Skeuomorphism in plugin UIs - should we avoid it?

Skeuomorphism is a fairly large part of the MOD community’s current approach to plugins. Don’t worry if you never heard that word before, because I only just learnt about it myself! A friend of mine has been doing research into audio software UI design, and has just announced the initial results, in which he explains why skeuomorphic UIs are not necessarily the best approach, despite their aesthetic and nostalgic attraction.

Take a look at his research project - I think he makes some great points and proposes some very interesting ideas for the future of audio software UI. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the MOD community to blaze some trails?!

The Wikipedia page on skeuomorphism is also worth a read. Interesting to learn that Apple officially moved away from it in 2013.

I really love the MOD UI. The feel and touch is exactly right for me.
I often read about “avoid skeumorphism” in graphical UI’s, and I agree that could be straight forward for DAW’s or Sequencers, but, for a patchbay, like the MOD is, I found it fantastic.

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I adore the MOD UI too! But there’s always room for improvement, IMHO. Also I think it would be entirely possible (and sensible) to keep the patchbay skeuomorphism of separate effects boxes which get wired together, whilst still ditching the skeuomorphism of some of the individual effects plugins. Having said that, I appreciate that the parametrised nature of LV2 plugins, and the need to assign individual parameters to individual knobs / switches, might somewhat constrain the flexibility which can be coded into a plugin UI. But I think it’s still worth thinking about at least.

In the linux audio developer community there’s been a lot of complaint and argument about skuomorphism. I was against it but have somewhat embraced it as an easy to apply design technique that usually impresses. I don’t think its the best way for an efficient workflow, but after fighting it for quite some time I realized many of the most popular plugins are popular because they have an attractive UI which inspires or impresses the users. So I just tried to make something, and there is some skuomorphism in it. I think you can do the same with other UI design patterns, but skuomorphism is easier to get “right.”

That said, I often look at my MOD pedalboards and think, “look at all that wasted space.”

I’m totally open to any suggestions about my plugins’ UI designs. I might not apply the suggestions, but I’ll listen to them for sure. :slight_smile:

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