need to implement UI sounds at the right time. That will correspond to what is happening on the screen and give a real-time response to the user’s actions. When there is no sound playing for the action, users are left with relief but also with an equivalent of white space in the graphic world. In-app sounds can’t turn into music, we must give people room to breathe.

And speaking of breathing… User onboarding becomes increasingly important. Yes, Generation Z is on the rise but not everyone is born with a smartphone in hand. Users that are not digital natives also deserve financial services; that’s where onboarding comes on board. It’s very important to understand how users hold their smart devices. One-handed, in a cradle, with two hands? In a portrait or landscape mode? Understanding these subtleties helps eliminate user friction and drives teams to develop useful solutions.

UX sounds right but only in the context of personality

We have already touched a bit on the subject but creating a proper audio UX goes beyond branding. The FinTech world may take a lesson from areas like car entertainment systems, wearables and smart speakers. 

These markets have to stand out in order to provide users with correct and important information. On the move, when watching a screen for more than a few seconds can become life-threatening. On the go, where wearing devices often equals hearing them. And at home or in the office; we are often busy and distracted but with the use of sound we can take the conversation to the next level. Even if it’s with a speaker, not the actual human being.

What the FinTech world can learn from car applications, wearables and smart speakers is timing. Audio communications have to be brief and stand out. When driving way over 100 km per hour on a busy freeway, people can’t force themselves to watch for audio prompts. They must be clearly understandable and can’t require a high mental workload. This is important since some studies show that voice-command interfaces put a strain on car drivers, requiring unnecessary visual interactions. Less is more.

UI sounds have to accord with a broader context. Sounds create app personality. That’s why when the user picks up the phone after being prompted by a notification, they know where it came from and whether it’s important or not. People are increasingly addicted to their smart devices. More sounds equal more noise that is harder to differentiate from a signal – valuable information that usually requires the user to take action. Perhaps only a few of us will take action with so many instructions lying around… unless we know it’s worth the effort.

Application’s personality built and constantly validated by proper implementation of sound UX is useful not only to the user. It’s actually a part of digital transformation and gives companies the opportunity to generate revenue. Customer-centricity and building apps around the experience are not what we would like to see in them is the bread, butter and salt of FinTech. At Code & Pepper, we like to think of pepper as well.

User experience done right… and left

That’s why our UX design services are at the center of what we do. As an organization, we like to think about product ownership, not just the code itself. Our process starts with discovery. Why do you need this application, what can users do with it? What burning need does it satisfy? Then we can think about the rest. Software engineers and product owners might be your right hand in the development process but it’s the work of designers that contributes to what consumers see and why they stay.

If you have a project that needs a boost, contact us for more information and let’s talk. You can always use our cheat sheet with questions for a software provider.