Shopify uses sounds intentionally to communicate information and to enhance our merchants’ experience of our product. Sound patterns make interactions with our product easier and more predictable.
Consider the urgency of the event
The duration, volume, and character of a sound should all be dictated by the level of urgency of an event. For example, an alert indicating that a customer is struggling to complete checkout requires more urgent attention and immediate action. An alert indicating that a customer has arrived at a storefront is informative, but doesn’t require immediate action. The sounds used during these events should be customized to reflect the differences in urgency.
Some sounds occur many times per day. While appealing on first listen, a sound may become irritating after ten, and unbearable after a hundred. Merchants that hear a sound repeatedly may quickly grow tired of it.
Our sounds should be informative and not annoying.
Whenever possible, use data to determine how often a sound will be triggered. This data should inform us how to design a certain sound intentionally. The end goal is to communicate information without frustrating merchants through obnoxious sound.
Merchants are likely to hear our sounds in a variety of contexts. Clean, focused, and succinct sounds convey information better than muffled or distorted sounds.
Consider the device
While you may be testing your designs using headphones or loudspeakers that reveal the audible frequency spectrum clearly, a smartphone speaker will affect the quality of the sound. Smaller speakers are more susceptible to distortion. Sounds on mobile devices should be played at lower levels than on a desktop computer or laptop. Test sounds on a variety of devices and volume levels.
Some people can’t rely on sound to receive cues or notifications. Merchants may have a disability that affects hearing or auditory processing. Merchants may not hear at all, or may be unable to hear sounds at certain frequencies or volumes.
Depending on the merchant’s preferences and technologies, they may receive sound cues through haptic or visual feedback, but it is important to not assume that sound can be perceived.
When sound is used, always include an alternative method to convey information. Use text-based notifications or visual changes in the interface that can be communicated to and interpreted in a timely manner by assistive technologies.
When to use sound
Sounds in our product help convey information. There’s an important balance between having too many sounds and not enough. Useful and well-planned sounds will help with merchant understanding. Unnecessary sounds will reduce the perceived quality of our product.
Even though merchants might miss important information if they turn off their sound, we should always provide the option for them to do so.
Common sound events
- For an event that requires merchants’ immediate attention, use an alert to encourage merchants to pause their workflow and attend to the event
- For an event that’s useful for merchants to attend to, but not immediately, use a notification
- To confirm success, use feedback for a successful action
- For statement of failure, use feedback for unsuccessful action
How to approach sound design
Be creative and intentional in sound design. Here are a few simple considerations:
- Short sounds should be no longer than 250ms.
- Long sounds should be no longer than 1 second.
- Sounds should be in the same “family” — there needs to be clear intention behind the introduction of a new note, key, or timbre.
- Two versions of every sound should be created for use on a mobile device and a desktop device or speakers.
- A louder version of the sound should be used for desktop applications.
- A quieter version of the sound should be used for mobile applications where the speakers are smaller and may distort more easily.
Design sounds with as much intentionality as other design aspects of Shopify’s products.