For a long time, I was of the mind that the best forms of interactivity were invisible. With this mindset, physical interfaces seemed to me to be clunky and obtuse. I felt that interactivity between the control and the device should be the only physical feedback. Why have an LED tell you when a lamp is on or off when the lamp itself will let you know? Isn’t that redundant? I’ve since changed my tune, and I have grown a sweet spot for well made controls because it appeals to my love of materiality and design. When it comes to judging the quality of design, I used to think that usability, simplicity, and friendliest were the main metrics. After all one of the instruments I covet the most is the Critter and Guitari Bolsa Bass:
The controls are minimal, and the housing a beautiful anodized aluminum. The wooden keys are laid out according to the Chromatic scale (like a piano), and the controls are simple. A RGB led corresponds to the mode of the instrument. However, this instrument doesn’t let you have complete control over the sound. You have to play within the parameters set for you based on the designer’s sensibilities.
Though often bewildering, it is sometimes necessary for the complexity of a machine to be user-facing in the interest of gaining full mastery and control. That range and flexibility requires that the user becomes a technician, dynamically changing the parameters to specific, variable situations. That control comes at a price. Take for instance the classic Korg MG-20 synth, whose interface articulates the variety and nuance of sound, often resulting in a literal tangle:
This isn’t bad, exactly. You need to know your audience when you’re designing a device. Is your user looking for something to pick up and play instantly? Or is your user an expert with years of literacy in a niche subject matter? This dictates the design f the physical interface.
But no matter what, It should always be pretty.