Audio software makers discover UI design (that’s the promise anyway) 22:59 on Monday

Audio software manufacturers are starting to talk about user interfaces. I guess they ran out of superlatives to redefine the sawtooth wave…

It’s about time though:

Horrible audio application UI

I have always wondered who got the struck of genius that emulating the hardware interfaces on a screen would make software instantly usable? Yes, there is the same “familiar from real world” excuse that’s been touted with the desktop interface. Well… there are a couple of problems:

  1. Emulating the real world is not a perfect metaphor. Especially in something as tactile as synthesizers: it’s like using real synths with a pointed stick. Needless to say, it doesn’t work.

  2. A huge part of the users have never seen or used the originals, the world that is being emulated. So much for familiarity. Look at the OS X Finder or Windows Vista, and it’s obvious the same goes for the desktop metaphor.

  3. Did nobody ever think that maybe, just maybe no particular attention was paid to the original hardware UIs being copied? Especially when it comes to copying UIs of digital synths that were made in the early 90s. Take for example the Wavestation UI:

Wavestation hardware UI

…faithfully replicated in the recent software version (except there are 5 views from the original fitted into one):

Wavestation plugin UI

The visual emulation of an interface doesn’t work. A UI is not simply a visualization decoupled from the interface. Rather, UI is an extension of the input mechanisms: the UI can and should be different depending on whether you have scrollers, knobs, sliders, keys, or only a mouse available.

3 Responses to “Audio software makers discover UI design (that’s the promise anyway)”


  1. Ivanka Majic Says:

    I reckon it is a large dollop of number 3 on your list (which did make me smile). There is a big difference between translating a design from one medium to another under the guise of ‘using existing mental models’ and looking at how people actually behave when using something, what they are trying to do and what they need and then designing something that supports that.

    It’s a bit of a shift for a lot of engineer types though (she says casting aspertions on many) – just because the code compiles doesn’t really make the thing usable. Or am I off the point?

  2. Niko Says:

    You’re on the point. What makes audio UIs interesting is the (apparently) vast attention to visual detail that is being spent. Here’s another example, the Ultrabeat plugin in Logic Pro. Somehow the designers seem to think betting on the visuals is the same as betting on usability. And this has been going on for as long as plugins have been made (before that, software like Sound Designer II were spartan but made to get things done).

  3. Niko Says:

    Related link: Our prime responsibility as software developers is to make sure people have a good time using our software. I’ll restate once again: There’s more to “good time” than shiny buttons.