Auto play on audio user experience

I was fortunate enough to talk at UX in the City Oxford last Friday about audio. Thanks to Software Acumen and the programme committee for the invitation.

One of the questions asked was that of audio patterns on the web, which is a layer above where I normally work.

One of the anti-patterns that I find on the web is the “auto-play” pattern.

Back in the “good old days” of the early 00s, one could land on a page and then music would play from a midi file. It was all very nice and could be really quite annoying.

Move forward to the loves or banes of our lives with social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, and it appears some news sites. Video and audio auto playing…

This really is an anti-pattern, especially where the user cannot turn off auto-play. The auto-playing of files is intrusive and largely unnecessary for the user. From a frictionless user experience, it may fit in as a pattern to help the user consume the media easily.

The supporting text should provide the context for the media file and also a description. At the very least, this provides some form of accessibility within the page.

It makes assumptions on the user’s bandwidth and situation in which they come across a page with auto-playing audio.

Firstly, developing and designing in a company connection is likely to be faster than at home or on mobile. Auto-playing a large file may take bandwidth that isn’t really there and slow down the entire site experience, especially when taking into account other service calls that a site might make.

Secondly, the consumer may be in a position where an auto-playing file is unacceptable or embarrassing. At best, the user might come back later or at worst never come back as they forget to read the page.

The user or account should, at the very least, have a clear option within the account settings to turn off the auto-play if desired. Or more simply, make the controls easy to access and use to play the file.