Boulevard Of Broken Dreams #4
In the last installment of this series, we'll have a look at some product evolution. The above image is the starting point. Early on, while we were casting about for a direction the company would take, we considered doing a synth, and here was my idea for one. Totally modular (with the exception that audio routing and CV routing had to, by necessity, be separate patchbays) it would be a fairly typical representation of a small modular synth. Now, this would certainly be a good product; the main problem with it is two-fold. (A) The synth market is flooded, and (b) it is pretty plain once you get past the semi-interesting UI.
So, we decided (more or less permanently, as it turned out) for better or worse to just avoid the synth market at the time and expand on some of the better ideas in our Mayhem package, namely the TimeFnk delay. So we took the better ideas from Plexus and combined them with the general execution of TimeFnk, and this is what we came up with:
Now, if you take a close look at that UI, you'll note that it mirrors a product you might already own pretty much exactly. That is the first UI for Ronin. In retrospect it is a far better UI, but there were reasons for not using it. They are:
1. This UI was built with the concept of using PNGs for the knobs and such in mind. Using PNGs instead of BMPs for the knob filmstrips and elements was a relatively new thing at the time. It worked on OSX machines, but Windows machines, which had no built-in method for reading PNGs, exhibited many issues. (This also engendered the redesign of Discord between v1 and v1.5.) So once we discovered that PNGs were a serious problem, we had a relatively short time to come up with a solution.
2. When we were working on this, it was a current fad on a couple of the pertinent forums to complain mightily and loud about "hardware look" user interfaces. I actually took this quite seriously. I know better now, of course, but when you're just starting a company, you only have that sort of feedback to go on. So we thought "well, we better avoid hardware UIs; we don't want to piss anybody off."
So, TimeFnk II got its name changed to Ronin, and got the current Ronin UI, for better or worse. Due to its obvious complexity, Ronin isn't one of our better sellers. But Ronin begat Dubstation, which our best-selling effect, so we're not complaining.
But this brings up an interesting point about user interfaces. Ronin and Dubstation are essentially the same code inside. With Ronin, you have access to every single possible parameter in the plugin, and you can route the audio and control signals however you want. With Dubstation, we've basically removed the patchbay, the LFOs, and roughly 2/3 of the controls. Dubstation has sold ten times the number of Ronin. You can easily see how this has informed our design process.