Synthesizer user interface design - lessons learned from a heuristic review

Seago, Allan; Holland, Simon and Mulholland, Paul (2004). Synthesizer user interface design - lessons learned from a heuristic review. Technical Report 2004/20; Department of Computing, The Open University.



In this paper, we review the types of user interfaces used in electronic synthesizers, both hardware and software, and conduct a heuristic review on a number of representative examples. The process of building and editing sounds in modern commercial synthesizers requires a good understanding, both of the system architecture and of the synthesis engine itself, as the user/system dialog is conducted in system-specific terms, rather than in terms familiar to a musician. User interfaces of contemporary synthesizers may be procedural, presenting the user with a set of functional modules which generate/process sound, or alternatively, offer the means of creating/editing sound, using direct manipulation techniques. We conclude that neither style emerges as being better suited to the task of sound synthesis; in this domain, direct manipulation is limited in the degree of control afforded, while the form filling style characteristic of fixed architecture synthesizers is slow and laborious.

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