Failings of Interface, a Musician’s Perspective

When people program — i.e. decide on which set of possible options they should make available — they express a philosophy about what operations are important in the world. If the philosophy they express is anything like the level of breathtaking stupidity that the games they play and the internet conversations they have are, then we are completely sunk. We are victims of their limitations.

— Brian Eno, musician, quoted today on Wired

Surprisingly, that fresh-sounding quote is from 1995. Not so surprisingly, things haven’t really yet changed for the better.

Regardless of date, I was most impressed that that quote came from someone outside the software/usability industry. Most people simply aren’t analytical enough to be able to draw the line in the sand and say,

On this side, stuff doesn’t work because I suck. And on that side, stuff doesn’t work because you (and your product) suck.

But when they do, it’s especially critical to listen.

(And did they? Certainly software UI has come a long way… in some fields. I don’t know much about audio, but at least Mac audio software seems better than before.)

Thanks to Erik Kastner for pointing out the quote.

No Comments

  1. Ben Kimball says:

    That quotation is also in Brian Eno’s book <cite>A Year With Swollen Appendices</cite>, which I strongly recommend.

  2. Paul says:

    Of course he’s a victim of programmers’ limitations. They are in turn limited by the interfaces they have available to their users.

    Any interface beyond a mind-meld with your computer or instrument is limiting.

    An overly simplistic viewpoint.

  3. Amy says:

    Hi Paul,

    I don’t know the man myself, so maybe he does take his view to that extreme.

    In my opinion, though, it reflects the kind of pain I think everybody suffers when the developer (or product manager) of a product doesn’t consider what actual users want. In this case, presumably not understanding what a professional musician would want to do.

    Of course making products are all about editorial choices. If you include everything, you become like Microsoft (and I’ve never met a person who likes Word, for example).

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to do something that I’d figure was perfectly reasonable, given the task and the alleged market for the app, and found that there was no way to do it.

    And that’s what this made me think of.

  4. In case you didn’t notice, Kastner infected you with the "5 things you didn’t know" virus. 🙂

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