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.”

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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 :

Chartonecrop

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

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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.

Prototypes

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.