What can the language of musicians tell us about music interaction design?

Wilkie, Katie; Holland, Simon and Mulholland, Paul (2010). What can the language of musicians tell us about music interaction design? Computer Music Journal, 34(4) pp. 34–48.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1162/COMJ_a_00024


It is difficult to create good interaction designs for music software or to substantially improve existing designs. One reason is that music involves diverse and complex concepts, entities, relationships, processes, terminologies, and notations. An open challenge for interaction designers is to find systematic ways of channeling the tacit, specialized knowledge of musicians into designs for intuitive user interfaces that can capably support musically skilled users, without excluding those with less technical musical knowledge. One promising new approach to this challenge involves the application of research from the theory of image schemas and conceptual metaphors This theory has already been applied with some success to analyzing musical concepts, mathematical concepts, general-purpose user-interface design, and sound-generation interaction designs involving simple musical parameters such as tempo, volume, and pitch. We propose that by identifying the conceptual metaphors and image schemas used by musical experts when analyzing an excerpt of music, and then assessing the extent to which these conceptual metaphors are supported by existing music-interaction designs, it is possible to identify areas where the designs do not match musicians’ understanding of the domain concepts. This process provides a principled basis for identifying points at which designs could be improved to better support musicians’ understanding and tasks, and for the provisional identification of possible improvements. We present the results of an analysis of dialogue between three musicians as they discuss an excerpt of music. A methodology for the systematic identification of image schemas and conceptual metaphors is detailed. We report on the use of the results of the dialogue analysis to illuminate the designs of two contrasting examples of music software. Areas in which the designs might be made more intuitive are identified, and corresponding suggestions for improvements are outlined.
The present research appears to be the first to investigate the potential of conceptual metaphor theory for investigating and improving music-interaction designs that deal with complex musical concepts, such as harmonic progressions, modulation, and voice leading.

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