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.17.2006 @ 2:20 AM

First off, I am SO with ya on Kore... it's one of those products that boldly answers the question no one asked. Yuck!

But getting back to the topic... here's my 2 cents: I can program sounds like gangbusters on ES2, because it's really simple (except for all the vector madness). I also use Pro-53 a lot, and HATE the wee knobs that make it look so nice. But I was lucky enough to get me a real Prophet-5 recently, and, to state the obvious, it's real life big chunky knobs are wonderful. I can program that thing REALLY fast (of course the lack of mousing is biggest reason).

So... the tiny imitation Prophet interface doesn't help much. When confronted with a complicated synth, give me optimized computer efficiency (in pretty colors though). I'm pretty sure I like the real Prophet better because the of sound that comes out of it too...



Sep.17.2006 @ 3:34 AM
Knobs on GUI do have different feel( or I need to put the mouse down and get out more) but I know what ya mean with the wee knobs...URS BLT EQ and Korg MS-20 vst have very nice knobs ...smooth chunky feel...I know, they are not the real deal ,not hardware..etc..but figured just throw it out there while on the topic of GUI. Anyone remember (or man enough to admit remembering)the Rebirth mods in like 97-98ish..some interesting GUI, some shitty and really fucking fly. I admit looks have a play on creativity and I guess motivation for some(otherwise HCGPF wouldnt exist)but looking at a really bright GUI just plain can be harsh on the eyes. Have a look at the rebirthmuseum screenshots..

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Sep.17.2006 @ 8:03 AM
Hi Chris,

i was involved in developing the FM7 and i criticized the DX7 look of the FM7 often in this time (and also afterwards). My fear was, that the people will take a look at it and say: "oh, it's a DX7 clone", but in my opinion the FM7 is a sophisticated FM7-Synth that has the feature to import DX7 sounds. And when i read the passage

"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."

i think my fear was justified and the new look of the FM8 is the correct way.

And depending Kore: Of course it's not a tool for everybody, but i (will) play live with a laptop and i really hated the interaction that was needed with the laptop between the tracks and really love the possiblity to put the laptop in a closed state at the ground and do all the interaction via the kore-controller on my masterkeyboard. For my, this feature alone justify the existence of Kore, especially in combination with the high-resolutin knob. But of course i'm biased concerning NI products (i love also Kontakt ;-) ).


Sep.17.2006 @ 10:19 AM
Adam Schabtach
Wow, a NI guy in our very midst. How 'bout that. :-)

I can see your point re the DX7 look of FM7. I hadn't thought about that before, but you're right, FM7 is much more than a DX7 and to present it in a way that makes people think it's a DX7 clone is selling it short. That said, I've always found the FM7 interface pleasant to look at and work with, and one has to wonder whether it would have made as large an impact in the market upon its debut if it looked like, say, FM8 rather than reminding people of a very famous piece of hardware. I will reserve judgement regarding FM8 until I purchase it and have spent some time with it.

I love Kontakt also, FWIW, but it has been well established that Chris and I have different brains. OTOH I'm not convinced re Kore either. If the point is to turn a laptop into a hardware synth, why not just take a hardware synth to the gig?



Sep.17.2006 @ 1:14 PM
Because a laptop is much more flexible then any hardware synth on the market (okay, Receptor would be a possible solution, but i have a laptop anyway, why should i buy an additional computer?).

Sep.17.2006 @ 3:02 PM
i only care what sound comes out of the software , i could care less what it looks like

Sep.17.2006 @ 8:54 PM
Xmuzik - I call bullshit. How software looks affects how you use it and thus, what sounds comes out. If you just use presets or modify them slightly, then it doesn't really matter, but if you create your own sounds then the user interface is a big deal.

Sep.17.2006 @ 10:39 PM
inasilentway: "...if you create your own sounds then the user interface is a big deal." that may be true for you but i don't think your argument works as a general truth. max/msp, audiomulch, pd, and supercollider all to some degree defy your point.

while i enjoy a nice ui, whats important is the results, at least for the music i make. i agree that "how software looks affects how you use it..." because, well that seem rather obvious. but i don't see how how it looks definitively equals "what sounds comes out." i mean if we're talking simply about what tools are visually presented, then yes in most cases this is accurate...there are plenty of sound tools that don't look pretty, not all is made readily available by the main ui or menu's, etc.

i mean maybe you speak for most people and i've stated i enjoy i nice clean ui but i'm lookin for sound results. so i'm not sure what Xmusik's exact point of his post was but i'm afraid i'm apart of the "bullshit" crew according to your post.

i know the sounds i want, i then find an app, plug, or go down the route of making the tool that will make sound. fortunately there's so many great tools out there for us sound designer's, but they're not all pretty ;)


Sep.18.2006 @ 5:54 AM
I think the only reason I get as much mileage out of Kontakt as I do is because it lends itself to a particular workflow which is useful for sound design (it has little to do with the UI and more to do with the conceptual heirarchy of things).. For sampler UI's I'd have to say on one end I think that if Applemagic ever update the EXS24 to a new version it will likely look the business. That's another way of saying that I completely agree on Logic looking 'Pro".

For MOTU however I'd have to say that imho <a href="link []">link []" target="_blank">Mach5's UI</a> sucks. It's nice & eye candy in screenshots but there's SO much space given up to the details that the rest of it feels a tad cramped. Text fields, waveform displays etc definitely benefit from having more focus than they do there. MOTU did a decent job on their later devices though, the smoothness and eye candy didn't take up as much of the UI's canvas.

I also agree that dropdown routing isn't ideal. I think that a mix of Fm7's fixed mod matrix combined with the flexible Albino/z3ta/BLUE/etc style would be rather nice if done properly (think RME's totalmix with its matrix view on the x key).


Sep.18.2006 @ 8:26 AM
To the FM7/NI poster: I understand reservations about people not seeing the full-potential as an FM synth because its UI too closely held to the synth from which it was derived. But even those of us who are not synth gurus only needed a little playing to see the depth of the synth. There is nothing wrong with users being able to pull up a plug and say, Yeah, I know how this works. But everything the user read, from the manual to the reviews & how-tos in glossy Brit gear porn, showed how much more there was to the plugin. When the UI actually detracts from the usibility of synth and forces devs to hide features in drop-down menus and convoluded layout in order to adhere to some old hardware derived model, then by all means chuck it out. But throwing out a decent & logical interface because it might limit people from seeing the more advanced features is not necessarily a better solution.

We're still talking about a paged-interface, a fixed matrix, and EZ-edit page. Yes, there were a lot of new features to get in there, but was it the button design and color-scheme that was preventing that from happening? As it stands, FM7 went from being a cleverly designed, hardware-modeled synth that had a unique look (for software), to another in a growing list of plugins that does a lot of things and has no special look that sets it apart from other FM contenders.


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