Photorealistic GUI: is it good or bad?

Last few days I was thinking about the GUI concept. Also I watched a hundred of plugins screenshots and tried to analyze: why do a lot of people dislike photorealistic GUIs for audio plugins?

In short, I found that a lot of photorealistic GUIs in terms of ergonomics has the next 3 problems:

  1. Glare: All surfaces are polished and looks like very powerful floodlight projectors are behind operator’s back. Glares are even lighter than text labels. To concentrate on parameters the brain starts to ignore glares and soon gets fatigue. In real life the surfaces of devices for serious work are dull, opaque, frosted. No glares. Also the light should be soft if you want to work several hours without burning your eyes.
  2. Perspective distortions: I don’t know either it’s wrong visual angle setup or lens simulation but surfaces and knobs are crooked. When I work with real hardware device I know it’s really straight. But on the screen it doesn’t look straight. The brain starts to compensate this distortion and gets fatigue. I think the right way is to use isometric projection instead of perspective one.
  3. Labels font size: If the modelled hardware on the screen were 1:1 scale it should be OK. But the hardware size in plugins is smaller than original. It causes for text labels to be hardly recognizable. I think the right way is to enlarge them a little. It’ll get a little “cartoon-like” look but it’ll be very convenient to work with.

And also GUIs either photorealistic or non-photorealistic often have problems with color scheme choosen, controls layout and fonts used. I mean you can make a bad GUI regardless either it photorealistic or not. 🙂

After hundreds of screenshots I found the best GUIs for my taste (never worked with these plugins though):

^^ Native Instruments Massive. Non-photorealistic design. But very good layout of controls. Very good fonts and labels. Very good color scheme.

^^ D16 group Shioitor. Photorealistic design. Good layout of controls. Good fonts and labels. Good color scheme. No polished surfaces. Perspective projection used but I don’t feel discomfort due to distortions. The fonts and labels are cool (instead places where there’s a lot of text).

The conclusion. I don’t deny the idea to make photorealistic looking GUI. I don’t have 3d modelling experience so I will use real parts of real devices.

There’s a couple of them already in my kitchen:

(old soviet power supply unit)

(old soviet ammeter)

31 responses to “Photorealistic GUI: is it good or bad?

  1. Ashley Smith 2012/03/21 at 03:03

    Having a nice looking GUI is obviously secondary to the sound the plug-in itself, however I’m keen to have it easy on the eye. Perhaps take a look at using vector graphics for their smoothness. Waves, FXpansion Synth Squad, and Nomad Factory have good GUI’s.

    • vladgsound 2012/03/21 at 03:27

      Practically, what do you see affects how do you hear. That’s why blind tests are so important. Some time ago I thought that GUI is secondary and isn’t related with sound quality, and it was a surprise for me that for lots of people it really matters how the plugin looks.
      What about me? I’m just having fun! 🙂

  2. alex 2012/03/21 at 05:33

    first i have to say i like the gui of the molot a lot something different like the most.for the new one i would say i don´t have to be a photorealistic gui, for me it should have a easy looking gui for a good workflow like the massive gui. here are a few of my favorite gui´s (search in the net) the ,, spl eq rangers, nastydla, rhythm lab moverb, arcdev et-301 maybe you get some inspiration from it. i hope you understand it my english is not the best sorry

    one last thing i have to say for me its more fun to work with a good looking gui and look on it.

  3. alex 2012/03/21 at 05:44

    here are some others i like ,, audio damage rough rider pro, voxengo tube amp

  4. alex 2012/03/21 at 05:50

    ok a last one this one is really simple but good looking ,,Adam Szabo Phazor´´

  5. sven 2012/03/21 at 17:35

    Stick with the old Soviet electronics look. It’s part of Molot’s charm, and gives your products a unique appearance in a sea of plugins.

  6. EMCEE EXORCIST 2012/03/22 at 05:53

    YEA but this plugin is not the HAMMER (Molot) , ITS the workers/modules united!

    When I first saw the Massive vst above i was impressed, i thought it was how Limiter6 would look.

    But after sleeping on it I like the present look because it looks like us workers(Simple)!!
    but though we look Simple we get the job done like LIMITER6!!!

    vladg/sound keep it simple and develop some YouTube tutorials for LIMITER6 —- THEN Sell it, you worked hard — get the money for your labor!!!!

    • vladgsound 2012/03/23 at 00:50

      Okay, I’ll try to make new GUI “simple” look. As simple as possible 🙂 Maybe I should provide alternative “flat” skin.
      About youtube. It’s hard to do it for me. I’m not audio professional and it’s hard to try to teach other pro guys how to do things right. First, I should learn myself how to use this plugin right 🙂 But for the near future there’s no free time for it.

  7. dddux 2012/03/23 at 02:20

    I’m glad that you decided to keep it simple as it is, Vlad. 😉 I’m a minimalist lover, and I think the most important “part” of getting the GUI right is actually it’s workflow, then everything else. The workflow as it is is great! Now if we could only change the colours somehow and that would do it for me. LOL Thank you for these brilliant plugins. They’re gonna get some pretty serious usage here, and Molotov has already worked a [mo]lot of times. Lovely compressor and the limiter is a great addition, IMO necessary addition to every compressor. Cheers!

  8. bls 2012/03/23 at 04:55

    I thought the Molot skin looked like something that was meant to be used aggressively. Of course, that’s not its only use, but it is one of them. This new limiter strikes me as a gentle distribution of finalizing duties and I think it could be reflected better in the GUI than the military style would do.

    I hope that commenting on it previously didnt seem catty, I’d be proud and lucky to sport your stuff whatever the look.

    Thanks again.

    • vladgsound 2012/03/23 at 17:47

      Yes, the design of Molot interface (and its name) were invented after first hearing the sound of new (that time) compressor plugin. The first sound associations were “hammer” and “tank”. And we have now this tank-like aggressive GUI.

      For me, new plugin sound is very very soft and deep. But I didn’t spend a lot of time with new plugin due to lack of free time.

  9. acoustopia 2012/03/24 at 16:34

    I must agree with Sven. The vintage Soviet electronics look is very unique and to continue in that vein , in my opinion, would consolidate your branding. Roll on with the theme you have going in your kitchen!

  10. grzes 2012/03/24 at 16:47

    Personnally I prefer it to be as simple as you did it on the Limiter6 alpha release. I don’t want GUI distract me and I prefer to keep it basic. I prefer to use my ears rather than my eyes to focus on the sound changes.

  11. grzes 2012/03/25 at 03:31

    Oh yes! I would appreciate to have this choice!

  12. Bob 2012/03/25 at 21:31

    a photorealistic GIRL would be better ! 😉

  13. satYatunes 2012/03/25 at 22:37

    I love the simple alpha gui. Just an opposite white text over dark background will be good enough. I agree with 3 points you have mentioned regarding photorealistic GUIs. At the same time I do understand what a beautiful GUI does to a plugin. I have seen instances in KVR forum where people dismissed a plugins purely on its look. Honestly, you should stick to the Molot kind of GUI cause it’s unique and also your trademark. Thanks for making such a beautiful plugin. I used it in my last track and the results are amazing.

  14. satYatunes 2012/03/25 at 22:44

    I love the simple alpha GUI, another version with light text on dark background will be excellent. I agree and have noticed the similar problems with the photo-realistic GUI designs. Even though the sounds is utmost important, look also matter equally. I have seen instances where people dismissed plugins purely on its look, not a good thing but happens. I would honestly suggest that you stick to your Molot kinda GUI. First, it’s unique and second, it has become your trademark. I have seen such GUIs but believe if I see one then the first name that would come to my mind will be yours. Creating such an impression or trademark is not easy. So, why change something which is already working wonders. Thanks for making such a wonderful plugins. GUI or not, I will be using it a lot. I tried it on my last track and results are amazing.

  15. GUIlike 2012/03/26 at 02:20

    Check out the GUI of the ValhallaDSP plugins. That’s simplicity done right.


  16. Jay Key 2012/03/26 at 17:31

    I vote for a military GUI, in the lines of Molot.

  17. 2xbob 2012/03/29 at 14:47

    Background on the old soviet power supply unit – nice and easy on eyes..

    • vladgsound 2012/03/29 at 15:55

      I don’t know proper english translation for “молотковая эмаль” (hammer enamel, hammerite) – type of paint making such kind of pattern (like beaten with hammer). In german it’s “Hammerschlaglack”.
      You can find it not only on old soviet devices. See for example this EMT JPA 66 front panel:

  18. sven 2012/04/03 at 00:34

    It’s called hammertone or hammer tone powder coat.

  19. faun2500 2012/05/05 at 20:55

    vintage Soviet look please!

  20. Pingback: New limiter plugin (codename “Limiter6″) public alpha release! Oh yeah! « vladg/sound

  21. vladgsound 2012/07/10 at 02:21

    Good quote about this topic: “the mind-warping pseudo perspective projection”

  22. vladgsound 2012/07/18 at 00:13

    Recent DCAM FreeComp has all requirements: no glare, large fonts, no perspective distortions:

    • dddux 2012/07/18 at 15:22

      Bingo! That’s the most realistic GUI I could tolerate. 😉 Especially distorted perspective is annoying, since monitor is 2D it looks ridiculous, confusing – since you can’t pinpoint the exact values easily, and just plain ridiculous. Also too much glare makes parts of GUI unreadable, and not enough contrast, which goes hand in hand. Cheers!

    • dddux 2012/07/18 at 15:29

      In this example, 1st thing – I would do away with the glare in the VU-Meter! Glare makes it harder to see, it’s unnecessary. Actually, regarding glares and real hardware, you always try to avoid it so you could see the meter, right? Does that show us that they’ve never worked with a hardware device? 😉 And I would up the contrast of the whole GUI just a bit.

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