Gold

product ergonomics
« on: October 11, 2017, 02:32:35 PM »
There isn't very much talk about ergonomics of audio gear around here. I think it is a very important subject. I find ergonomics to be as important as audio quality. Seriously. If it's a pain to operate something I don't care how good it sounds. I'm not going to use it.


JohnRoberts

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #1 on: October 11, 2017, 02:39:33 PM »
There isn't very much talk about ergonomics of audio gear around here. I think it is a very important subject. I find ergonomics to be as important as audio quality. Seriously. If it's a pain to operate something I don't care how good it sounds. I'm not going to use it.
amen...   I include pot gain laws, EQ speed, and filter shape along with many more factors in ergonomics...  It is a huge part of console design IMO.

JR

PS: ergonomics was one of my favorite topics with an old console designer friend now RIP.
John Roberts
http://circularscience.com
Tune it, or don't play it...

benb

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2017, 09:11:48 PM »
There's enough to this idea that it deserves its own thread. Mods?
There isn't very much talk about ergonomics of audio gear around here. I think it is a very important subject. I find ergonomics to be as important as audio quality. Seriously. If it's a pain to operate something I don't care how good it sounds. I'm not going to use it.
On old tube gear the control knobs were further apart (with tubes, most everything was further apart). They also had different knobs for different purposes. If Bob Moog and Herbert Deutsch had known how the Minimoog would be used, they would have used a larger knob on the filter sweep.

But yes, there were good "standards" decades ago that seem to have been forgotten. There were usually two different-looking knob types, usually round ones for continuous turning things, volume and tuning, and more pointy ones for rotary switches that have discrete positions. The Minimoog (again) is laid out this way.

I've been collecting knobs at hamfests in recent years, the smaller ones for a dollar each, and a few larger (for filter sweep ...) around four dollars. Raytheon makes great knobs.

I saw a recent music synthesizer/sequencer/something with a large array of identical round silver knobs in about a 4x 16 matrix, and the text said "40 controls and 24 rotary switches" but from the photo I sure couldn't tell which was which. That's really bad design for so many controls.

Gold

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #3 on: October 12, 2017, 01:26:11 AM »
When designing my console my working concept was to have the right number of knobs. Not one more, not one less.

JohnRoberts

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #4 on: October 12, 2017, 10:17:40 AM »
There's enough to this idea that it deserves its own thread. Mods?On old tube gear the control knobs were further apart (with tubes, most everything was further apart). They also had different knobs for different purposes. If Bob Moog and Herbert Deutsch had known how the Minimoog would be used, they would have used a larger knob on the filter sweep.

But yes, there were good "standards" decades ago that seem to have been forgotten. There were usually two different-looking knob types, usually round ones for continuous turning things, volume and tuning, and more pointy ones for rotary switches that have discrete positions. The Minimoog (again) is laid out this way.
If there was a design standard for control ergonomics it was a well kept secret.
Quote
I've been collecting knobs at hamfests in recent years, the smaller ones for a dollar each, and a few larger (for filter sweep ...) around four dollars. Raytheon makes great knobs.
While working at Peavey I had the luxury of being able to justify full custom knobs. Modern knobs support nice features like different durometer (softness) rubber/plastic on sides of the knobs for nice look and feel.

Classic problem for console design was fitting in all the switches and knobs with room to access them, with logical layout (and color schemes) to discern what does what.
Quote
I saw a recent music synthesizer/sequencer/something with a large array of identical round silver knobs in about a 4x 16 matrix, and the text said "40 controls and 24 rotary switches" but from the photo I sure couldn't tell which was which. That's really bad design for so many controls.
Optimal design involves putting yourself into the operators shoes. Before I worked at Peavey I pretty much had a blank sheet for control designs with unique products.  At Peavey I learned pretty quickly to KISS... customers don't want to have to figure stuff out and controls need to do pretty much what customers expect, the way they expect. 

One very significant anecdotal example was a generational upgrade for a widely sold powered mixer (thousands a month).  An engineer in my design group improved the new versions gain control circuit (for better off kill), BUT.... this new improved circuit topology had a few dB less gain at 12 o'clock (exactly the same gain at full up). For months I had to field complaints from dealers and reps around the world who should know better that the new version didn't have the same power as the old one (in fact it used the exact same power amp module). Everybody just turned the channel and master gain pots to 12 o'clock and the new version was not as loud as the old one was with controls set the same... arghhhhh.  :o It was easier, but not easy, to tool up a new pot taper, to give the expected nominal 12 o'clock gain, while still using the improved gain circuit topology. 

The customer is always right, even when being a total dumbass.... 8)  Life it too short to educate every customer (don't get me started about drummers).

JR
John Roberts
http://circularscience.com
Tune it, or don't play it...

80hinhiding

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #5 on: October 12, 2017, 10:48:08 AM »
I'm with you guys.  Trying to find thee balance.

pvision

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #6 on: October 12, 2017, 11:10:40 AM »
Don't get me started! Most gear is beyond hopeless when it comes to ergonomics & usability

I don't think it is by accident that certain pieces of gear have acquired folkloric status - obviously performance has a lot to do with it, but ergonomics surely played a part.

Think of the 1176: the controls you use most are most obvious - input, output & GR meter - and are still visible from across the room. The law of the pots is perfect for adjusting levels during a take so you can be "always in record"

dbx 160X: meters visible across the room. Three colour-coded knobs in a horizontal line, not vertical, so they're easily findable when you have a rack with more than one of them

Then think of the BSS DPR 402: black, unlit power switch right underneath the illuminated bypass switches. Layout like a dog's dinner, meaningless colour-coding, switches scattered apparently at random

Nick Froome

leitmo

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #7 on: October 12, 2017, 11:35:52 AM »
I find completely annoying lack of ergonomics on certain gear. There are 3 specially important points for me:
- digital gear : lack of controls and need of deep browsing through menus and submenus. We love hardware because its ease of use.

- analog gear with dual controls for L and R mirror-like faceplate. I strongly believe this is a purely aesthetic decision but I find it very annoying. Don't need gear to be symmetrical but I use to twist knobs without looking, just listening.

- analog gear with poorly placed meters or knobs. When adjusting compressors or eq it happens that controls are too close, too far apart or you can't see meter because it's designed for left/right handed people.

abbey road d enfer

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #8 on: October 12, 2017, 11:41:01 AM »
If there was a design standard for control ergonomics it was a well kept secret. While working at Peavey I had the luxury of being able to justify full custom knobs. Modern knobs support nice features like different durometer (softness) rubber/plastic on sides of the knobs for nice look and feel.
In the 1970's, a French manufacturer had the idea of using radar knobs. These were of many different shapes, triangle, square, round, pointed, large and small, so an operator could work in the dark. I'm not sure it was an international standard of just the French; I don't see them in any catalog today.
Ergonomics are easy when you have 3 knobs and 4 push-buttons on a 1U fascia, à la dbx160A. Today, people (who? the mktg dept or the customers?) think there are so many indispensable functions knobs and switches are no more adequate, you need a computer or a smartphone to pilot a basic signal processor. It starts with the parallel compression controls and the side-chain filter; neither the dbx160 nor the 1176 had them.
Who's right or wrong is irrelevant. What matters is what's right or wrong.
"The important thing is not to convince, but to give pause for thought." (B. Werber)
Star ground is for electricians.

Gold

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #9 on: October 12, 2017, 12:10:57 PM »
Along with a clear and easy layout I think it is the job of the designer to limit the functionality of a product to the essential features. And not think about features at a PCB level of functionality but what is needed in the heat of battle. The user doesn't want to use two knobs when one will do.


Gold

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #10 on: October 12, 2017, 12:37:40 PM »
I use a lot of Maselec gear. A big part of it is ergonomics. I remember a designer making fun of the EQ because it's 3RU and the main PCB  is mounted to the faceplate with I/O boards at the rear. The middle of the case is empty. 

Maselec knows their user base. I would never have used it if the controls were in a 1 or 2 RU box.

PRR

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #11 on: October 12, 2017, 01:34:19 PM »
> If there was a design standard for control ergonomics it was a well kept secret.

Very widely studied and published after WWII.

"After a series of runway crashes of the Boeing B-17, Chapanis found that certain cockpit controls were confused with each other, due partly to their proximity and similarity of shape. Particularly, the controls for flaps and landing gear were confused, the consequences of which could be severe. Chapanis proposed attaching a wheel to the end of the landing gear control and a triangle to the end of the flaps control, to enable them to be easily distinguished by touch alone. Thereafter for that aircraft there were no further instances of the landing gear being mistakenly raised while the aircraft was still on the ground. This particular shape-coding of cockpit controls is still used today.
"In 1949 he published the first textbook on the subject of ergonomics, "Applied Experimental Psychology: Human Factors in Engineering Design."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alphonse_Chapanis
https://www.google.com/search?tbo=p&tbm=bks&q=inauthor:%22Alphonse+Chapanis%22

JohnRoberts

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #12 on: October 12, 2017, 02:19:23 PM »
Along with a clear and easy layout I think it is the job of the designer to limit the functionality of a product to the essential features. And not think about features at a PCB level of functionality but what is needed in the heat of battle. The user doesn't want to use two knobs when one will do.
One golden rule for product design was to never allow the customer to make a bad sound from extreme control settings. There is always a temptation to let all controls go to 11, but the customer will not accept blame for causing bad sounds, so better to just avoid them entirely.

I designed a consumer parametric EQ (kit) back in the '70s and created an intentional interaction between the bandwidth and boost/cut capability. IMO there is never a need for 20dB of boost cut when bandwidth was set several octaves wide, so instead of +/-20dB it was more like +/-6dB when set wide....  For my professional parametric designs I did not include the Q-boost/cut interaction, because professional users, were more likely to EQ single instruments and wouldn't expect it. 

Along the same lines when tweaking the feature set for Peavey's well regarded tube mic preamp, I had them limit the total amount of boost/cut available from the baxandall tone controls (never heard one complaint asking for more, and it was harder to make even a bad signal source sound really bad with only modest EQ range.)

There was a very well received series of one knob compressors from dbx, while many competitors offered arguably too many controls for easy operation

I think about the only way to have your cake and eat it is a digital compressor engine with a smart phone menu driven interface, so we can drill down through multi layer menus to adjust anything and everything. The KISS consumer can operate with the simplest high level controls, the detail focussed operator could access every function.

JR
 
John Roberts
http://circularscience.com
Tune it, or don't play it...

JohnRoberts

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #13 on: October 12, 2017, 02:28:39 PM »
> If there was a design standard for control ergonomics it was a well kept secret.

Very widely studied and published after WWII.

I never saw the chapter on console design.  ::)

Yes human factors engineering is a mature discipline. Wasn't that what Leonardo Da Vinci's humanoid drawings were all about, optimizing arm position and reach distance for production line workers?   
Quote
"After a series of runway crashes of the Boeing B-17, Chapanis found that certain cockpit controls were confused with each other, due partly to their proximity and similarity of shape. Particularly, the controls for flaps and landing gear were confused, the consequences of which could be severe. Chapanis proposed attaching a wheel to the end of the landing gear control and a triangle to the end of the flaps control, to enable them to be easily distinguished by touch alone. Thereafter for that aircraft there were no further instances of the landing gear being mistakenly raised while the aircraft was still on the ground. This particular shape-coding of cockpit controls is still used today.
"In 1949 he published the first textbook on the subject of ergonomics, "Applied Experimental Psychology: Human Factors in Engineering Design."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alphonse_Chapanis
https://www.google.com/search?tbo=p&tbm=bks&q=inauthor:%22Alphonse+Chapanis%22
I wonder if Audi read that before their unintentional acceleration debacle? Perhaps some human factors engineering responsible for mistaking gas pedal for brake. (or not).

JR
John Roberts
http://circularscience.com
Tune it, or don't play it...

Gold

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #14 on: October 12, 2017, 03:16:43 PM »
How the product is designed has a lot to do with the user base too. An Optimod has a zillion controls and menus. It is a set and forget box that will be set up by technical staff in consultation with operators and management.

I remember in a mastering forum someone getting ahold of one in the heat of the loudness wars to see if he could fool it into leaving stuff alone. The report was that it was so unwieldy and there were so many options that there was no hope of daily use. And who knows how anyone sets it up?

80hinhiding

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #15 on: October 12, 2017, 08:16:25 PM »
Hi Paul,

Have you got a picture of your console? Would like to see it.

I'm having some stress about control knobs believe it or not.

Adam

80hinhiding

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #16 on: October 12, 2017, 08:23:47 PM »
Along with a clear and easy layout I think it is the job of the designer to limit the functionality of a product to the essential features. And not think about features at a PCB level of functionality but what is needed in the heat of battle. The user doesn't want to use two knobs when one will do.

Yes, as a user and a hopefully growing designer, in the heat of the moment when you're making music things just have to work.. because at that point you're in a zone that isn't really about how many buttons or features are available, just has to work well and not get in the way.  It's always a bonus though if the gear itself helps to sit a variety of sounds in a competitive sound space.

Adam

80hinhiding

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #17 on: October 12, 2017, 08:26:54 PM »
One very significant anecdotal example was a generational upgrade for a widely sold powered mixer (thousands a month).

Congrats on being part of that success.

JohnRoberts

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #18 on: October 12, 2017, 10:49:07 PM »
Congrats on being part of that success.
That story was about a failure... :o. The next generation product was perceived as having lower power by dealers and customers until we fixed it by re-tooling the gain pot which took several months.  ::)
=====
Here is an actual success story.... an even higher volume product (similar top box powered mixer, thousands a month) managed by my engineering group was being redesigned... Instead of introducing the new version at the winter  NAMM show for dealers to book new orders for promised future delivery, so they could figure out how to blow out the old version they still had in stock, I introduced the new version for the same price as the old one, and just shipped the new mixers in place of the previous ones that were already on order..  Big dealers who were selling decent volume actually received the new version in their stores weeks before the NAMM show. Same price, new improved mixer (mic drop). 

That is how you roll over a top selling product. It was in the stores before the boys and girls read the show issue magazine new product reports. 8)   (BTW I pulled this off exactly one time in my life..  8)  ). Next generation rollovers routinely involved messy and costly sales gaps ramping up production, price increases, and obsolete inventory hassles.

As i recall I got a standing ovation from the dealers at that pre-show, when I told them the new version was already shipping (first and last time, rough crowd). 

JR
John Roberts
http://circularscience.com
Tune it, or don't play it...

emrr

Re: product ergonomics
« Reply #19 on: October 12, 2017, 11:27:12 PM »
One golden rule for product design was to never allow the customer to make a bad sound from extreme control settings.

There's no recipe to follow towards success in this regard, but there are products that are most famous for the ridiculous over processed sounds their extreme control ranges allow.  The designers surely didn't expect those ranges to eventually be perceived as features. 

In rebuilding and expanding the control features of many old tube limiters, release times shorter than make sense, and/or attack times longer than make sense are usually greeted with joy, for the special effect distortions they allow.  more color, man.... If you were using them solely as limiters, you'd not go there, but most people seem to use limiters in recording for something other than limiting these days. 
Best,

Doug Williams
Electromagnetic Radiation Recorders

"I think this can be better. Some kind of control that's intuitive, not complicated like a single knob" - Crusty

"Back when everything sounded g