Audio Variables

We can apply principles of visual design to designing audio. In visual design, we can manipulate “visual variables” to get different communication effects. The variables are are:

  • Size
  • Value/Brightness
  • Hue/Color
  • Orientation/Rotation
  • Texture
  • Shape
  • Position

Continuing along with sonifications, here are some analogous audio variables:

  • Frequency / pitch
  • Beat
  • Amplitude / volume
  • Envelope / Waveform: e.g. a beep vs. a buzz
  • Source Location

We have different ways of perceiving visual variables. For example, for some of them, we have an order—size goes from small to big, but shapes are not ordered.

We also have different ideas about how many variations we can tell apart on the same canvas. We can distinguish between a huge number of shapes, but probably only a few levels of brightness.

These kinds of perception apply to audio variables as well. Waveform seems to be related to shape in that there can be many types (instruments), but they are not really ordered.

Amplitude is similarly related to size, pitch is like brightness, and source location is like position.

Using what we know about combining and contrasting visual variables is probably a good start for doing the same with audio.