Visual aesthetics vs. function in modular arrangement

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How important is visual aesthetics vs. function to you?

Visual aesthetics is more important
2
3%
Functional placement is more important
32
43%
Both are important - and hard to balance
36
48%
Doesn't concern me
5
7%
 
Total votes: 75

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pugix
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Visual aesthetics vs. function in modular arrangement

Post by pugix » Thu Dec 31, 2009 7:03 am

I place the look of my synthesizer high on my design priorities. The beast sits in a studio that's just off my living room and I look at it all the time. I'm always considering how well the modules look next to each other, whether the jacks at the bottom line up (the seven-jack MOTM-420 is irksome, and the seven-jack with three offset jacks, plus two offset pots on the Teezer VCO is a whole other thing), how to place the Modcan B modules, and so forth.

http://pugix.com/synth/motm-420-voltage ... ed-filter/
http://pugix.com/synth/teezer-through-zero-vco/

There's always design trade-offs. For example, just the other day I tried swapping the Modcan Dual Quantizer with the Encore UEG to get the Quantizer closer to the VCO cabinet, where it's most often patched to. The UEG had been located on the left side of a cabinet, with its small knobs nicely separated from the other MOTM modules. When I swapped the UEG in between a Miniwave and the MOTM-650 it looked really out of place. I couldn't stand it. So I opted for appearance over convenience of patching and left them where they were, even though I have to use five or six-foot patch cords from the quantizers to the VCOs.

I'm wondering how other people juggle this issue. So I've created this poll.
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Hi5
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Post by Hi5 » Thu Dec 31, 2009 9:41 am

aesthetics is irrelevant.
It is a musical instrument(well, it should be at least) and as such function should trump looking pretty. If a modular where a piece of furniture then sure aesthetics should step in but if the goal is to make sweet jams one would think the most efficient organizational scheme would be desired.
IMO.

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Post by shamann » Thu Dec 31, 2009 10:11 am

Hi5 wrote:aesthetics is irrelevant.
It is a musical instrument(well, it should be at least) and as such function should trump looking pretty.
That doesn't make sense, aesthetics have always figured prominently in the design of musical instruments.

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Post by Hi5 » Thu Dec 31, 2009 12:07 pm

shamann wrote:
Hi5 wrote:aesthetics is irrelevant.
It is a musical instrument(well, it should be at least) and as such function should trump looking pretty.
That doesn't make sense, aesthetics have always figured prominently in the design of musical instruments.
When aesthetics have played a prominent role(and by this I mean primary role over function) in instrument design it has usually been for ceremonial purposes or in our modern era for consumer illusion.
Instruments have been adorned in various ways throughout history but this is usually a secondary feature after the primary function of the instrument has been established. The original example is bringing up the question of which should come first and my point is that if the goal is music making then function should come first. If the 'instrument' is primarily used for a given ritual/tradition or is a conversation piece then by all means aesthetics have come first. I think this is a great question/poll in that the modular synth world is prone to be just another extension of people's consumer tendencies and often people lose sight of what the point of the device is. Anyone is entitled to be a collector but it is harder to swallow in the case of instruments as they are usually designed to be used.

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Post by russma » Thu Dec 31, 2009 12:19 pm

I fall somewhere between Hi5 and pugix.

I am not as concerned as pugix with aesthetic precision, but I think there is inspirational value in beauty.[/i]

So, I voted for both, but I firmly subscribe to the form follows function axiom.

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Post by Hi5 » Thu Dec 31, 2009 12:21 pm

idiotboy wrote:t I think there is inspirational value in beauty.[/i]
totally agree.
i just would never let aesthetics get in the way of making my instrument more useful.
ugly can be beautiful too :goo:

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Post by neandrewthal » Thu Dec 31, 2009 12:21 pm

It also depends on what you find aesthetically pleasing.

For me, I would choose "Both are important - and not hard to balance"

This is because I like modules to be laid out so the signal flow is easy to follow, rather than having the jacks and knobs grouped together. If this approach is taken on every module, each will look different, and therefore nothing will look "out of place" because there is no standard to deviate from.
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Post by russma » Thu Dec 31, 2009 12:31 pm

Yeah. I guess in general,

---faceplates should be all the same color and size, aligned top and bottom

---knobs should be the same type

---typography should be consistent

...but beyond that, I want each different module to look different, so I can quickly discern it in the lineup.

EDIT: uhh.. just repeating what neandrewthal said... :oops:

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Post by dougcl » Thu Dec 31, 2009 12:48 pm

Poll needs another option: Functional arrangement is visual aesthetics.

JohnLRice

Post by JohnLRice » Thu Dec 31, 2009 1:16 pm

I think a lot about this and, I will often give looks an edge over functionality for a couple reasons:

1) most of the time when I place modules together so they are easy to patch for the most common use, the next few patches require just the opposite arrangement! :doh:

2) every module is only as far away as a patch cord :tu:

3) I'm hoplessly superficial :hihi:


Many years ago I did the same thing with my big drumset. The four medium sized toms that are 'flown' overhead used to be in a stack of four right in front of me and were like 300% easier to play but, people always complained that they couldn't see me! So, I decided to fly them, which I think looks cool and people had no trouble seeing me. A couple fast parts I used to play became pretty much impossible to do though. It was worth it though. Excessive movements look better for live performances! :hyper:

Image

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Post by ach_gott » Thu Dec 31, 2009 1:39 pm

neandrewthal wrote: This is because I like modules to be laid out so the signal flow is easy to follow, rather than having the jacks and knobs grouped together. If this approach is taken on every module, each will look different, and therefore nothing will look "out of place" because there is no standard to deviate from.
I'm reorganizing my cabinets next week in this fashion. Each row is a "voice" patched horizontally with one row of helper modules. Even then, it won't be perfect and there will be some inter-row patching, but it's the basic simplification. Plus the cables will hopefully remain in its own row.

Right now all the oscillators are grouped, the filters, etc. Even when using color-coded Stooge cables by voice, I'll sometimes reach for the wrong one and suddenly the pling pling voice is going plang plang.

When I need to, I can always swap filters around, exchange an LFO for an EG, etc.

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Post by zerosum » Thu Dec 31, 2009 4:37 pm

I am willing to sacrifice aesthetics for functionality,
the more functionality the module provides, the less I care about the aesthetics.

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Post by nerdware » Thu Dec 31, 2009 5:49 pm

Now I feel a need to read the Wp articles for Aesthetics and Functional. This may take some time. :eek:
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Post by patchdub » Thu Dec 31, 2009 7:16 pm

i went for trying to keep the cords out of the way as much as possible and still look good and make sense

thought i had the aesthetics and function figured out but as soon as i add another module i will need another cabinet. so i am going to have to rethink and reorganize when i want another motm vco.

i would guess most of us here enjoy figuring and refiguring this out.


-jlr. seriously?!?!!!! do tell what band this is.

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Post by DGTom » Thu Dec 31, 2009 8:24 pm

Any kind of 'anti-aesthetic zealotry' is null & void in cases as described in the 2nd line of pugixs intial post. Big 5U systems are very much like pieces of furniture... or in some cases; load bearing walls :razz:

When something is that dominating a visual element in a living space you cannot forgo looks for any other concern, having to use an over long cable now & then is not a problem compared to looking at something that bugs you day in, day out.
idiotboy wrote:
---faceplates should be all the same color and size, aligned top and bottom

---knobs should be the same type

---typography should be consistent
That pretty much sums up for me, in a nutshell, all the things I don't like about the MOTM format :lolhammer:

Add to that being totally confused by having all the jacks seperated from their associated knobs.

I want cables in the way of controls to stop me from f'ing up patches by overtweaking - this happens way more than the annoyance at not being able to get at a control IMO.
dougcl wrote:Poll needs another option: Functional arrangement is visual aesthetics.
This one gets my vote :tu:

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Post by Roycie Roller » Thu Dec 31, 2009 8:37 pm

DGTom wrote: Add to that being totally confused by having all the jacks seperated from their associated knobs.

I want cables in the way of controls to stop me from f'ing up patches by overtweaking - this happens way more than the annoyance at not being able to get at a control IMO.
dougcl wrote:Poll needs another option: Functional arrangement is visual aesthetics.
This one gets my vote :tu:
+1 on all points.

At the moment, the modules i'm building are going into a case with a finite space, so each faceplate i make is not only what i feel is the best design aesthetically & functionally for that particular module (for me, the two are inseperable), but also how it relates to the faceplates around it, in terms of workflow.
As the synth takes shape, if the functionality & workflow are right, the aesthetics are right also.

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Post by pugix » Thu Dec 31, 2009 10:31 pm

DGTom wrote:Any kind of 'anti-aesthetic zealotry' is null & void in cases as described in the 2nd line of pugixs intial post. Big 5U systems are very much like pieces of furniture... or in some cases; load bearing walls :razz:

When something is that dominating a visual element in a living space you cannot forgo looks for any other concern, having to use an over long cable now & then is not a problem compared to looking at something that bugs you day in, day out.
idiotboy wrote:
---faceplates should be all the same color and size, aligned top and bottom

---knobs should be the same type

---typography should be consistent
That pretty much sums up for me, in a nutshell, all the things I don't like about the MOTM format :lolhammer:

Add to that being totally confused by having all the jacks seperated from their associated knobs.

I want cables in the way of controls to stop me from f'ing up patches by overtweaking - this happens way more than the annoyance at not being able to get at a control IMO.
dougcl wrote:Poll needs another option: Functional arrangement is visual aesthetics.
This one gets my vote :tu:
As Paul S has pointed out, the MOTM format does not dictate jack and knob separation. His original layouts were driven by considerations of mounting the boards and pots in a rigid manner. Here are some MOTM format panels that are not what you might expect:

http://pugix.com/synth/cynthia-zeroscillator/
http://pugix.com/synth/encore-universal ... generator/
http://pugix.com/synth/dual-tellun-lag-processor/
http://pugix.com/synth/blacet-improbability-drive-2510/

I'm about to build a few modules in yet another grid scheme. I'm not concerned about always having jacks on the bottom or the same size knobs. All I need is 1/4-inch jacks and panels that fit my cabinets.

But the question I asked pertains to the relative placement of modules. I have some more thoughts about that...
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Post by dougcl » Thu Dec 31, 2009 10:37 pm

If something has a purpose, and it's organized to fulfill that purpose, then its arrangement has meaning. Things that are meaningful are beautiful.

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Post by pugix » Thu Dec 31, 2009 11:04 pm

On more reflection, I agree it's a false dichotomy between "function" and aesthetics. There's a problem with leaving "function" vaguely defined. What sort of function are we talking about? Convenient patching? But what's convenient depends on how I patch. And how I patch depends on how I generally use my synthesizer. I mean, we have modular synths just so we can patch them any which way, and especially ways we didn't think of when we bought or built them, and which we haven't thought of yet. One benefit of moving modules around is the stimulation to the brain to see new possibilities. Even patching the studio stuff is open to rethinking.

I got a firewire interface and now I'm playing with some software for the first time (Audio Mulch). That caused me to completely rethink how I hook up the studio gear (mixer, effects, and now the computer). I am now patching into my modular from the mixer effects send for Mulch->MOTM. It's great! Why did it take me years to come up with that? Well, because I did the standard thing of patching into my MPX1 effects box from the effects send. (I'm pondering posting a diagram on my website of the new studio patch, because it could give others a similar insight, especially if they have a Mackie mixer with ALT outputs. I had never used those outputs before and now I do.)

The point is that if form is to follow function, and if function follows ideas, then form -- in terms of module arrangement -- tends to solidify the function. And this can be limiting. At least to me. But that's related to my tendency to be continually exploring and never settling into really doing music. I acknowledge that musicians (myself not included), and artists generally, I think, follow a muse that takes them in certain directions that they are able to develop. That's not getting stuck, it's accomplishment. So, if you know what you want your instrument to do for you, then you are going to arrange it however supports that in the best way. I can respect that.

I want the big box of knobs, jacks, switches and lights to look good when I stare at it ritually and obsessively, as I do every day. And since I don't have or even want a standard way of using it, convenience of patching is a lower priority. I've never found a "just right" arrangement of modules, and will no doubt keep rearranging perpetually. What else are machine screws for? :cloud:
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Post by neandrewthal » Thu Dec 31, 2009 11:04 pm

DGTom wrote: I want cables in the way of controls to stop me from f'ing up patches by overtweaking - this happens way more than the annoyance at not being able to get at a control IMO.
lol. Never heard that one before. I`m gonna have to think about it for a while :hmm:
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Post by pugix » Thu Dec 31, 2009 11:15 pm

neandrewthal wrote:
DGTom wrote: I want cables in the way of controls to stop me from f'ing up patches by overtweaking - this happens way more than the annoyance at not being able to get at a control IMO.
lol. Never heard that one before. I`m gonna have to think about it for a while :hmm:
Mulch is driving me nuts with tweaking. All those parameter controls. And the patch cords are lines drawn with the mouse. They're in separate windows from the parameters! :doh: How long is this software disease going to afflict me?
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Post by plord » Fri Jan 01, 2010 1:34 am

This absolutely kills me. Right now I have a big row of 14 Wiard modules and GODDAMN they look pretty. But I can already tell that I'm headed for a big shuffle to put all the sequencer related stuff down in the lower right corner. Same for the Frac row, the Metalbox and Blacet stuff looks killer all in a line, but that's just dumb.

Now that I'm accepting the fact that I will have black Blacet AND silver EuroWiard breaking up the wall of blue, moving shit around will get easier.

I hope.

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Post by dude » Fri Jan 01, 2010 2:51 am

JohnLRice wrote:I think a lot about this and, I will often give looks an edge over functionality for a couple reasons:

1) most of the time when I place modules together so they are easy to patch for the most common use, the next few patches require just the opposite arrangement! :doh:

2) every module is only as far away as a patch cord :tu:

3) I'm hoplessly superficial :hihi:


Many years ago I did the same thing with my big drumset. The four medium sized toms that are 'flown' overhead used to be in a stack of four right in front of me and were like 300% easier to play but, people always complained that they couldn't see me! So, I decided to fly them, which I think looks cool and people had no trouble seeing me. A couple fast parts I used to play became pretty much impossible to do though. It was worth it though. Excessive movements look better for live performances! :hyper:

Image
new fucking wallpaper! is that you john or did i misinterpret?

oh and function is far more important than form but i do obsess over how the modular appears/inspires as it is quite important to keep it interesting or somehow visually 'right'.

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Post by bf » Fri Jan 01, 2010 4:23 am

My system is still pretty small, 36U in two rows, so every module is fairly close as far as patching is concerned no matter where it is in the cabinet. There are a few modules that present their own unique elements. Putting aside the atypical layout of the UEG, the location of the power connection is kind of a bitch in regards to being next to any module where the PCB is mounted on the left side as viewed from the front. The MOTM-650 looks like a scar among a field of knobs. And my Oakley diode super ladder is built on a natural finish aluminum panel as a kind of homage to the 303, and obviously sticks out among the black panels. I don't really have modules mounted by signal flow and are not even strictly grouped by type. I think that the off modules kind of give the overall appearance character more than detract from it visually. I think that the one element that dictates placement is set and forget knobs tend to live on the lower row when cables can then drape over them, and knobs that get tweaked are on the top row and free from obstruction. I'm sure this will change as my system grows beyond two rows.

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Post by essex sound lab » Fri Jan 01, 2010 8:35 am

plord wrote:I'm accepting the fact that I will have black Blacet AND silver EuroWiard breaking up the wall of blue
This is a great example of why the aesthetics really do matter. Tell me that this mental image doesn't have a visceral impact on people.

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