Using non-speech sounds to provide navigation cues

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Brewster, S.A. (1998)

This article describes 3 experiments that investigate the possibiity of using structured nonspeech audio messages called earcons to provide navigational cues in a menu hierarchy. A hierarchy of 27 nodes and 4 levels was created with an earcon for each node. Rules were defined for the creation of hierarchical earcons at each node. Participants had to identify their location in the hierarchy by listening to an earcon. Results of the first experiment showed that participants could identify their location with 81.5% accuracy, indicating that earcons were a powerful method of communicating hierarchy information. One proposed use for such navigation cues is in telephone-based interfaces (TBIs) where navigation is a problem. The first experiment did not address the particular problems of earcons in TBIs such as “does the lower quality of sound over the telephone lower recall rates,” “can users remember earcons over a period of time.” and “what effect does training type have on recall?” An experiment was conducted and results showed that sound quality did lower the recall of earcons. However; redesign of the earcons overcame this problem with 73% recalled correctly. Participants could still recall earcons at this level after a week had passed. Training type also affected recall. With personal training participants recalled 73% of the earcons, but with purely textual training results were significantly lower. These results show that earcons can provide good navigation cues for TBIs. The final experiment used compound, rather than hierarchical earcons to represent the hierarchy from the first experiment. Results showed that with sounds constructed in this way participants could recall 97% of the earcons. These experiments have developed our general understanding of earcons. A hierarchy three times larger than any previously created was tested, and this was also the first test of the recall of earcons over time.
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