Design of modular gear

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nblazer201
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Design of modular gear

Post by nblazer201 » Mon Nov 10, 2014 9:55 pm

Hello all,
I wanted to start a debate about the design of modular gear from an instrument standpoint and not just a module.

On the dissapointing modules thread, Metasonix wrote the following
""""""
Randy wrote:
I think the "read the manual" comments are a bit insulting. We should assume the opinions in this thread are not being provided by people who are stupid-enough to have not read a manual before passing PERSONAL judgement on a module's effectiveness for them.

metasonix wrote:
That would be an incorrect assumption. Ever since Metasonix sold its first product, it has been a routine occurrence. Someone buys the product, fails to RTFM, and calls or emails us complaining that "it's broken". We tell them it's working correctly, they either believe us, or they send it in for "repair"; and it proves to be working perfectly. Even after 15 years we STILL get routine complaints that a module is "not working right".

And I suspect that we only hear from a small subset of the people who could not figure out our products. Many more of our modules probably end up on the used market, or perhaps even tossed in the trash. (Yes, there are people who buy a $400 module, don't like it, and simply throw it away.)

Many simply cannot understand that a module with a new idea or concept is valid. This is partly why the market is saturated with ladder filters, sequencers, imitations of old Roland drum machine voices, and repetitions of ordinary utility functions. Even some manufacturers can't seem to accept that not everyone wants "more of the same old squelchy-TB303 or TR606 drum sounds".
"""""""

Roland gear is popular because the designs and layouts are pretty much perfect for performance and have incredibly intuitive layouts. The greatest modules speak completely for themselves in terms of use AND provide high quality audio/CV.

I once watched an interview with Verbos, where he talked about designing the panel first, and then creating the module. YESSSSS. THAT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE.
Intelijel also makes incredibly well design layouts that you can tell what is going on right from the start.

I was really really dissapointed with Metasonix's attitutdes towards customers. I myself am an engineer, and design commercial products that are used by millions of people and I can say with confidence, that if your product is being misused by a large amount of people, its the engineering and design to blame.

So my question is,
Don't you guys think design is something we should be pressing more onto module manufacturers? I think there are two types of companies when it comes to this thinking, 1) Panel first design, designing the module to be an instrument that sounds good AND IS usable 2) The module first and then the panel. Now I understand you need to read the manual to fully get a module, but why not just color code inputs vs outputs, or put some arrows to show normalization, or LEDS to show clipping/+ or - cv etc... No matter how complex of a module you make, you can always imporve the panel readability and usability to reach usability standards.

I personally think that panel design is where Eurorack lacks most. We should be DEMANDING companies make more usable layouts. If we are shelving out :75: :75: :75: for this stuff, a little extra thought into the design of your module would go a long way. (Maybe Metasonix was a bad example to use because I feel like their OSCs sound broken all the time anyway :deadbanana: but i understand thats the point)

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Re: Design of modular gear

Post by Joe. » Mon Nov 10, 2014 10:35 pm

nblazer201 wrote:We should be DEMANDING companies make more usable layouts.
I'm not sure how many "companies" you think are operating in Euro-Land, but the vast majority of modules are made by small businesses. A small business structure is usually just a Sole trader, with a few casual employees, with some of the work outsourced to Fab houses.
Companies have different tax systems, different liability laws and more importantly easier access to cash.

The added costs of contractors, like a graphic artist to design a panel, is huge to a small business. It's charged by the hour, and consultation can mean multiple redrafts of a panel. If a design alteration moves components then it can mean redrafting PCBs and then waiting for them to arrive.

While there are few synth producers that can do everything well, include panel design, I think the majority of producers have focused their efforts on circuit function and design, which IMHO is the most important thing anyway.

There aren't crazy profits in Modular-Synth production, the niche market is too small, and those that are doing it need to cut costs everywhere they can, including self designed panels.

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Post by 333 » Mon Nov 10, 2014 10:37 pm

You can go make the demands but I like my Make Noise panels (esp wogglebug lol). Companies should be creative and do designs that are true to their own philosophy. They are the ones taking the financial risks since most if not all do want their products to sell.

I don't want Make Noise, Metasonix or any modular synth company to design like Roland. That will be so boring. Do remember many Roland products that are very sought after now isn't the most popular when it first came out. e.g.. 303 808.

If you don't like those panels, stop shelving money to buy those modules. Or alternatively you can support Greyscale. I do like clear panel design and companies like Intellijel as well. But I am using Eurorack because i enjoy the diversity. Companies like Metasonix make this "eurorack' world more exciting.

You seem to have a bone to pick with Metasonix. ;-)

To me it's just different approach and ideology in design. I can appreciate both. Cheers :guinness:

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Post by akrylik » Mon Nov 10, 2014 10:45 pm

You don't "DEMAND" companies to do anything. You vote with your money or you start your own business if you think you can do better.

Pressing design on to a manufacturer?! That sounds like you want to walk into their workshop and start telling them how to run their business. Would you appreciate that? Again vote with your money or start your own business.

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Post by theflyingfridge » Mon Nov 10, 2014 10:48 pm

I dunno. "DEMAND" is a little much for me. Wiggler's have said it time and time again, and I'll reiterate. The diversity in designs (both panels and circuits) is what makes Eurorack so special. If you like clean and clearly labeled, there are plenty of manufacturers doing it that way. If you like funky and obscure, there's plenty of that too.

I think that Metasonix's comment was totally fair in that thread. I mean really, If you pick up a guitar for the first time you've still got to learn how to make chords with your fingers. You can't expect to be writing Hendrixian solos if you don't underseand how frets work...

EXAMPLE:
Personally, I really like that the Wogglebug is so cryptic. It really forced me to learn the module in a more personal and intuitive way as opposed to just knowing every knob and jack by looking at if. Yes, at first it was a little annoying, but looking back I don't think I would have spent the time learning how everything interacted with each other if I didn't have to keep referring to the manual. As it stands, it's one of my favorite modules. I don't know if it would still be in my rack if I didn't have that kind of experience with it.

Again, that's the beauty of Eurorack. Everyone can have an oppinion or preference and almost always find something to keep them happy.

Thanks for sharing your oppinion and preference!

Now go buy some clearly labeled modules and get wiggling!

:tu:

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Re: Design of modular gear

Post by beyourdog » Mon Nov 10, 2014 10:49 pm

nblazer201 wrote:Hello all,
I wanted to start a debate about the design of modular gear from an instrument standpoint and not just a module.

On the dissapointing modules thread, Metasonix wrote the following
""""""
Randy wrote:
I think the "read the manual" comments are a bit insulting. We should assume the opinions in this thread are not being provided by people who are stupid-enough to have not read a manual before passing PERSONAL judgement on a module's effectiveness for them.

metasonix wrote:
That would be an incorrect assumption. Ever since Metasonix sold its first product, it has been a routine occurrence. Someone buys the product, fails to RTFM, and calls or emails us complaining that "it's broken". We tell them it's working correctly, they either believe us, or they send it in for "repair"; and it proves to be working perfectly. Even after 15 years we STILL get routine complaints that a module is "not working right".

And I suspect that we only hear from a small subset of the people who could not figure out our products. Many more of our modules probably end up on the used market, or perhaps even tossed in the trash. (Yes, there are people who buy a $400 module, don't like it, and simply throw it away.)

Many simply cannot understand that a module with a new idea or concept is valid. This is partly why the market is saturated with ladder filters, sequencers, imitations of old Roland drum machine voices, and repetitions of ordinary utility functions. Even some manufacturers can't seem to accept that not everyone wants "more of the same old squelchy-TB303 or TR606 drum sounds".
"""""""

Roland gear is popular because the designs and layouts are pretty much perfect for performance and have incredibly intuitive layouts. The greatest modules speak completely for themselves in terms of use AND provide high quality audio/CV.

I once watched an interview with Verbos, where he talked about designing the panel first, and then creating the module. YESSSSS. THAT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE.
Intelijel also makes incredibly well design layouts that you can tell what is going on right from the start.

I was really really dissapointed with Metasonix's attitutdes towards customers. I myself am an engineer, and design commercial products that are used by millions of people and I can say with confidence, that if your product is being misused by a large amount of people, its the engineering and design to blame.

So my question is,
Don't you guys think design is something we should be pressing more onto module manufacturers? I think there are two types of companies when it comes to this thinking, 1) Panel first design, designing the module to be an instrument that sounds good AND IS usable 2) The module first and then the panel. Now I understand you need to read the manual to fully get a module, but why not just color code inputs vs outputs, or put some arrows to show normalization, or LEDS to show clipping/+ or - cv etc... No matter how complex of a module you make, you can always imporve the panel readability and usability to reach usability standards.

I personally think that panel design is where Eurorack lacks most. We should be DEMANDING companies make more usable layouts. If we are shelving out :75: :75: :75: for this stuff, a little extra thought into the design of your module would go a long way. (Maybe Metasonix was a bad example to use because I feel like their OSCs sound broken all the time anyway :deadbanana: but i understand thats the point)
Your post is more or less a rant against Metasonix and makes no real sense...Metasonix's modules are the easiest to understand, the most easy to read/decipher and commands are well designed and intuitive...

So basically in the notion of design, ergonomy and so on, Metasonix is really not the good pick, there are a lot of Euro companies out there with unclear layouts, some copying existing designs, some selling modules for a big price because of hype...your Pick on Metasonix is just not acceptable...

:ban: :ban: :ban: :ban: :agony:

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Post by akrylik » Mon Nov 10, 2014 10:52 pm

Another point that I would argue is that customers (especially eurorack ones) should take a little more responsibility for their purchases. Do some research into the companies who's products you are considering purchasing. Make sure you agree or at least don't find unacceptable: their business practices, their design ethos, their relationship with customers and so on. Once you find an acceptable match THEN you purchase from them and not the other way around. It's like dating, there is someone for everyone and not everyone will or even should be compatible with you. Some people really like Metasonix's stuff AND his in-your-face stance towards customers. They find it refreshing and they look for that kind of thing. And if you buy from Metasonix without knowing about this aspect then shame on you. :despair:

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Post by bkbirge » Mon Nov 10, 2014 10:54 pm

I love Metasonix oscillators, they get super creamy to super thick brutal and act almost like living creatures. And I love their design, in fact they are the reason I got into euro in the first place, because they are different.

Be the change you want to be and make some modules with your idea of the perfect interface. Sounds like you have the experience. Maybe you can get a circuit designer to partner with and run with some of the ideas.

Look in the DIY area of this site where many folks have done panel design.

Modular & Dork Rock:
https://bkbirge.bandcamp.com/
Racks:
https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/88730
https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/89177
https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/379579


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Post by Matos » Mon Nov 10, 2014 10:57 pm

Design is the essence of this format. The explosive growth has been propelled by the hearts and minds of those who build these wonderful devices.It is not universal. It is highly personal and subjective. These are labors of love, flights of fancy. Not committee designed objects for mass consumption. I actually enjoy when I see a module that I don't like visually. Because it reminds me that these are exquisite objects that are capable of such wonders. That beauty is greater than the sum of parts. The real magic of these modules is when you close your eyes and you hear a sound that thrills you, that causes you to stop and let it engulf you. Because that's what it's all about. Bring the ruckus my friends, because uniformity is the death of creativity. :sb:

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Post by akrylik » Mon Nov 10, 2014 11:01 pm

Matos wrote:Design is the essence of this format. The explosive growth has been propelled by the hearts and minds of those who build these wonderful devices.It is not universal. It is highly personal and subjective. These are labors of love, flights of fancy. Not committee designed objects for mass consumption. I actually enjoy when I see a module that I don't like visually. Because it reminds me that these are exquisite objects that are capable of such wonders. That beauty is greater than the sum of parts. The real magic of these modules is when you close your eyes and you hear a sound that thrills you, that causes you to stop and let it engulf you. Because that's what it's all about. Bring the ruckus my friends, because uniformity is the death of creativity. :sb:
These are awesome points :tu: totally agree here.

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Post by HIMA » Mon Nov 10, 2014 11:02 pm

OP, i think you have a point. I believe there can be a middle ground. I love the fact that certain makers put real effort in beautifying panels. My Snazzy modules are gorgeous. And while I don't particularly enjoy the MN aesthetic, I would never think to replace their panels with grayscale. I see these modules as pieces of art, through and through.

BUT

I hate the fact that I have to stumble through module discovery. I'm not particularly smart and I don't have much free time. For me it's less an issue of panel design or RTFM and more often the case of "Where is the fucking manual"?

I feel a maker can retain their aesthetic AND make the panel easy to understand. I do appreciate a designer can help, but there are accepted norms in terms of communicating the aspects of our world. Makers don't need to invent the wheel so much as use it.

Having said that, I volunteer my services to any module maker who wants them. I'm a design based creative director of 16 years, most of them in digital, and I would love to have a hand in brining a module to market, even if it's only to consult.

I know from other threads that there are many visual designers here. I suspect I'm not the only one who would lend a hand for free. Makers need only ask.
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Post by theflyingfridge » Mon Nov 10, 2014 11:05 pm

akrylik wrote:Another point that I would argue is that customers (especially eurorack ones) should take a little more responsibility for their purchases. Do some research into the companies who's products you are considering purchasing. Make sure you agree or at least don't find unacceptable: their business practices, their design ethos, their relationship with customers and so on. Once you find an acceptable match THEN you purchase from them and not the other way around. It's like dating, there is someone for everyone and not everyone will or even should be compatible with you. Some people really like Metasonix's stuff AND his in-your-face stance towards customers. They find it refreshing and they look for that kind of thing. And if you buy from Metasonix without knowing about this aspect then shame on you. :despair:
I would mostly agree with this. I think what this comes down to is a lot of people not understanding the history behind the Eurorack market and it's exponential growth in the last few years.

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Post by moog man » Mon Nov 10, 2014 11:06 pm

So much of an instrument is how it feels to interact with. Hence why playing the most expensive midi controller on the market with the most expensive piano plug in will not satisfy the same way a real piano does. The way the instrument feels and how it responds to your touch is crucial to the musical output.

Plenty of cool sounds can come out of a DX7, but nobody could figure out how to program the damn thing so all you hear is the same terrible cheesy EP patch.

I think any manufacturer must realize this when they are building a module, and therefore design according to their goal. Cleanly labeled gear is certainly going to lend a friendliness to itself, while more liberal designs will lead to experimentation and uncertainty which can be great.

I think it is up to you to find the right balance for your setup and style and put your money into modules accordingly. Much of the most popular gear out there is straightforward and that is because it is geared toward musicians who want create a familiar sound very easily, and that's great because it often means you are making music rather than patching. But there is also a lot of joy to be had in taking the time to sculpt something new.

I agree though - design should be at the center of how modules are built, and anyone who does not take this into consideration will not realize their manufacturing goal.

Find your balance. Enjoy the diverse range of modules we have at our fingertips!

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Post by ignatius » Mon Nov 10, 2014 11:12 pm

if you want a "complete" instrument buy a buchla easel.

why should everyone want what you want btw?

and why can't a user just plan his/her own system/instrument (oh that's right.. we fucking can! because modular!!)

:guinness:

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Post by Dcramer » Mon Nov 10, 2014 11:47 pm

Matos wrote:Design is the essence of this format. The explosive growth has been propelled by the hearts and minds of those who build these wonderful devices.It is not universal. It is highly personal and subjective. These are labors of love, flights of fancy. Not committee designed objects for mass consumption. I actually enjoy when I see a module that I don't like visually. Because it reminds me that these are exquisite objects that are capable of such wonders. That beauty is greater than the sum of parts. The real magic of these modules is when you close your eyes and you hear a sound that thrills you, that causes you to stop and let it engulf you. Because that's what it's all about. Bring the ruckus my friends, because uniformity is the death of creativity. :sb:
This! Exactly :tu:

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Post by taylor12k » Mon Nov 10, 2014 11:47 pm

every designer, whether for print, web, or industrial design should do themselves a favor and read Edward tufte's "envisioning information"... hell, even if you're not a designer it's an incredible read. it makes you look at the world differently.... and realize how important good interface design is to all aspects of our lives.

I should hope all instrument designers, euro or otherwise, have read it...

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Post by nblazer201 » Mon Nov 10, 2014 11:59 pm

Firstly, Customers >>>> Manufacturers...

Secondly, I would love to give a HUGE shoutout to Intellijel, Modcan, and Verbose for making modules that are a PLEASURE to use.

Thirdly, I feel like Muff Wigglers consistently forgets that Modular Synthesizers are a MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS. Just because something is harder doesn't mean it is better when you are getting the same exact results. Why do we have to be so pretentious and beholden to manufacturers that we can't EXPECT, for the same exact module, with no features changed, that Eurorack companies start making clearer panels to let us know whats going on under the hood so we can just get to Jamming faster.

The manuals in the first place are jokes. This is the manual for the Metasonix R-54, http://www.metasonix.com/R54manual.pdf
A 4 PAGE MANUAL FOR A 400 DOLLAR MODULE
Honestly, that attitude of RTFM makes me disgusted. They should be happy and thankful they have customers asking them if their gear is broken in the first place.

The most infurating part of that stupid R-54 manual is half of a page is wasted on this
"If you are confused or have ANY technical questions, feel
free to contact us. Please DO NOT ASSUME and if you are
not an experienced technician, DO NOT TRY RANDOM
TUBES OR MODIFY THE CIRCUIT IN ANY WAY!"

And then he goes on to flame HIS OWN CUSTOMERS. I am sorry but seriously fuck that. I have customers, and those people are family to me. When they fail it is MY fault, I didn't design it well.

All the Eurorack companies are top tier audio engineers, but my money will be going to the companies have great engineers and designers. And most certainly to the manufactures that love their users, no matter how dumb.

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Post by LeCCComte » Tue Nov 11, 2014 12:00 am

More and more silly posts like this recently.
Isn't it a side effect of all those "companies" asking people here what they want in the next module ?

They do whatever they fucking want, and you buy whatever you fucking like.
You don't ask Gibson to make Telecasters.

EDIT : oh, and i didn't get any manual with my tele. Is it still a musical instrument ?

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Post by nblazer201 » Tue Nov 11, 2014 12:06 am

LeCCComte wrote:More and more silly posts like this recently.
Isn't it a side effect of all those "companies" asking people here what they want in the next module ?

They do whatever they fucking want, and you buy whatever you fucking like.
You don't ask Gibson to make Telecasters.

EDIT : oh, and i didn't get any manual with my tele. Is it still a musical instrument ?
All guitars are the same.
Are you saying all modules work the same?
You sound silly.

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Post by HIMA » Tue Nov 11, 2014 12:09 am

LeCCComte wrote: EDIT : oh, and i didn't get any manual with my tele. Is it still a musical instrument ?
actually, i'm pretty sure you would have. maybe the TV was just designed so well you didn't need to read the manual.
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Post by LeCCComte » Tue Nov 11, 2014 12:14 am

All guitars are the same.
Are you saying all modules work the same?
You sound silly.
First, all guitars aren't the same. And i'm just telling synths are one of the few instruments coming with a manual... you're complaining about a manual for a four knobs modules ! It's like i'm complaining Fender didn't told me how to tune my tele.

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Post by sloth713 » Tue Nov 11, 2014 12:19 am

+1 for what ignatius said

I just want to say that Eric from Metasonix is brutally honest on the forums but if you ever contact him with a customer service need he is extremely professional and goes above and beyond to make things right. When I recied a R-54 with one broken tube he sent me 4 new (well NOS) tubes lightning quick and was very instructive on how to remove and replace the broken tube. I am now definitely a lifelong Metasonix customer. Also as said before Metasonix has some of the clearest designed panels (both in interfacing and venting away the tube heat) in eurorack.

I love that eurorack is a hodgepodge of all different sounds, designs, and interfacing philosophies, and I personally hope it stays that way. And if you want change, "demand" what you want with your dollar votes.

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Post by nblazer201 » Tue Nov 11, 2014 12:20 am

LeCCComte wrote:
All guitars are the same.
Are you saying all modules work the same?
You sound silly.
First, all guitars aren't the same. And i'm just telling synths are one of the few instruments coming with a manual... you're complaining about a manual for a four knobs modules ! It's like i'm complaining Fender didn't told me how to tune my tele.
I am complaining about the design standards of eurorack, from a user interaction standpoint, for some companies is abysmal. And until, the community of eurorack users (WE/ MUFFWIGGLERS) start to demand better designs from companies, we are just going to keep on getting these lazy/esoteric designs.

My issue is mostly the pretentious attitude of people like you and companies like Metasonix that has been preventing modular synthesizers from breaking out into the mainstream. If they are going to publish a 4 page manual about a module, they better not rant about customers RTFMing, thats just unprofessional.

Don't we all want Eurorack to improve? Get up to buchla/moog standards in terms of design and usability? THE MAIN POINT IS YOU DONT SACRIFICE ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR AESTHETIC/DESIGN/ OR MODULE, if you just took a second to better think out your panel layout and graphics. Quality and design are not a zero sum game, thats nonsense.

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Post by sloth713 » Tue Nov 11, 2014 12:27 am

Esoteric module designs are some of the best things about eurorack so why are they being equated to "lazy" designs? The only lazy modules are the countless clones.

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Post by bkbirge » Tue Nov 11, 2014 12:34 am

sloth713 wrote: I just want to say that Eric from Metasonix is brutally honest on the forums but if you ever contact him with a customer service need he is extremely professional and goes above and beyond to make things right. When I recied a R-54 with one broken tube he sent me 4 new (well NOS) tubes lightning quick and was very instructive on how to remove and replace the broken tube. I am now definitely a lifelong Metasonix customer. Also as said before Metasonix has some of the clearest designed panels (both in interfacing and venting away the tube heat) in eurorack.
+1, I've had a similar experience.

Modular & Dork Rock:
https://bkbirge.bandcamp.com/
Racks:
https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/88730
https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/89177
https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/379579


"The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it." ~ Puck, 1903

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