Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ableton Live Redesign (nenadmilosevic.co)
312 points by nndmlsvc on June 15, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 93 comments

Unrelated to the quality of the redesign. I would advise other designers to not follow this method exactly.

Talking to users is great, it's what separates a designer from someone who just pushes pixels, but it's not a good idea to ask users what they like or what they want.

"Does ____ look like a helpful feature to you?" "Does ____ work for you?" "Is this better than before?"

What's the response going to be? "Sure, sounds good to me". Or "nah, I hate that kind of thing".

What you should do instead is observe user behavior. Watch how they interact with the tool/site/etc. and what they do. What are they trying to click on, what are they looking for, what is confusing. Ask them to talk out loud and share their thought process as they're going through the design.

Granted, the designer here may not have had time or access to do this, but then the questions should be more along the lines of what goals the users are trying to accomplish, and what helps or hinders them.

There's the old adage attributed to Henry Ford, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." Through observation, or task/goal-oriented questions, discover what people need instead, and design for that. My explanation here is very simplistic, but I hope it gets the idea across.

Source: Am designer, and review portfolios and conduct interviews. We look at process as much as we look at quality of output.

I would have liked the post better if it didn't include any user feedback. I understand the idea behind it, but as you said, "Does this look good?" gives little insight into "Is this useful to you?"

OT. Can I contact you to review my portfolio?

Sure, my email is in my profile

I like that he followed a process of gathering suggestions from real users and then testing his solutions with them. It's a big step above the typical "I redesigned X!" posts that look really pretty but probably aren't very usable.

I wonder what kind of job one would expect to get from this. These tasks (gathering user feedback, doing visual designs) are probably divided between several people at Ableton already. Does he want to replace the whole team? Is he asking to be their boss? Would he be OK with a junior position that lacked authority to make all the changes he's proposing here?

This is obviously just a proof of skills. He isn't trying to get on top of everything and everyone, but he's simply showing that he has the skills needed to do a full redesign. By asking users for feedback, he shows that he cares what users want and isn't just here to implement whatever ideas come to his mind.

So if he gets an offer, it would most likely be as a designer. Of course the HR department will have to make sure that his skills also work in the given team.

yeah... are their any success stories with regards to these kind of post? all the ways i play it out in my head don't seems great...

1. someone at exec/board/mgmt-level somewhat detached from product development process sees it and comes in with the "see! this is what it should look like, this looks way better, this guy gets it and he doesn't even work here! you should hire him / do this." which doesn't tend to be received too well from the people doing the actual work, who for right or wrong have all sorts of reasons it doesn't look like that.

if they are forced to bring him in or do it they probably aren't going to like it / him.

2. someone on the team sees it and goes "well, this dude doesn't understand the massive complexities and risks involved in something like this but hey that one piece is not that bad of an idea, let me re-work some stuff", but it doesn't seem like it would help them much to bring him on-board... "uninvited" has a negative connotation for a reason.

of course if could play out very differently, but responses along those lines (if any at all) seem most likely from my experience. it seems like a good approach to rally community support for something, but the community is not the people building the product by definition.

This is merely a way for him to demonstrate his design process on his own terms using a complex real-world project.

Sure, he might love to work at Ableton, but as a portfolio artifact this project may very well attract attention at other places which are interested in that kind of skill-set. I think that's really the intent rather than a single-minded, unsolicited appeal to just one employer.

Its not unprecedented. Googly-as-heck went much further [https://medium.com/@googleyasheck], spent 8-months publicly preparing for a google interview, blogged about it, then didn't get hired by Google. He instead got hired by Amazon. Not bad at all and not a waste of time-- though I bet it was hard for him to get rejected by his dream employer.

Phillip Sackl landed a design-job at Mozilla by doing something similar. It wasn't as complex as a full redesign, though.

The application: http://readyformozilla.com/

The design-work: http://readyformozilla.com/panorama/

Panorama was one of the most promising features Firefox had, but they killed it. There was a guy who maintained a plugin version and even did some cool improvements to it [1], but he abandoned it because of Mozilla killing their older, but more featureful APIs - even those that are e10s compatible. I still use this thing sometimes and I'm quite sad to see it go.

[1]: http://fasezero.com/addons/

Such a sad story, shared by many who supported Mozilla for so long. RIP Firefox Addons.

"This is my unsolicited redesign of the Ableton Live. I did this to showcase my design skills to peers working at Ableton, where I would love to work as a designer."

Yeah, I think that's the first thing that came to mind for me. That said, looks like a fairly clear graphical system, aside from the lack of lighting context for some of the controls.

I'd be interested in implementing something like this and putting it in front of some artists. A lot of the time companies like Ableton face a challenge where they have to choose between changing their UI to make it more useful, and keeping it the same so as not to upset their existing userbase.

Personally I think that UI should be completely decoupled, such that you can iterate on the backend to your heart's content, and fork your UI more or less at leisure; leaving your existing users with a stable experience if they want it, and offering new users an exciting, productive, and discoverable view into the same system.

Would be awesome if it does go beyond just decoupling it internally (which I hope they more or less do already), but open the UI part up to the users.

If you look how much time gets invested into modding some game's UI, how much neat things could be done, if the whole UI of a DAW is easily moddable.

I guess you can kind of mod Ableton Live using Max4Live, although while you can add new tools and connect to existing tools, you can't (last time I played with M4L a few years ago) change any of the core widgets, so its definitely not as deep as what I understand you to be saying.


These tasks (gathering user feedback, doing visual designs) are probably divided between several people at Ableton already

I hope the tasks are not divided between people. Feedback loops work best if they're quick and direct. Designers should be able to observe users try out their own designs.

The rest of the team would work on other aspects of the product, e.g. other design aspects or implementation.

Does he want to replace the whole team?

I think that in order to get the best results it should be part of the company culture to question everything, and sometimes that means questioning the work of other people. In the same way, everybody should be thankful for helpful feedback and suggestions.

I don't really have a problem with the UI; I want Ableton to fix the other annoyances first:

* Saving the project resets the undo history. A someone who frequently saves, this is super frustrating.

* No normal zoom controls. You have to use the "minimap" at the top.

* Only a single project can be open at once, which makes copying from old projects tedious unless you shuffle files around into your current project.

* Tracks can only be grouped one level deep, i.e., no subgrouping. Most DAWs give you arbitrary grouping depths.

* No way to overlay multiple tracks in the piano roll. I end up starting in one group and extracting to individual buses afterward. This doesn't work well the other way around.

My biggest wish for the next version is project versioning. It's an absolute nightmare managing so many save "checkpoints", especially, as I mentioned, you can only have a single project open at once.

Going to preferences and setting "allow multiple instances" lets you open multiple projects. Hth

Have you tried Bitwig? I haven't but I believe it does address a few of these things

I've been using Bitwig and really like it. It still has a few bugs here and theee but I think the productivity gain over Ableton is good. I haven't come across anything Ableton does that Bitwig can't either.

I want to switch over to Bitwig completely, but I've also been learning Max/MSP. Bitwig would make me more productive IMO, but Max/MSP is a creative goldmine. I can't really take Max/MSP with me to Bitwig, I don't believe there are any efforts at integrating the two... and Ableton just bought Cycling '74 last week.

You got all of my wish list with 2 additions: * ability to favorite plugins (please!) * aliases on the arrange page

Workaround: Make your plugin with settings as you want, then group it so it's inside an instrument rack. Then drag the rack into the browser and into a folder of your choosing.

When you want to use it again, drag the saved rack into your project. The plugins settings will be restored.

from the other side, as a plugin developer, it frustrates me no end that Live doesn't support VST3. i wish they would fix this.

How does one get into that? I've wanted to try my hand

start reading the developer forum at https://www.kvraudio.com/

MPE (Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression) is also sorely needed.

For project versioning I've had a good experience with Splice [0]. It has also got some features for project collaboration which are nice, as well as a marketplace for samples and synths. I believe it also supports most of the big name DAWs, although I've only ever used it with Ableton.

[0] https://splice.com/

cosign for splice, i have been using it since beta and now it's an essential part of my workflow - i don't really use their collab stuff much (just to send people projects, not to actually collab on them), 90% of my use is backup and versioning. Still I can't imagine going without it.

Good list. And other basics:

* support for mono tracks

* sys-ex for everything, not just Push 2

* VST 3

* a completely open API, not just the selected highlights that are available now

I would add: NRPN support

> * Only a single project can be open at once, which makes copying from old projects tedious unless you shuffle files around into your current project.

You can drop entire projects from the Finder into open projects, which is clunky but does make things a TINY bit less tedious

The resetting of undo history when saving have had me screaming more than once...

Project versioning is my top request as well, aside from Linux compatibility.

I also vote for having note chasing, which is activating midi notes even when starting playback in the middle of the note.

In logic it's just a checkbox. Surely it can't be too hard?

Live customer since 4.0. Spot on.

An Ableton thread made it to the front page of HN?! YES. Awesome work. +100 on the expanded dedicated mixer view. I like Live because it's so music and the Push 2 is epic, not because I make electronic music.

I noticed metering was on the survey. I really wish that within a device rack (along the bottom) the metering between devices had settings that let you see Peak, RMS, and a numbered meter. You could do it all with lines... one meter for RMS, peaks that sit at the top, and tick marks for 0, -6, -12, -18. Most people don't fully appreciate gain staging and it's so important. I use a lot of vintage Waves plugins (CLA-76, LA-2A, API 550/2500) and I'm always having to insert Klanghelm meters, Utility effects, or observe the In/Out reading on those plugins to make sure I'm driving them right. The device area becomes messy just because a simple lack of metering and gain staging.

Sadly, I think most EDM music makers don't understand this. Maybe I'm stuck in the acoustic 70s using these vintage-style plugins. =)

My other beef is lack of Arrangement View features on Push 2, but alas, this isn't a hardware redesign. =) NICE WORK.

Your design is very nice, and has much to recommend it. But in my opinion, it kills the advantage Live has over many of its competitors. It takes up too much space, and is too busy.

Live's UI is busy, but not as busy as many other DAWs. It is just enough to get the job done without using up screen real-estate needlessly. This is one of its many strengths.

Electronic music production needs efficient workflow. A utilitarian, but efficient UI wins over a better-looking but less efficient UI. This is why Live hides so much functionality in small buttons which toggle additional sections of the UI. Yes, it may not be obvious to someone coming into Live cold. But it makes working with the enormous complexity of a professional DAW a breeze once you learn where all the bits and pieces are, and lets you git the bits you don't presently care about out of the way so you can focus on the current task.

Nenad does account for this a bit in the Display Zoom and Detail Level sliders. Presumably moving the detail level up would present the single-click options which make Ableton a useful product, without necessarily exposing everyone to those at all times.

Best. Job application letter. EVER. When I'm hiring I'd love to see this kind of passion and attention to detail. I hope he gets a call from Abelton

Me too! If this UI landed in an Ableton update I would be so happy.

Truly enjoyed this re-imagining of Ableton's user interface, with sketches, detailed diagrams, and thoughts behind each design decision. It was educational to see the process of improving visual organization for such complex software with hundreds of controls.

To implement this design, I imagine it would take a lot more than switching color schemes. I don't know anything about the internals of Ableton, but it would have to be made very modular, with public low-level APIs..

Interesting side note, Ableton actually has a really interesting low-level API for music makers called Max for Live that lets anybody create interesting instruments or effects and share them with others. I'm not a pro at it, but it seems super powerful and complex (I try to keep it simple when it comes to music, heh): https://www.ableton.com/en/blog/programming-in-max-for-live/

Ableton, hire this guy!

I like how you treated track groups. That's definitely one of the biggest missing features for me.

I also really like the level-of-detail sliders, what a cool concept, would really add lots of flexibility to the UI.

If I was a UX student looking for something to redesign Ableton Live is one of the last programs I'd ever look at - it's a classic of UI design. If you want to show off your UX chops, choose something that's broken e.g. 95% of the software in the world.

It's much harder to make changes to an already good design. I don't think he was throwing out the baby with the bath water, they were fairly subtle changes overall.

I hope this guy gets the job he's after! But imo the biggest thing missing from the ableton ui these days is touch support, and this design doesn't address it.

> But imo the biggest thing missing from the ableton ui these days is touch support

Or a full featured iPad app. TouchAble seems to be rather successful but it's a remote control surface rather than a stand-alone audio solution. Plus, there's only so much you can do as third party developer.

First: what a phenomenal approach to a company. Shows a personal connection to the company and product that I'd bet is lacking in some current employees.

Second: I like the design but: is it just me or does this look a whole lot like Logic?

I'm really not interested in a flat UI from Ableton, this looks cluttered to me. What I want is proper modulation system, rather than the hacks you currently have to go through with Max for Live to achieve a result.

I only dabbled in Ableton Live a little bit many years ago, so I'm not familiar with some of the terms you mentioned.

Can you describe what a modulation system is - what's your understanding?

Also any examples out there that illustrate this, other apps that do it well?

It's not like a node based shader system like in Houdini or like Fusion's compositing system?

Not the person you asked, but I believe he is referring to the lack of arbitrary modulation mapping in Ableton, where modulation is typically one parameter on a synthesizer, effect or other device being changed over time by an external source such as a Low Frequency Oscillator (LFO).

Many Ableton devices have features such as this on specific parameters like filter frequency but, without Max for Live, you can't map custom modulations from arbitrary sources.

Here is an example on one such Max for Live device, pitched as a 'general purpose' LFO: https://www.ableton.com/en/blog/lfo-20-free-max-live-device-...

Thanks for explaining - that makes sense.

Also did some research online before I saw your answer and found an answer after watching a video about Bitwig Studio's unified modulations system [0].

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_mQUV2iwiI

Yes, exactly. If you're creating electronic music then the key aspect is how you modify the sound over time, so a flexible modulation system is crucial.

I'm also a Houdini user and a realtime DAW with the flexibility of Houdini for creating tools and creating relationships between parameters would be a dream come true!

So in the end this story came to an unfortunate ending. The guy didn't even get a proper interview from Ableton. Quoting him from his website:

"EDIT: Unfortunately, at the end, I didn’t get the job nor an interview where I could have commented on or explained my design decisions. However, after I got the email saying that they don’t want to hire me, I did get a chance to talk with their head of design, Ed Macovaz. Ed and I discussed my unsolicited redesign and he gave me his and team’s feedback as well as some useful insights on how to improve as a designer."

To me, it's quite a strange turn of events. I would at least call a guy to have a proper interview.

This is one hell of a cover letter.

Please consider people who don't have perfect vision.

Grey text on a grey background is just not high contrast enough to be accessible.

Big Ableton Fan here and using it for more than 5 years, even though recently I purchased Logic Pro X too. I like that he added a scale feature to Ableton in his draft (one thing I love about Logic). To me this theme is not so easy on the eye and lacking contrast.

I am currently using this theme by PureAV (UI designer of Serum Plugin) http://pureav.deviantart.com/art/Ableton-Live-9-Skin-5893383... but it also is not too easy on the eyes and sometimes I switch back to the default one.

Concerning UI language I also like this Ableton Redesign Concept: https://dribbble.com/shots/2255100-Ableton-Live-Redesign-Con...

Nenad great design man. You really nailed the colors and I dig the flat UI, similar to what you'd see in a RAW editor like RAW Therapee or Lightroom. It's consistent, professional and carries a certain logic through all of the elements. Hope you get the gig!

The worst UI flaw of Ableton is its atrocious piano roll. They need to make it more like FL Studio's piano roll - left click to enter a note and hold it down to adjust length, right click to delete (yes there's draw mode, but it doesn't let you do that)

I genuinely don't understand what's going on with the devs. Little to no outreach about upcoming features or releases. Little to no attention paid to improving the core experience. They're seemingly ignoring their core users who have been asking for basic improvements such as these for years while continually improving the Push.

FL seems to be improving at a much more rapid pace. Bitwig gives us at least a glance at what's coming.

But Ableton? It really seems like they're getting complacent. Or they're struggling. Or maybe they're saving up everything for 10 (but telling no one about it). Ugh.

If I wasn't such a fan of the workflow I'd jump ship.

I find myself swapping from draw to regular mode with B a lot, and using the arrow keys to adjust things. It's a bit annoying... I thing piano rolls are pretty antiquated in general, most people aren't writing chromatic pieces, so I'd like to see something that was more of a guiding force in programming within certain bounds of western music theory.

I'm a programmer so I guess I could make it happen!

You could use a wavetable LFO with Autotune to quantize the pitch (if necessary or desired) to whatever mode you like.

But what will the arrangement window look like. That is where I get most of my issues from when using Ableton (and I use it a lot). Really Glad to see that newer plug-in setup though - very similar to one of the things I love in ProTools.

Really awesome project and research. I haven't used any music software for ages, but I think it'd be awesome if the author talked with some open source similar projects and actually got an interface implemented in some system.

Just a minor side note and I don't know if it's just something you did during the data display or if it is actually reflective of how you surveyed, but if you're surveying for comparitive purposes you probably should keep the descriptors and options as similar as possible (ideally identical). Having multiple different 'yes' and 'no' variations can introduce subtle distortions to the data.

If your goal is to actually deal with users and their feedback, this is probably more important than it is for anyone who just wants to show their design clout.

I am surprised with what the author could infer from questionnaires.

I feel questionnaires are stupid. I do have ideas on how stuff I use often could be made better and I share it with the creators if there is a way to reach out to them.

I don't mind sharing a video of my typical usage and maybe some annotations with it but that's it. I don't think I can answer questions like "Do you like this" or "Do you think this screen is useful" objectively or accurately in any manner that could be useful to the designer or implementor.

Great work! Tough to tell if I would _really_ like it without spending some time in use, but the one thing that really jumped out at me was the various Clip types and states. Very nice.

Hey guys, thanks for all the comments! If my site is down please head out to medium https://medium.com/@nndmlsvc/ableton-live-redesign-26efebe73... or behance https://www.behance.net/gallery/53789531/Ableton-Live-Redesi...

Cheers! Nenad.

Since you have a pretty "flat" design, could you imagine there being preferences settings for adjusting the contrast?

I love the yellow indicators. However, I find gray text on gray background to not be very readable. Yes, I'm getting old.

There's actually a brightness, saturation, and hue options in Preferences > Look & Feel > Color. Try playing with them and you'll be able to adjust the contrast a bit. Cheers. N.

I'm curious where the list of users to survey came from. For the company, this should be easy, but for a guy making a cover letter, probably much more difficult.

From the article (not reposting the links):

I have used different online communities to get to the Ableton Live users (thanks again guys, this was super helpful). If you’re interested in these conversations, feel free to check out the links or screenshots below.

Ableton Forum Part 1 (link) and Part 2 (link) Gearslutz (link) Ableton Live Facebook Group (link) Ableton Addicts Facebook Group Ableton Subreddit Part 1 (link) and Part 2 (link)

reddit.com/r/ableton springs to mind, or any other user forum

Sadly the website is down and Wayback Machine did not save the picture. I am really unhappy because I was really looking forward to be amazed.

Edit: Found a sneak peek on Nenad's Dribbble: https://dribbble.com/shots/3564223-Ableton-Live-Redesign


There are tons of more detailed images on that page, but it would be too much work to save them all.

Yeah its up for me now. Looks great.

Just a point of quibble: are 16:10 laptops or displays that prevalent now? The usefulness of this would go way down at 16:9.

<3 Abelton, even for it's flaws. Absolutely an essential part of making live music these days.

A+ for effort, but this re-design looks way cluttered and busy compared to the current Ableton UI.

Really don't like the loss of the majority of the clip color into tiny little bars on the side of the clip. It may look prettier, but it is far less functional -especially for those who use Live "live" in addition to studio production.

Nice job! I like how easy it is to see the metering between devices on your effects chain

I miss my ableton and fruityloops experimenting days I'm sure people who get to play with this stuff everyday love their job.

Very cool stuff.. Support for Nenad.

Very cool stuff. Support for Nenad.

This UI looks like the control panel of a commercial aircraft.

Not sure if that's a good sign or not.

Nice work, hope you get the job!

Request: please do a mainstage redesign!

Burning Man OS

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact