We deal with graphical user interfaces every time we touch a computer, whether that’s our development rig, an ATM, or our phone. How does the design of a GUI affect how we feel about the rest of the associated experience?
One of my favorite moments in the life of a project is when the first UI sounds get implemented. Inevitably, a handful of team members comment on the updated UI and talk about how it feels more responsive. Astute team members will point out that the only thing that changed was that sounds were added, and you’ll see some folks have that “a-ha” moment where they realize how much a simple click sound can add to a menu screen.
But we already knew this. It’s why we work with sound, and why we take the time to think, talk, and write about sound in our off time.
I’ve also noticed that good UI design can make something sound better. In particular, as a tool maker, I’ve noticed that audio folks are more likely to be satisfied with their work when they’re comfortable working with the tools they use. I think it’s why we have so many discussions (bordering on holy wars) about which DAW, plugin, OS, etc is best for a given task. There tends to be little objectivity in those discussions, and all sides will eventually concede that it’s a matter of preference. Maybe the preference here is the design of the GUI, and maybe that preference is pretty steeped in history and emotions. Maybe we’re just better at making sound with something to which we’re accustomed, or something that works like it.
A story I love to tell is something a plugin maker told me about a decade ago. They had just released a new beta version of one of their plugins. Immediately, they got feedback from testers that the plugin sounded so much better. People were dying to know what they did to update the DSP, singing the praises of the engineers for fixing the problems they previously had with the plugin. Strange thing about that release was the only update was dropping in the designer’s new UI to replace the “programmer art” version that was there before.
Here’s a fun exercise. As you’re doing your sound or music work, pay attention to the user interfaces you’re interacting with. What are they? What kinds of decisions or workflows do they encourage? What could they be replaced with? How would that change what you make?