[LAU] ZynAddSubFX Usability Survey

Louigi Verona louigi.verona at gmail.com
Thu Apr 28 23:18:59 UTC 2016

I did submit the survey, but I would like to add a note here too.

The most important thing to understand before any UI project is what the
goal is. And although it sounds really obvious, in reality it is much
harder than one thinks.

The term "usability" is generic enough and the amount of use cases for a
software synth like ZynAddSubFX is large. Most cases, though, can be
divided into two big sections: musician and sound designer. Musician is the
one who switches between presets and maybe tweaks several simple
parameters, whereas sound designer is the one who goes through every
parameter on the synth and creates original presets with the synth.
Obviously, a person can be both a designer and a musician, but use cases
are nevertheless different.

So, in order to understand *how* to do, you have to understand *why* you
are doing it and list
1. Use cases (in other words, for which type of user do you want to
increase usability, could be for both, but it has to be clearly stated)
2. Exactly what right now stands in the way of achieving the goals of users.

A quick breakdown, just to give an idea, please note I am just improvising
on the fly:

Use cases
1. Musician
1.1 As musician, I want to be able to access presets bank and be able to
switch presets without having to see
1.2 As musician, I want to be able to work with Zyn without being exposed
to controls I do not need
1.3 As musician, I want to be able to quickly access certain sections, like
effects and volume envelope or whatever research shows is required, without
being exposed to controls I do not need and to do it with less clicks as

2. Sound designer
2.1 As sound designer, I want to be able to work with parameters grouped by
their function
2.2 As sound designer, I would like to be able to quickly grasp the
difference between presets at a glance

And then, when you have these things written out, you should look at the
current design and see what is lacking.

The UI mockups have actually many good decisions and some things I believe
need more work. Will say from the get go, I couldn't care less about the
colors. Colors are usually not difficult to change later on, so this should
not be a big issue, in my view.

There are things I like about the mockups:

- there is a clear desire to have everything on one screen and not have
multiple windows
- same point, but expanded: presets are on the same screen, without the
need to open a separate window and the keyboard seems to be there too
- grouping of parameters is nice and visual

Things I believe need a little more analysis:

- mockups seem to differ (apart from colors) by the type of controls - in
one cases it is a Knob Universe, in the other it is the Slider Universe. I
think there is a good case to be made for the use of both. Look at what the
control is doing and see if you can save space by introducing a slider
instead of a knob and vice versa. Also, sliders that are backwards are
generally more confusing than those that are vertical, especially for
things like envelopes, simply due to the fact that most known synths have
them this way

- how do envelopes work? I see a graph, but I also see knobs over it. Does
it make sense to save space by making envelopes in tabs, like it is done in

- have you considered other layouts? Why do you find this layout most
efficient and how does it work for the use cases? Will the layout fit into
the screen? Is it intended for live work (a possible other use case)

This is a lot of work, but it might be worth it. And I love the fact that
you have a survey here, I think this is a great idea and your user-centric
approach might very well pay off! But I would encourage you to look at big
synths out there, because each of them embodies many-many surveys done by
those companies and there is no reason not to use that knowledge ;)

Anyway, hope my notes were useful and maybe someone else will add the many
things I missed.


On Thu, Apr 28, 2016 at 9:06 PM, Thorsten Wilms <self at thorstenwilms.com>

> On 28.04.2016 15:11, Mark McCurry wrote:
>> As a next major step for the project is a full rewrite of the UI,
>> replacing
>> the current junk-drawer of knobs with a much easier to navigate and
>> explore
>> interface based off of a mockup by Budislav Stepanov [1][2].
> Those mockups seem to speak of a fear of colors ... or a lame attempt at
> looking futuristic. I once had a classmate with a tendency to create blue
> layouts of blue elements on blue. Came out he had red-green deficient
> vision.
> Color can and should be used as additional means of indicating state
> and/or structure (grouping).
> The flatty flatness makes one wonder if a widget is a command button or
> toggle or a tab, what is selected vs activated. Once everyone is through
> with the fads of first taking skeuomorphism to the extreme, then minimalism
> (actually call that deficitism), could we perhaps enjoy a sane
> middle-ground?
> I do not see anything that would guide a user regarding the overall
> structure of Zyn, it's all trees, no forest. From what I recall from my
> brief look at that beast years ago, that's admittedly a tough job.
> --
> Thorsten Wilms
> thorwil's design for free software:
> http://thorwil.wordpress.com/
> _______________________________________________
> Linux-audio-user mailing list
> Linux-audio-user at lists.linuxaudio.org
> http://lists.linuxaudio.org/listinfo/linux-audio-user

Louigi Verona
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