Redesigning ZynAddSubFX

I have taken upon myself the challenge of redesigning ZynAddSubFX. Its an open source soft synth with an incredible sonic pallette. While it is one of the best synths out there, it lacks severely on the UI front. I think it would be a nice way to give back to the community that has helped me in learning the tricks of the trade.

About ZynSubAddFX

Quoting from its website, “ZynAddSubFX is a open source software synthesizer capable of making a countless number of instruments, from some common heard from expensive hardware to interesting sounds that you’ll boost to an amazing universe of sounds.

The project was started in March 2002 by Nasca Octavian Paul. He began to write ZynAddSubFX in order to create a synthesizer which could produce beautiful sounds, while being freely available to anybody who needs it.”


Need Finding

Though I have a few ideas as to how the UI of the software could be enhanced, I decided to follow a proper design process to see if I could do more to contribute to a better user experience. Since the existing user group for ZynAddSubFX is relatively small and scatterred across the globe, the only way to observe user behaviour (however remotely) is to read through the discussion forum of the software. This turned out to be a great way to figure out how people were using ZynAddSubFX and for what purposes. I categorized 330 posts made within the past 2, 3 years into few umbrella categories. Bear in mind people mostly resort to discussion forums only when they are stuck doing something. So its safe to assume the following data reflects the problems they had in doing certain activities :


If I were to exclude the topics that are outside the scope of a redesign process, I am left with this.


Besides the vague complaints about a general dissatisfaction about the interface of the software, people have issues in getting started with the software. I have decided to tackle a few of the above problems. Creating instruments should be as straightforward as possible. Since sound design is as much about the theory as its about fiddling with the knobs, the interface should present itself as a bunch of options to be fiddled around with. This should not entail the use of a user manual.

Usage Scenario and Persona

1) Venkat is a 20 year old musician. He has just got into synths and has seen basic tutorials on the internet. He wants to try synthesizing his own sounds now. He has a laptop and wishes to use free and open source software for the purpose.

2) Samuel is a 23 year old musician who has  been experimenting with synths and music production for a few years now. He has a few MIDI keyboards and knows how synths work.

Currently ZynAddSubFX demarcates its two interfaces into a Basic mode and an Advanced mode. I feel that could be avoided through a simple interface.


I am thinking of getting rid of the multiple pop up windows that come up when you select any option. Maybe a Rack like structure would be easier to navigate and work with.

This is an ongoing project and so is the documentation process. Keep visiting the page for further updates on the process.


6 thoughts on “Redesigning ZynAddSubFX

  1. You miight want to join #opensourcemusicians on and stay in touch with people over there. They would provide you with a much more valuable feedback.

    Also is this work on github or something?

    • Hey. Thanks for the feedback on zynaddsubfx.
      I’ll join the channel. I am going to get in touch with the original author of the software in a few days as well.

      I havent started coding yet. Will share the github link when i do 🙂

      Still finalizing a set of features i want to work on.

  2. I think I was looking at my redesign as a short term project. The redesign they are working on has been in progress since a long time,i think. I’am going through everything though 🙂
    Have you seen Yoshimi? its a synth based on ZynAddSubFX. I think my project might turn out like that. As in based on zynAddSubFX but not ZynAddSubFX. Coz the ideas that I am toying around with might not be in accordance to their vision. i’ll update the blog soon. that’ll help you understand the features that i am talking about.

  3. This looks like an awesome project!

    As a UX head with a background in audio production, synth noodling and console design, I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

    Good luck!

    • I am not a trained designer. This is a personal challenge for me as well 🙂 very apprehensive about the results already 🙂

      you got any resources on ux design of soft synths?
      thank you

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