September 15, 2006

Is it just me...

by Chris Randall

...or do all the new Native Instruments plugs look like they were made in Reaktor? Obviously, it's wise for a company to have a common look/feel amongst its products, something we've been struggling at with the AD line since the beginning.

There are two schools of thought to plug-in UI design. I, of course, am of the firm opinion that if there's a real-world analog for a particular plug-in, the plug-in should look exactly like the real-world device. This solves two problems. First, a customer can tell what a product does just by looking at a screenshot. Even with a small screenshot of Reverence, it's pretty obvious as to what it's all about, and we don't have to spend much time explaining it. Second, the customer already knows how to use the product as soon as he installs it, and the only reason he'd have to consult the manual would be for a technical explanation of a feature, or to learn how to use any "secret" things we've added.

When something looks like FM7, you know what it is, what it does, what it sounds like, and how to use it from the git-go. When something looks like FM8, given the screenshot above, at the _very_ least you have to read a couple paragraphs of liturature to even figure out what it is in the first place, never mind whether it's something you need or not. The only thing you can really tell for certain is that it's a synth, and it probably uses FM.

These are just my opinions. Your mileage, as always, may vary. I already know that there is a fairly even split between people that prefer modern UIs versus those that prefer the hardware look. I wouldn't turn down some thoughts on the matter, if you feel like typing them out.



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Sep.15.2006 @ 9:18 PM
Chris Randall
Obviously, in a situation like a DX7 clone, or the Eclipse mentioned above, or whatever, you're going to need to break out the menus in to their own panes. That goes without saying.

I think Ableton did (and continues to do) a fanstastic job on the graphics of their product. But they're not emulating anything. The layout is a different issue, and I agree with nousrnm inasmuch as there are some odd decisions, especially if you run two monitors like I do. I'd prefer Live to be like all other DAWs, where I can have the arrange in one monitor and the mixer in the other. But that's just me. Obviously, Ableton does fine without my input, so I won't offer it.

What I'm saying in my initial post is that the new crop of NI products don't provide any visual enlightenment to what the product actually does. Even if it's a modern take. They're just flat and they look cheap. Perhaps in real life they're not so.

For plugs that have no analog in the analog, I look to the synths in Logic and MOTU. They're extremely well laid-out, and the design is top-notch. I don't do our synths like that because that sort of thing is far beyond my graphics expertise. Doing something _real_ in 3DS Max is no problem for me, but I don't have the Photoshop Chops to pull off Structure or Model 12. If I did, all our products would look like that, because I feel that style is the best compromise between visual inspiration and the computer environment. It just looks fucking pro, basically.

But, seriously, would Dubstation be as fun if it didn't look like it does, and looked like Logic's TapeDelay instead? I doubt it. The visual side is just as important.



Sep.16.2006 @ 1:12 AM
Lets break it down. FM8's cooler than thou gray on white scheme is fucking difficult to read, full stop. They're trying too hard to be hip... to stand out... for the sake of... standing out. I'm starting to feel their marketing department is making the decisions. "Make it not toooo 3D," they say. "That's what's hot." Now, I own FM7 and both sound sets. I'm not happy its already been dropped from NI's site. Its not Universal. FM8 is. Ergo, I MUST update. I don't like getting strong-armed by the software mafia.

As has been previously stated, EFM1 is kinda tight and Apple could tear shit up on the next release. Look at Sculpture, por ejemplo. Damn, NI might have to lick my left nut on this one. Fact is, the FS1R DOES have 8 operators and a distortion effect that makes the FM8 sound like some wise-crackin' Fred Flintstone monkey on a treadmill type 'o' shit.

One more thing. A tech from Roland never came over to my house and disabled my Jupiter 8 'cause I wouldn't buy a Jupiter 9... or a Bahn Sage.


Sep.16.2006 @ 1:49 AM
Chris Randall
It's also worth noting that it can easily go the other way, too:

link [www.sonicprojects.c...]">link [www.sonicprojects.c...]

That's an excellent example of why the UI is just as, if not more, important than the audio stream that results. Wouldn't that plug _sound_ better if it looked like a vintage string synth instead of some MS Paint version of a PPG? I hate to say it, but yes, it would.

Or take Kantos. I know for a fact that Antares spent almost exactly twice as much money advertising Kantos as Audio Damage grossed in 2005. I don't know the exact sales figures, but it is one of the most spectacular failures ever, as far as audio software sales go.

The reason for this failure? I'll give you a hint: it had nothing to do with how the plugin sounds, which is excellent, or what it does, which is something unique and quite usable.



Sep.16.2006 @ 2:00 AM
I like both, as both schools of UI can serve to appease different creative moods that I might be in at any given time. I'm grateful for the variety.

Sep.16.2006 @ 2:46 AM
I say, build a DX7 emulation, and i'll buy it in a heartbeat.
Thats not the case with FM8 though.

Sep.16.2006 @ 8:40 AM
I agree, Chris, if a plugin is visually attractive, it is more fun to use.

But, I'm not always sure that looking like the hardware you are emulating is a good thing. In the csae of digital synths form the 80s, how many ugly dark grey interfaces with crappy LCD screens do we really want to see, no matter how expertly modelled?


Sep.16.2006 @ 10:18 AM
For what it's worth, I think the cell-shaded look is very cool and under-utilized. I don't know why more devs/companies take advantage of that.

Sep.16.2006 @ 10:26 AM
Adam Schabtach
I'm confused by ecallender's comments. I own FM7 also. It still works. Nobody's forcing you to upgrade to FM8, AFAIK--unless you want a UB version. Speaking directly from personal experience, doing a UB version is not always a straightforward process. It really depends upon how the previous version was built. In some instances, if the company is considering a new version anyway, it makes good biz sense to not do a UB revision of the current version but to just move ahead to the next version.

Hardware (usually) has a longer lifespan than software. 'Tis the nature of the beast. OTOH most software is not made "obsolete" by its maker. It is rendered obsolete by changes in the operating system or the hardware upon which it runs.

Or, putting it another way, it's not NI's fault that Apple made a bad choice in CPU manufacturers many years ago, finally had to switch, and now you've decided to switch also. If you don't want to be forced into paying for UB upgrades, don't buy an Intel Mac.



Sep.16.2006 @ 12:47 PM
I think realistic interfaces work well on smaller interfaces like plugins. With a full screen app like a DAW all the extra graphic touches required complicate the view too much and make it harder to read. I would love to use Live as my DAW, if it was up to the task, just because the screen is so easy to read.

I really like all of my AD plugs and I think the unique look is a part of that - they just look, and are, fun to use.


Sep.16.2006 @ 2:12 PM
For me there's a threshold where it becomes more important to ditch the 'real world' look, that threshold one of functional complexity.
I tried Arturias Modular, and that 'real world' vibe didn't improve the experience, the fake wood and dangly cables seemed to make it more difficult to use rather than less. While at the simpler level of a mini-moog the GUI emulation is OK.

The history of the trends are interesting:
Some of the old (1990s) rack samplers and synths suffered greatly from 'through the letterbox' programming, meanwhile, old analogue mono synths seemed comparitively easy to program. It's old news but - the emergence of VA was as much about reclaiming those abandoned interfaces as it was about the sounds.
So, now for many people 'emulation is always best' , even when the item being copied was a "through the letterbox" synth or rack, one of the ones which drove the movement to retro-emulation!

To my mind there are key things about 3d and 2.5d interfaces we can mostly agree on : some depth simulation helps our primate spatial location and that emulating 'known' interfaces increases the speed of recognition.
Having said that - the simplicity of a vector interface has much to commend it. So I think the blend of vector simplicity with a little drop-shadow goodness and of-course recoginizable GUI elements. But also to add new items if they are more apt than a 1970's patchbay!

As an example of a 2.5d interface - Zebra2 has a few good qualities, although I think the contrast is poor and I dont like the zebra stripes
link []">link []

the patching there seems infinately preferable to a dangly cable emulation.


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