November 11, 2005

New TC plugs are food for thought...

by Chris Randall

TC announced a couple new PoCo plugs today, and in doing so, also announced their new UI initiative. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart, so I have a bit to say on the subject. (What are the odds?)

When you're making plug-ins, you have to decide if you want to do a hardware look or a look that takes advantage of the environment (i.e. a computer screen. I've found that, in general, people prefer the former. I haven't really explored something like the Fabrik C pictured above, but I've gazed longingly at the System 6000 stuff for some time. The two schools of thought are, in my opinion, as follows:

The Hardware School states that a device that does a particular thing is more intuitive if it looks like the hardware.

The Modern School states that it's stupid to make a piece of software look like hardware, when it's on a damned computer screen.

Now, when we're doing something like Phase Two, which exists in the Real World as the Mutron Bi-Phase, logic would dictate that we make the UI as similar to the real thing as possible. (Which we've done.) But for something like Filterscape it makes sense to take advantage of the computer paradigm. (IMO, Filterscape is the single best modern UI there is.)

Speaking just to the email on the subject I've received, most people prefer hardware looking plug-ins to modern looking ones. I've done a bit of meandering in the AD product line before I settled on our current cartoonish hardware look, which I feel takes advantage of the computer environment, but still keeps an intuitive hardware feel to things. To get a good cel-shaded 3D look, I obviously need to tilt the hardware a bit, and this won't work for something like Ronin.

Anyways, I'm just thinking out loud. What do you guys feel? Is something like the new TC plugins and their uber-modern interface better than something like DubStation and its simple, cartoonish UI?



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Nov.11.2005 @ 12:45 PM
I like the look of the new TC, stuff, but I don't get what they're getting at with the instant gratification bit. Not a problem I've ever noticed with adjusting parameters.

With GUI design, I think function has to instruct form above all. Lay it out so it works well (easy to navigate, easy to use, easy to look at and understand). Once that is sorted, then pretty it up.

I think the prettying up stage is equally important, but it should come last. GUIs are more than just utilitarian, they're part entertainment as well. The more time I spend looking at plugins, the less time I spend at the movies. As long as they work well and look good, I'm all for either side of the visual metaphor.

With AD plugins, I love the look of Ronin, but find Discord v1.5 lacking visual contrast and preferred the original look because it was easier to use (as mentioned in my - cough, cough - unanswered email. Sorry, couldn't resist).

I love the look of Dubstation and Fuzz+, although if I had to choose for function, I wouldn't have gone with the angle. Not so much a problem overall, but goes against intuition, so always requires an adjustment (the knob's position isn't always visually the clearest thing). They're fun, though, so that goes along way towards making up for the angle thing. The 907a is exactly as it should be given what it mimics, although I wish a master gain had been added in somewhere.

So six of one, really.



Nov.11.2005 @ 12:54 PM
To be honest, I'd like to see Audiodamage plugins as proper "2D"...the whole tilted look doesn't appeal to me much...

Nov.11.2005 @ 1:11 PM
Chris Randall
A complete Discord redesign is in the works for V2, which will go back to being a hardware-looking straight-on panel, like the original. (Albeit much nicer.) I'll readily admit that the design choice for Discord 1.5 was a mistake on my part; I was obviously out of my mind when I came up with that idea. The big problem with being such a small company (you gotta love that image) is that there's no marketing department or focus groups or anything. We just have to take gambles, and let the chips fall where they may. DubStation and Discord are our two best-selling plugins, and they're very different, UI-wise.

(It's worth mentioning that 907A is our _fastest_ selling plugin, and at the current rate will overtake both DubStation and Discord in a matter of days.)

So, if one were to base the UI opinions soley on the sales of the three plugins, one could say that the straight-on 3D look of 907A is preferable to either the modern washed-out look of Discord 1.5 or the cel-shaded 3D of DubStation. 907A is also cel-shaded, FWIW; it's just very subtle, but if you look closely, you'll see the black lines around the knobs and screws and such. These are called contours in the biz. 907A was created entirely in 3DS Max, and is actually 3D. All I did to get the glamour shot on the "about" screen and the AD product page is to turn it away from the camera.

Of course, one can't base one's opinions on that. One could say that "Moog Filter" is a magic phrase that drives sales. One could say that Discord is good enough at what it does that the not-so-good GUI doesn't make much difference. One could say that the 3D cel-shaded look of DubStation appeals to its target market, which is people looking for a simple, good sounding delay. So, it's impossible to gauge which of the three is "better," from a marketing standpoint, based on sales alone.

For what it's worth, Phase Two will also be 3D cel-shaded. However, it is more straight-on. It is tilted back to get the 3D look, but it isn't at an extreme angle like DubStation. You'll see what I mean when I post a screen shot, but it is definitely a happy medium between the straight-on look (which is 2D) and the heavy 3D look of DubStation. It basically looks like the unit itself is sitting in front of you, which is what makes the most sense in the long run.



Nov.11.2005 @ 1:14 PM
This might be besides the point, but if a plug is so complex that it can't be represented easily with a hardware style interface, I probably won't want to use it. Dubstation is perfect to me: just a few easy controls with settings that always sound good. I like the soundhack plugins too - that's a computer style interface, but still simple and only a few controls.

So put another way, to me the goal should be simplicity. The filterscape interface looks very nice, but it also looks really busy and complex. It makes my eyes glaze over. I haven't used it though, I might love it.


Nov.11.2005 @ 1:36 PM
I really like the cel shaded look, but I think the straight on look is better for actual use. Maybe a compromise between the normal 3D and cel shading might work well. I don't know. I agree with cacealian, and I am a big believer in simplicity. Maybe the interface really should be adapted to how complicated the plugin is to use. Don't worry about keeping to a set image, but rather design the plugin for optimal use.

Nov.11.2005 @ 3:07 PM
the harvestman
Something I absolutely can't stand in plugins is the constant attempt to recreate rotary knobs, which are a huge pain in the ass to manipulate with a mouse (interrupting the user's pointer orientation when parameter adjustment is done) and generally aren't worth the area saved when replacing sliders. With sliders, it's much easier to get an immediate idea of the current parameter value (instead of hunting for the virtual knob's needle), especially in the context of nearby controls. It's also easy to implement a single-click adjustment anywhere along the slider's travel path.

Hardware is something completely different, and that is where I think knobs succeed in allowing fine parameter adjustment. With the additional UI possibilities offered by a plugin environment, I think it's prudent to go with the solution that offers the most legibility and ease of control. A good interface should always have each parameter's state readily visible at all times, and a bank of sliders is a much better way to accomplish this than the pointless emulation of a control method from an entirely different domain of interface design.

Let's not even get started on how every plugin "manufacturer" has their own idea of how the knobs should be "turned" by mouse... it's even worse if all you have is a trackpad.


Nov.11.2005 @ 3:13 PM
Suit & Tie Guy
i don't care what it looks like as long as it's not ugly and i can enter values _manually_ with the numeric keypad.

my Eventide H3000SE is my favourite piece of gear in my rack because i don't have to spin a data wheel to do everything.

as far as Discord 2 goes, i'm sure that whatever you do will not be ugly. i think you make pretty attractive layouts, actually (and bear in mind that i'm pretty much a bastard about visuals). one of the only two things i give a shit about is text fields, because you're basically doing an Eventide nod, and if you're going to nod you ought to be nodding with intent ... the other thing i give a shit about is if i can make _similar_ patches to what i can do in the MULTI-SHIFT algorithm in my H3000. _that_ is the killer pitch shift algorithm, and pretty much _all_ of the other H3k pitch algos will fit into it.


Nov.11.2005 @ 6:10 PM
My interface ideal for any piece of kit, hardware or software, plugin or platform, is that I should be able to work it more or less immediately without having to read a word of instructions. Some pieces accomplish this better than others, of course, and naturally a plugin with a single, simple function (e.g. compressor or phaser) can more easily accomodate this ideal. I like to see innovation in interface design, but I respond better to something that sticks to a "traditional" (i.e. hardware-informed) interface paradigm, because I can operate it immediately without having to learn some crazy new scheme.

The AD interfaces make good use of the hardware-informed paradigm, and they have character. Discord isn't much to look at, but it works for me just fine. As with every AD plugin I've bought, I was using it immediately after download. That's the most important thing to me. When I look at this new TC "MINT" thing, it's interesting but daunting. It doesn't make me hungry like the new URS compressors for example.



Nov.11.2005 @ 6:53 PM
I have to second the thought that recreating 3D knobs in software is awful. It is hard to see what the values are at a glance and it is also hard to turn a faux-knob with a mouse or trackpad. I always prefer sliders as far as GUI.

My major beef with a lot of plugins is that they are still too small and fancy to read and usually too dark, like the Arturia range. Too much 3D micro-rendering is annoying to me (Steinberg VSTs, Reason, etc.), Ooooh the cables shake!!! though it was cool 6 years ago

My fave GUIs are: Ableton Live, Oddity, Fish Fillets, CamelPhat, Dubstation, Mayhem.

I think legibility (at a glance), numerical input,and MIDI control are the my highest priorities, but design-wise I think simplicity with a little dash of flavor is all that is required. 3D is cool in moderation, but please, no chrome emulations!


Nov.11.2005 @ 6:56 PM
Oh yeah, those u-he's look great! also the Logic instruments are kinda cool.

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