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Blattner, M. M., Sumikawa, D. A., & Greenberg, R. M. (1989). Earcons and icons: Their structure and common design principles. Human-computer Interaction, 4, 11–44. 
Added by: Mark Grimshaw-Aagaard (8/24/05, 2:25 PM)   
Resource type: Journal Article
BibTeX citation key: Blattner1989
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Categories: Sound Design
Keywords: Earcons & Auditory Icons, Electronic space, Iconography
Creators: Blattner, Greenberg, Sumikawa
Collection: Human-computer Interaction
Resources citing this (Bibliography: WIKINDX Master Bibliography)
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"In this article we examine earcons, which are audio messages used in the user-computer interface to provide information and feedback to the user about computer entities. (Earcons include messages and functions, as well as states and labels.) We identify some design principles that are common to both visual symbols and auditory messages, and discuss the use of representational and abstract icons and earcons. We give some examples of audio patterns that may be used to design modules for earcons, which then may be assembled into larger groupings called families. The modules are single pitches or rhythmicized sequences of pitches called motives. The families are constructed about related motives that serve to identify a family of related messages. Issues concerned with learning and remembering earcons are discussed."
Added by: Mark Grimshaw-Aagaard  

Points out some similarities and differences in the design and function of icons and earcons and proposes a method of earcon design based on musical motives (pitch/rhythmic patterns - cf. musical motives and leitmotifs). While earcon design based on sound samples is discussed, the approach here is a musical one using the computer's inbuilt synthesis capabilities (Gaver 1986).

By their own admission, the guidelines they offer are for non-musicians.

The authors' ideas are usefully critiqued by Familant (1993) & Detweiler.

Familant, M. E., & Detweiler, M. C. (1993). Iconic reference: Evolving perspectives and an organizing framework. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 39(5), 705–728.
Gaver, W. W. (1986). Auditory icons: Using sound in computer interfaces. Human-computer Interaction, 2, 167–177.
Added by: Mark Grimshaw-Aagaard  Last edited by: Mark Grimshaw-Aagaard
p.13, Section 1   Earcons are "nonverbal audio messages used in the user-computer interface to provide information to the user about some computer object, operation, or interaction."   Added by: Mark Grimshaw-Aagaard
p.14, Section 2   A personal communication from Buxton indicates that in video arcades "scores drop when sound accompanying video games is turned off."   Added by: Mark Grimshaw-Aagaard
p.26, Section 5.3   Paraphrasing Kerman: "Even though timbre is difficult to describe and notate precisely, it is one of the most immediate and easily recognizable characteristics of sound."*

* Kerman, J. (1980). Listen. New York: Worth.   Added by: Mark Grimshaw-Aagaard
Keywords:   Ambiguity
p.21, Section 4   Three classes of earcons:

  • representational
  • semi-abstract
  • abstract

with grey areas inbetween.   Added by: Mark Grimshaw-Aagaard
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