5 min read
Updated: August 25, 2021

Let’s Talk Audio User Experience and User Interface

If you live in Chicago, it’s inevitable that you’ve utilized some form of CTA transportation. Have you ever stopped to think about the audio user experience? A lot of thought goes into the announcements you hear and user "interface" for the CTA’s "el" and bus system riders.
Let’s Talk Audio User Experience and User Interface

Flow of Information

The audio information you receive while riding the CTA, plus the timing of that information is extremely systematic. Each and every message was timed and heavily edited to be as concise and informative as possible.

  • As You Enter – You hear an indicating sound that indicates the doors closing, a voice announcing the
    next station, which side of the car the exit (on the “el”); and a repetition of the next station’s name.
    This complex set of instructions introduces new riders to the audio messaging format; and prepares seasoned travelers with a plan for proper exiting at the next stop. Loading and unloading of passengers is made as efficient as possible.
  • Tips and Social Instructions – reminding you to move to the rear of the car/bus, remove your backpack and give up your seat for disabled, elderly and pregnant passengers.
    This part of the messaging is used to instruct passengers how to behave and establish a code of acceptable behavior while riding the CTA.
  • Warnings – any possible delays are quickly and succinctly addressed
    Usually, warnings are issued before riders have even noticed there is a disturbance on their ride. This is done to avoid any panic or anger.
  • Arriving at a Stop – stating the station one more time and repeating which side of the car the exit will be.
    Again, expediting the loading and unloading passenger process.

The Voice: Mr. Lee Crooks

For CTA riders, Lee Crooks is a name that you probably don’t know. Yet, you hear his voice every day – kind of creepy when you think about it. Crooks, a professional voiceover artist living in Milwaukee, travels to Chicago two to three times a year to record the announcements for the system’s “el” trains and buses.

He auditioned for the CTA’s prestigious role in 1997 after imitating the cheerful clear and informative styling of the announcer’s voice on Walt Disney World’s Monorail. Once receiving the job, he felt an immense responsibility to the cities population to pronounce each street name properly, as native Chicagoans say them, as his pronunciation would affect how others discuss the city.

Why Don’t We Use a Woman’s Voice?

According to an article titled “Why Computer Voices are Mostly Female” published by CNN in 2011, “It’s much easier to find a female voice that everyone likes than a male voice that everyone likes,” said Stanford University Professor Clifford Nass, author of The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships. “It’s a well-established phenomenon that the human brain is developed to like female voices.”

So then, why are the CTA announcements male? It’s because male voices are associated with authority. When the everyday function of the CTA depends on riders following the announcers instructions, using a man’s voice means it is more likely the instruction will be heard to and followed.

“Men’s voices are associated with neutrality, with authoritative, factual information,” explains Arthur Chu, an artist who’s done voice over work for brands like Safeway and Intel. “The voiceover you want for some kind of authoritative instructional video, or something asserting a dry historical fact, is going to be that baritone, somewhat monotone, slightly stern voice.”

Why Not Have Both? Man’s Voice For Instructions And Woman’s Voice For Other Messages?

Broadcasting multiple voices would confuse CTA riders, making it difficult to distinguish between announcements and discussion of people near you. CTA officials wanted to keep their messages as clear as possible. With a single voice, patrons quickly recognize the tone for important announcements and instructions.

Your Thoughts

How do you feel about the CTA audio experience? Does anything in this article surprise you? How would you compare your Chicago public transit audio experience to those you’ve experienced in other cities’ buses and trains?

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

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About the Author
Ivan Vislavskiy
Ivan Vislavskiy is Comrade Digital Marketing’s co-founder and fearless leader, spearheading the agency’s production department.
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