UX of Music Instruments & Tools

In the meantime, as a follow up on the dicussion about icons we had some time ago in this thread, I’ve posted this collection of thoughts on the matter here:


Really, really great article. Thank you for sharing. Gonna share with my work colleagues, thank you! As a side note, I didn’t realise you worked on the Alright Devices stuff. Very cool. How did you get into this? Such a fascinating design challenge.

Thanks a lot! And thanks for sharing this to other people!
Yes I did work on all the Alright stuff (though credit for the characters, illustrations and overall vibe goes to my wife).

As usual, by pure chance.
I got into electronics DIY, built a few circuits (Atari Punk Console, simple stuff like that), then got hold of a Shruti kit (the very first synth project by Mutable Instruments) and from there things slowly snowballed their way to eurorack.

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great article, I didn’t know the term “index” for that sort of graphic before!

I don’t think I posted it here before, so you might enjoy these graphics I made for my Ambika case — as usual, a mix of icons, indexes and symbols. I’m not entirely happy with all of them, but I can come back to the instrument after not having played it for a year and immediately remember what each one means, without having to read tiny text in the dark. I’m also very happy with the two graphics at the side, which indicate secondary features you can use by holding a button and turning the encoder. I would have no chance of remembering these if I didn’t have a visual hint for them.


Your wife is a super talented illustrator! Kudos to her.

Once again (and I know I sound like a broken record) but such a fascinating topic. The point around Ciat-Lonbarde is a great one, and I love discussing it. In a way, the UX of apps/web and instruments are almost entirely separate and the point you made about exploring an instrument and learning it is an important one.

I also think that I suppose the bottom line is a lot of apps are entirely functional; you need to complete a task (move money, book a flight etc), however, no ‘needs’ to play an instrument (I mean this in a functional sense, not a creative, spiritual etc way) so working things out is something people are willing to do.

Imagine if your bank’s app was designed by Peter Blasser… you’d end up setting up a standing order to a frog sanctuary or converting all of your money to some ancient currency or something!


Yeah I chose to go with the semiotics approach, because that is a bit easier and directly relates to signs. In the context of the article is seemed best because of icon/symbol distinction, i.e. the distinction between an image hat actually resembled what it stands for and an image that is visually/morphologically unrelated.

They look great! And indeed, excpet for a few it’s very easy to see which button takes you to which functionality.

Thanks! I’ll let her know!

There’s definitely the functional aspect as well in many applications, expecially when you look at more advanced software that is there to help you get stuff done.
There’s also other factors at play I think: For some apps the usage is very “casual”, I’m thinking about stuff like weather apps for example.
For others there is a strong economic pressure to lowering all barriers as much as possible, because they need to appeal to a very large demografic, and the companies want to grow very quickly etc.
The whole UX thing is in part strongly biased by the way Silicon Valley approaches software design.

btw. I generally don’t like the term UX. Reducing everything to just the experience feels very, well, marketing-ish and fits in very well into the current fictionalization trend.

A quote from the above article, which I find very fitting in this context:

A weather app recently sent me a push notification offering to tell me about “interesting storms.” I didn’t know I needed my storms to be interesting. Or consider an email I received from TurboTax. It informed me, cheerily, that “we’ve pulled together this year’s best tax moments and created your own personalized tax story.” Here was the entertainment imperative at its most absurd: Even my Form 1040 comes with a highlight reel.

Well, that actually feels like a world I would want to live in hahaha :smiley:


Hmmm… this is interesting. I’m not sure I would consider marketing emails as part of UX, but rather CX (aka the full, end to end customer experience). I do, however, think that branding has a huge impact on UX - I work for a quite stoic and serious business so don’t really have to deal with the above, but I expect if I worked for TikTok, or Snapchat or something I would upset a lot of people by telling them their UX is ‘dogshit’.

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At the software company where I work, we’ve been updating our main product’s UI and hired an illustrator to create new toolbar button images for us. It’s certainly a challenge conveying complex technical concepts and specific tool options in a way that’s meaningful at a quick glance, in just 16x16 pixels. And mostly the images aren’t very meaningful in themselves – people wind up relying on placement of the buttons as a mnemonic as well.

…and that’s what I found myself doing with Plaits. To me the modes were “red 4”, “green 7” etc. which became “R4” or “G7” for my notes – succinct, if not very descriptive. For that kind of thinking, a single-digit hexadecimal LCD would have been great, to be honest.

Imagining a version of Plaits with a big OLED screen that showed only the symbol/icon… I would still wind up mentally translating that into some kind of text name, but that name would probably have been more descriptive (e.g. “VA”, “harm”, “dust”).

While overall I don’t think After Later’s “Pixie” looks as nice and clean as Plaits, I the text descriptions mostly work (could have been more succinct). If I had one, I’m honestly not sure if I’d stick with my “R4” scheme or use the names they printed on the panel…


UX definitely has run amok as a term. I actually prefer just going with DESIGN… I see design as ‘problem solving with appropriate tools and methods’… But DESIGN also is so easy to misinterpret as a term…

Add to that things like CX (customer experience)… so now we’re only concerned with your experience as someone spending funds on our product/service? and only in regards to that transactional mindset? Ugh…

DTDT = Defining the Damn Thing = a longstanding watercooler conversation some love to have… that generally nets zero benefit for anyone.

It is what it is :slight_smile:

For me digital product design is a good way to describe what one does. If it’s just related to the interface part, then interface design is also pretty accurate.

Names are just names indeed. Though I do tend to have issues with those that are silly, or have some weird connotations. Like the word “branding” for example.

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