Term 9: Sound Icons

Sound Icons are sound branding elements in their shortest design. Common examples are signal sounds at the computer. A computer by Apple sounds different than a Microsoft PC. Another example are sounds in GPS devices. The objective is to trigger acoustic recognition: the development of a unique sound with character and emotional profile.

Do you agree or disagree with this definition? Is anything missing in the definition we use? Please post your ideas in the comments section.


10 responses to “Term 9: Sound Icons

  1. I completely agree. An effective way to describe what could be a portfolio of audio logos for a client.

  2. In general I think this definition is quite good. However, for accuracy it is probably worth having an inline reference to the term “Earcon”.
    Human factors academics draw a distinction between the terms Auditory icon and Earcon. In the literature, Auditory icons refer to sounds which have a metaphoric or virtual reference association with an action or event for example; breaking glass for a destructive irreversible action, or the sound of someone knocking in ICQ to request entry into a chat session. In contrast the term Earcon has been used to denote arbitrary or musical ‘riffs’ for which the user needs to learn an association to an action or event (explored further in the site below).
    Probably, if this defination is listed under ‘sound icon’ or ‘audio icon’ it could arguably be used to encompass both of these terms. While I don’t believe the terminology distinction is particularly important, the distinction between these two types of sonic notifications and their effects on listeners is definatly of relevence to those of us who work in the sound branding industry particularly because audio icons are generally considered superior for their ease of learning and faster interpretation.

    “Auditory icon notifications are generally found to be easier
    to learn and retain [4, 10, 21, 26] and produce quicker reactions
    than earcon notifications [8, 15]. This superiority of
    auditory icons seems to be rooted in the directness of the
    association with their referents [19] and there is evidence
    suggesting that memory performance varies more on a
    sound-by-sound basis rather than a sound type-by-sound
    type basis [10].”
    S. Garzonis, S. Jones et al. 2009

    Click to access garzonis_chi09.pdf

    Tim Noonan
    Vocal Branding Australia

    • Hi Tim,
      thanks for your valuable input & the link.
      In a technical sense – sound engineering – i agree with your comment, however; in Sound Branding we want the sound icon to be related to the brand and not – as stated in the definiton of auditory icons: “sounds which have a metaphoric or virtual reference association with an action or event for example; breaking glass for a destructive irreversible action”. Even in that understanding the objective – from a branding perspective- would be to reframe the association to the brand.

  3. Much thanks for the write-up. Yes I think this definition would suffice. I actually LOVE the startup sound that my Mac makes when I turn it on. Recognition and recall is key when it comes to aligning consumer attachment to a brand, and sound is the best emotional tool for this.

    btw…love your articles and insights!


  4. First of all, congratulations on the amazing blog!

    I am merely getting started at Audio Branding, and after reading several different definitions of what is included in the management of a brand’s sonic identity, I must ask: Don’t you think that all acoustic interactions with the product/service are relevant to a brand, hence should be carefully thought out and purposefully applied from ground up?

    if it’s a product rather than a service, for instance. Shouldn’t the sonic experience of opening the product up, of pulling off the lid, or cutting, ripping the package… be seriously taken into account? The sounds that the product makes are of great importance in the consumer’s process of brand perception and significancy of brand experience from the purchase to recall. Typing on a Mac keyboard, or even the sonic feeling of a MacBook in your hands after unpacking… It surely sounds different than a Dell keyboard or notebook even when both are turned off.

    Am I being absolutely nonsensical, or just poorly articulated? I haven’t seen much discussion about these matters, and I can’t distinguish a particular place for this in the “responsibilities” of an Audio Branding Manager from what I have read so far. Does this matter in audio branding literature? Where would it fit in the process, nevertheless, in this glossary?

    I would very much appreciate your thoughts on this subject.
    thanks in advance for the attention and patience

    • Hi Nuno,
      thanks for your comment.
      I fully agree with you. What you have in mind is a professional developed Sound Identity and that’s what I call accoustic brand management. Brand Managers should manage all relevant brand touchpoints to create and establish a unique sound identity. However; in real business life I have not – yet – seen & heard a case, where all brand touchpoints have been “sound branded”, i.e. there is enough potentital & a lot to do in the future :)

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