Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Project 1 Option 1: Audacity vs Amadeus Pro

The software applications Audacity and Amadeus Pro are audio recording applications, and though similar, each has its own benefits and flaws. I believe that Amadeus Pro is a superior interface and is much easier to control. It is intuitive, requiring limited knowledge in the head to operate, while Audacity has more of a learning curve and a confusing layout.


Amadeus Pro

First of all, let's compare the toolbars on the top panel of each interface. The toolbar in Audacity is cluttered and has many controls that are unnecessary. Amadeus Pro simplifies these controls, the designers assumed that their users would be more comfortable using the well established standards for these controls. For example, Audacity has buttons for the following commands: cut, copy, paste, undo, and redo. Since these are often used as keyboard shortcuts, Amadeus Pro only has them in the pulldown menu, which reduces clutter.

Audacity has more playback options, but they lack proper feedback and are confusing to use. They are: Skip to start, play, record, pause, stop, skip to end. However, when certain controls are pressed, you are only able to use a few other controls. To clarify, once play is pressed, you can only press pause or stop. Most confusing of all, when pause is pressed, you can only press pause (to resume play, which is counter intuitive as I tried to press play to resume play as would be expected) and stop. Stop returns to the beginning of the file, so it is basically the pause command coupled with the return to start command. But most confusing of all is the fact that it is not easily clear which commands are accessable at the time. The current command is a darker gray, which is good feedback. But when you push a button, the next possible commands become brighter and more pronounced. However the overall difference is barely noticeable and confusing. there is a lack of clear feedback and the controls are overall pretty ambivalent. It is hard to form a mental map of the controls. Amadeus Pro greatly simplifies controls. There is only rewind, play/stop, fast forward, and record. It behaves very much like iTunes. When play is pushed it turns into to a red stop button, both combining two controls and offering very clear feedback. There are fast forward and rewind controls, which are much more useful than skip to beginning and skip to end controls that are in audacity.

Audacity's playback controls:

Amadeus Pro's playback controls:

In Amadeus pro, you can just pull on the bottom right corner and it will not only resize the window but also stretch the tracks along the Y axis. In Audacity each track is its own window inside of the main window, and you have to resize both separately.


Amadeus Pro

The number one reason why Amadeus Pro is a better interface is how easy it is to navigate its controls. It follows the standard touchpad controls that Apple has used in numerous applications. The reason this is possibly is because this program is Mac only while Audacity is for Mac or PC. Using two fingers to scroll up zooms in on the audio waveform. Alternatively, pinching also achieves this function. Using two fingers left to right scrolls. This immensely speeds up workflow. In Audacity, there are zoom in and zoom out buttons. A nice touch in Audacity though is the "fit selection in window" and "fit project in window" buttons. You can click and drag to select and hit "fit selection in window" for precise zooming. Still, the controls are much less intuitive in Audacity and the extra buttons create additional clutter.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Learning Log 1: Keyboard

An interface we use every day is the computer keyboard. The way it is arranged does not make any sense in relationship to the order of the alphabet. The reason for it's arrangement is because it prevented typewriters from becoming stuck. The reason we still have it today is simply because of tradition, nobody wanted to change something that everyone was already happy with. But it was not designed this way with ease of use in mind. As children we find it very hard to use, hunting with our index fingers for the right keys. We have to take classes in school and take years of our lives to deeply ingrain this function into our brains so we don't have to think about it. But for something so important in our daily lives, that doesn't really make sense. To research if another model is more intuitive and allowed faster typing and ease of learning would make sense, but it would be near impossible and very impractical try to make everyone switch to a new model. Our present keyboard model will probably never change. On the other hand, a very good part of this design is the two bumps on the f and j keys. We don't have to look at the keyboard to position our hands, but can do it solely by feel.

Learning Log 1: Reading Response

I found Norman's writing exciting and it made me think about things I've always taken for granted, and never really gave a second thought. I never realized how many interfaces we interact with in our daily lives. And I never considered the designers, and the difficulty balancing function and ease of use. The best designs are those with a very natural learning curve, that are simple, intuitive, and straightforward, like a lightswitch. On the other hand, interfaces sometimes need to control complex tasks, like washing laundry, and simplifying them creates confusion. But as long as everything in a complex interface has a clear function, it can be understood. I don't have to think much about the controls in a car, because they are clearly labeled and easily within reach.

The most important aspect of an interface is feedback, so the user has direct response for their actions. Audio and visual cues are very important. Feedback should have a clear relationship to the action being performed, such as a phone beeping in increasing loudness as the volume is turned up. Something that frustrates me a lot is inverted controls, where an action produces the opposite result. An example would be in a flight simulator game, where a push of the joystick makes the plane go in the opposite direction. Games often have an option to invert the controls, and some people prefer them that way, but I can't imagine why. It requires that you form a new conceptual map and ignore what your instincts tell you.