UX of Music Instruments & Tools


“skeuomorph hell” is also how I would describe some software…


I thought that article was pretty bogus. “Haha, let’s point at a bunch of UI and laugh! Haha!” and then didn’t provide any counter examples demonstrating what they thought would be better.

So, I’ll bite. I’ve been playing with Layr this week. Nice flat UI, very usable for such a flexible multitimbral synth.

What are some other great examples of non-skeumorphic audio UI?


Most of the recent Sinevibres stuff! Simple flat&minimal, great use of colour. Actually Ableton Live, while it has issues and would need a bit of a refresh, it’s still one of the most functional UIs I’ve ever used. Fabfilter stuff is pretty non-skeumorphic and totally great. Last but not least I’d mention Renoise, for a DAW that looks like no other DAW :slight_smile:



I just recalled that we discussed goodhertz earlier in this thread. Another fantastic set of UIs.

It’s kind of amazing how well Ableton Live has held up. The UI changes I would make really don’t involve the visual design at all.

But I’m glad everything doesn’t look exactly like Ableton Live. I appreciate the diversity. It doesn’t bother me. I think ideas should cross-pollinate and hybridize. You need diversity to do that.


20 characters of “sigh”.

EDIT: there are layers to that sigh. I’m often in a situation where it’s hard to get a designer on a team, or anybody that isn’t a programmer. Not that it’s easy to hire programmers either. Heck, I increasingly get the feeling the nobody really knows how to do anything at work.


Agreed that it was not particularly well written. I wish they would have provided some more constructive examples.

I particularly like Ableton Live’s interface and pretty much just use the stock Suite plug-ins when working ITB. A big part has to do with the interface.


I think a lot about this topic. I have a double-life as a classical saxophonist, and something that interests me is the disjuncture between form and function in electronic instruments.

I think my favorite instruments are those with limited function, but with high capacity for interacting with other interfaces (given that many of the people on here make music with modular setups, I suspect this is a common sentiment).

I think that a good way to think about this topic is not looking for interfaces that “get out of the way,” so to speak, but that promote interesting dialogue between musicians, engineers, designers, composers, and the interface itself. In music, this dialogue takes the form of music (and forums like this one).

From a research point of view, this comes from Bakhtin’s “dialogicality.” There’s a good deal of writing on this topic in the fields of UX and design. These are just two examples, let me know if you want some more or some primary resources. I’m interested to hear others’ thoughts on this subject!


Welcome! Nice to see more UX-interested folks around here. :slight_smile:


idno this line was hilariously on point… “Their Butch Vig Vocals plugin, built to enhance and crunch up vocal tracks, inexplicably looks as if the inside of a Swiss watch was enlarged so as to serve as the primary control interface to a ship’s steam room.”

Pretty hilarious but understandable that this is what turns something into a “premium” sounding plugin. Its also the many potential users who are wowed when they look at it right. Like when you look at the shadow hills mastering compressor and think thats gotta sound cool. No need for it to look the way it does. Alas hardware is hardware and u can always shut ur eyes.


When I see the Butch Vig Vocals plugin all I can think is “what are you overcompensating for?”


Me too, I actually even like most skeumorphic interface, I don’t think there’s anything inherently bad with it, when it’s done right. Though it does work better for something than others. DAWs for example are best kept skeumorphism-free, due to the high density of control elements and the fact that you spend hours staring at them. Plug-ins, on he other hand, are getting used in a very different way.

If you think that automotive companies are spending 50% of their budget in advertising… that does not come to any surprise.

amen to that!

I had the chance to work with Fxpansion on the Geist2 interface. It’s completely drawn in code, and hence anything can be changed dynamically, the most obvious benefit being that the interface is freely resizable and can adapt much better to different resolutions and pixel densities. So sometimes flat design is not just an aesthetic choice, but a very functional one (the same can be said about Ableton I guess).
The “not being able to charge premium” thing is totally bullshit. Fist of all it depends on what the plug-in delivers in terms of functionality. Designers tend to think that the UI and UX is the most important thing in a product, but in the end the most important thing is what it does and how well it does it… and that’s just partially a matter of UI and UX. On the visual side I think it really depends on the polish of the UI, more than on it being skeumorphic or not. There’s a lot of abstract and flat plugins that are sold for a pretty premium price. You need to tap into the current taste and into some visual trends (plus there’s some things that are more generally associated with high quality and polish) if you want to be perceived as premium, and that goes way beyond skeumorphism.


I think this is more a matter of working with the right designer, than having vast design staff/resources. Great design needn’t be expensive, but it does require skill (and maybe even harder: trusting the person with that skill, enough to let them do their job).

As a designer, I completely agree! Unfortunately in my work (not audio/music related) I am often struggling to get certain people (usually engineers) to place any value on UX at all (beyond lip service).


This is skeumorphic. And I really like it.


indeed! Well the trust thing – and you probably know that well – is not just a matter of finding somebody you can trust, but also being able to do so. What I mean is: some people just are too afraid, or are too much of a control freak to really trust the designer.

I can totally relate to that for certain fields. Fortunately since I went self-employed that has changed quite a bit, but it’s got mostly to do with the change in clients and the different area which I work in (which is 80% audio/music related)

VCV is great! It’s this kind of totally reduced skeumorphism which does not indulge in cheap photo-realistic fx. Bitwig also is kind of along those lines.


Yeah, this is just barely skeumorphic to me; I think I could the count number of elements in that screenshot that qualify on one hand. It’s very nicely done; great example!


I’ve read the article posted above now and totally agree with @jasonw22, it’s one of the worst, most pointless article on the matter I’ve read so far. The author is not even trying to articulate a thought about what is bad with skeumorphism, it’s really just pointing finger and saying “it’s ugly!”.
It’s interesting though that these type of UIs, where you get a photorealistic simulation instead of a more abstract UI, are present mostly in audio software and video games, this is probably worth a comparative analisys.


Yeah totally. My day job is in UX and making software tools, my first thought when reading that article was “oh buddy, you really don’t get the point of these tools do you”.


TBH this all makes sense to me. In Presets - Digital Shortcuts to Sound there’s a chapter with a really good interview with Mike Daliot of Native Instruments. In his opinion the presets are one of the most important, if not the most important, aspects of a synthesizer because they really help define what the target audience is. That’s why you end up with synths like Massive and Serum which are heavily used by musicians in particular genres but not so much in others, despite the fact their architecture is pretty generally applicable. I think presets are pretty crucial in turning a synth or effect from a piece of technology to it being a tool that can be used by musicians.

Then marketing, well, you want to be building things that people want… and once you’ve put in all the effort to build them and make presets, you want to make sure they sell. So it makes sense to devote a good amount of energy to that aspect as well :slight_smile:


As far as skeuomorphism goes, I tend to like it in audio plugins, particularly those that mimic or emulate real hardware. It instantly provides a familiar interface, and I think there’s a certain amount of inspiration that can be drawn from tweaking something that’s not completely abstract.

Of course there are many situations where a more computer-oriented/optimized interface makes sense as well… and the approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive either.


I can’t wait for folks to see PUSH TURN MOVE, which is now off the presses and starting to be shipped to Kickstarter backers. The book premiered at the Sheffield SynthFest and people were absolutely gaga over it. I am thrilled to be a part of the creative team that brought it about, and can’t wait to hear what y’all think about its UI and UX discussions on dozens of topics (including skeuomorphism).