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Why are module manuals so bad?
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Eurorack Modules Goto page Previous  1, 2, 3, 4, 5  Next [all]
Author Why are module manuals so bad?
akrylik
Paranormal Patroler wrote:
akrylik wrote:
I think these are all good points!

But why are we ignoring the fact that many people buy a module for their own entertainment (let's see what happens when I plug this into that and turn this knob!) and not as a tool to increase musical productivity? In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the people who use their modular with a specific goal in mind turn out to be a minority.

I hope we can accept both types of modular usage and the manufacturers that target them.


True, but you can always choose not to read the manual.


But what if a designer wants to put all of her energy into pleasing the escapists and entertainment seekers?

Somehow this attitude feels intolerant towards designers like andrewF of nonlinear circuits and Peter Blasser of ciat lonbarde.
Paranormal Patroler
akrylik wrote:
Paranormal Patroler wrote:
akrylik wrote:
I think these are all good points!

But why are we ignoring the fact that many people buy a module for their own entertainment (let's see what happens when I plug this into that and turn this knob!) and not as a tool to increase musical productivity? In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the people who use their modular with a specific goal in mind turn out to be a minority.

I hope we can accept both types of modular usage and the manufacturers that target them.


True, but you can always choose not to read the manual.


But what if a designer wants to put all of her energy into pleasing the escapists and entertainment seekers?


Then prose should be on the description of the module, where it belongs. It can be as poetic as you want. Not catering to the people who actually want to understand how a product works is not an excuse. If you want to be entertained you read a book - not a manual (some exceptions do apply!).

I sympathize with the sentiment, I really do, but in the end you're selling a product to someone. If you want to be poetic so be it but that doesn't make it a manual, it makes it a prose book which accompanies your product. That's as cute as MI offering the trinkets, which is great in and of itself.

Even more so if your product becomes an instrument by working alongside other products in an ecosystem. There are two assumptions made: i) if I indicate what the inner workings of this module are I'm imposing a way of working to my users, ii) the users can't think for themselves and outgrow the documentation.

Neither of these are true, especially when it comes to escapists and entertainment seekers. In my most humble opinion some manufacturers just do not offer manuals, they offer a prose book. It's their choice and some wigglers prefer that. Fine by me. But claiming that this offering is documentation is a joke.

It's also a little disheartening to discuss this with a manufacturer and get the response "I don't want to box my users". You don't know your users, they can be more inventive if they know how things work. You're making assumptions.

What I'm trying to say is, both. Always both. hihi

EDIT

akrylik wrote:
Somehow this attitude feels intolerant towards designers like andrewF of nonlinear circuits and Peter Blasser of ciat lonbarde.


On the contrary!

I completely sympathize with these designers and see their point. But I have to make two points here. First, one of the most prolific users of CL instruments is one of my personal friends and someone how actually spent the time to deconstruct the inner workings of the instrument in order to master it. Claiming that is part of the process is a leap of faith. More people would be closer to that goal if some explanation was given. The second point is that, again, I see why they don't offer documentation.

It's not an issue. But saying they do is simply not true. That's the point I'm raising. Hope it's clear enough.
akrylik
Sorry. I was editing my post while you answered. I'll put it after in a new post like I should have:

There is this assumption that manufacturers' primary goal is maximizing sales and hence profit. To do that you must try to satisfy the widest range of tastes and make Rational Decisions. While for some (especially the big players) that might be true but for the majority is it not closer to something like:

"I'm going to have fun making something that I like and hopefully people with similar tastes and approach will like it too and support me!"

I feel like I'm stating the obvious. oops
Shledge
Exploration still needs explanation. If you don't know what the hell A/B does on a module, you will likely run around in circles rather than explore.

If anything, only fully understanding a module opens more options for you, especially how you patch it with other modules. For example, most people just use a clock divider as a... clock divider, but anyone who fully knows them will know it can be used as a sequencer, conditional generator, flip-flop etc.

Think of it like driving - anyone could get into a car, but you'll only get from A to B if you understand how to drive it.
mskala
Not many cars come with a block diagram. Maybe a hybrid does, but if so it'll have about four blocks on it expressing the concept that power goes from the engine to the generator to the motors to the wheels and that's about it. More detail on how the thing works will be in the "service" manual instead, and not given to most drivers. However, that may not really be a fair comparison because all cars work in more or less the same way, one reason you get a driver's license for cars in general and not for a specific make and model of car. (Compare to airplanes, where your license may be for more than one make and model of plane but will still usually be limited to relatively narrow categories; and specialized land-vehicle license classes for stuff like air brakes also exist.) The point here is that there are many technical details about a car that are important for drivers but that are about cars in general and not about a specific car and that general knowledge is conveyed to drivers in other ways than in the per-car user manual. Like what the steering wheel is for.

There are similar details about Eurorack modules that users need to know but that aren't specific to one particular module. Like maybe "red stripe on the bottom." But there are also a lot of technical details about modules that do vary from module to module - they're much more diverse than cars - and so there may be more need for stuff like block diagrams for modules than for cars.

When it comes to style, of panel design, user manual writing, and even the electronic guts of the module itself: people buy things to help create their images of themselves, to demonstrate to themselves and others what sort of people they are. (Kevin Simler wrote well about this in this article.) And every part of the experience of buying a module contributes to that. If you read the manual for one of mine, I hope you have an impression of the kind of person who would buy such a module that is consistent with the impression you get by looking at the panel or by listening to the music it makes, and if you want to prove that you are that kind of person, okay, you click "buy." Even if I don't want to be the kind of person who buys a Wacko Fizzball, maybe I have an impression of what kind of person that is from the lightning bolt graphics or from the word salad manual, and if the designer and writer did their jobs, that impression will be consistent across all aspects of the module. Whether the image they chose to create is a good one that they should have chosen and that many people will want to buy into, is a separate question from whether they were competent in creating the image they intended.
Rigo
Paranormal Patroler wrote:
If you want to be entertained you read a book - not a manual (some exceptions do apply!).

The Klee manual ? hihi
akrylik
Shledge wrote:
Exploration still needs explanation. If you don't know what the hell A/B does on a module, you will likely run around in circles rather than explore.

If anything, only fully understanding a module opens more options for you, especially how you patch it with other modules. For example, most people just use a clock divider as a... clock divider, but anyone who fully knows them will know it can be used as a sequencer, conditional generator, flip-flop etc.

Think of it like driving - anyone could get into a car, but you'll only get from A to B if you understand how to drive it.


Haha. I don't need you to explain to me why people who like manuals like them. You completely missed my point. d'oh!

I think mskala put it better than me though in his last paragraph. It comes down to whether your goals (intended image) align with the designer's goals (intended image). If the designer's value system is not aligned with yours than just purchase your modules from a designer with a value system that is aligned with yours. What is the point of complaining or bagging on a designer's work that was obviously not targeted for you? It is just petty and/or intolerant. Designing a module is not an objective task like a math proof. It is subjective and taste dependent. You might as well be complaining about someone's fashion.

By the way, "Exploration still needs explanation" is patently wrong. You are just using strong posturing to make it seem like you have made a logical irrefutable point when really it is just an opinion of yours. You do it a lot in your posts.
Shledge
Quote:
You are just using strong posturing to make it seem like you have made a logical irrefutable point when really it is just an opinion of yours. You do it a lot in your posts.


That's a first - maybe I should put THIS IS MY FECKIN' OPINION on all of my posts in future to avoid confusion? lol

Some people may like the whole wanky "magic mystery box" appeal, but it's not a majority. It's a niche of a niche. In the world of fetishes, there are always a few masochists. wink

(btw that was an opinion - just wanted to make sure you understood that)
damase
akrylik wrote:


Somehow this attitude feels intolerant towards designers like andrewF of nonlinear circuits and Peter Blasser of ciat lonbarde.


call me crazy but the IFM manuals i find very clear, concise and describe exactly what is happening without a bunch of fluff, or being too boring. even a bit inspiring by the wording

Mannequins manuals drive me crazy though. Almost like you need a thesaurus at hand just to figure out basic functions. Seems to be trying too hard where the IFM linguistic touch is effortless

a real trip is reading Schippmann manual for Omega Phi II... wow. its clear how much thought went into the entire module from that. very technical though

I agree wih those saying that its nice when a panel is labelled clearly, designed thoughtfully, and you dont even really need a manual except for voltage levels and other technicalities... Verbos an example here.
Shledge
The best designed WACKY module/manual for me is Endorphine's Furthrrrr Generator. The layout is still quite easy to follow (even if how it looks seems to polarise people) and the manual is straight to be point and easy to follow, all while maintaining a specific tone of voice and aesthetic.

If Mannequins modules were better labelled, or at least had basic manuals (I refuse to consider what comes with them as "manuals"), then that would help tremendously. I do like how their modules are designed, but it's just... everything else.

But hey, some people want wacky spooky mystery boxes because they enjoy pain.
iheartmodular
eurorack module manual obscurities may represent the appreciation of a decent multi channel oscilloscope in orders of magnitude or more

thank you rigol

we're not worthy
gonkulator
iheartmodular wrote:
eurorack module manual obscurities may represent the appreciation of a decent multi channel oscilloscope in orders of magnitude or more

thank you rigol

we're not worthy


Rigol... speaking of bad manuals!
Mungo
Shledge wrote:
If anything, only fully understanding a module opens more options for you, especially how you patch it with other modules. For example, most people just use a clock divider as a... clock divider, but anyone who fully knows them will know it can be used as a sequencer, conditional generator, flip-flop etc.
But does naming something a clock divider already add too much motivation to its use? Just as calling it a sub oscillator would. If it can operate over all those frequency ranges why not call it a pulse divider, or pulse counter?
deke
Poetic language I can deal with to some extent, but what gets me are firmware update instructions and/or processes that include the rationale fear of a dead or bricked module. There are no shortage of posts on this topic for a wide range of modules and makers. Surely some can do better. Precise instructions and processes that are thoroughly tested.
jamos
Based on this thread I just took a look at some Mannequins manuals. My god. Thanks for the warning.
luchog
The big issue here is that modules are, at their simplest, tools. They exist for the purpose of making music (for certain values of music), like any other musical instrument. And like any other musical instrument, function is more important than form. If the form gets in the way of the function, that's a bad design.

Yes, some instruments can be works of art in and of themselves, but even there, simplicity is often better than complexity (the Zen/minimalist aesthetic). When I pick up a saxophone, I expect to be able to make noise with it. I like that it has an attractive finish, and a bit of filigree and a few unnecessary bits and pieces are not necessarily unwelcome. But when those bits get in the way of my fingers, and make it harder to make the right sounds come out, then they're an annoyance rather than a benefit.

With manuals, that principle is just as important, if not more so. There are a number of modules that I find interesting-looking, but not practically functional. Similarly, some manuals can be entertaining reads, but they're not useful. I've avoided buying several otherwise-potentially-useful modules because of the non-intuitive interface and insufficient documentation.

I like to compare this to another hobby of mine, tabletop gaming. In the game manuals, you find both "fluff" (a description of the setting and characters) and rules. The fluff is there to set the tone and provide immersion in the world of the game. The rules are there to provide the mechanics of the game, and enable you to play it. If the rules are not clear, then the game becomes too difficult to play, and fails to be fun. If the fluff is not interesting, or is missing, or is too confusing, then again the game fails to be fun. I've encountered games where the rules are written like the fluff, and both suffer as a result, making the game nearly unplayable. Unclear rules result in argument and frustration on the parts of the players.

Many modular manuals have a similar problem with fluff vs. mechanics. Too many manual writers are far too invested in writing what is essentially fluff, and don't spend enough time with the mechanics of the system. Fluff in manuals is great, but it should be separate from the mechanics, and there should be detailed and comprehensive explanations of the mechanics, otherwise there's nothing really for the fluff to attach itself to.

When I'm creating something, I want tools that will enable and enhance the creative process. If I'm constantly having to fight with my tools, if I have trouble determining what they even do, then I'm not creating, and I'm not having fun.

I'm fully aware that there are people for whom the modular is not a tool for creating music (however one defines "music"); that for them it's just collectible art, or cat furniture. But good design and documentation doesn't get in the way of that. An instrument can be artistic without being confusing or unnecessarily difficult to use.
MarcelP
luchog wrote:
Fluff in manuals is great, but it should be separate from the mechanics, and there should be detailed and comprehensive explanations of the mechanics, otherwise there's nothing really for the fluff to attach itself to.



Nice post - really liked the idea of fluff needing something of substance to attach to.
Shledge
I've an idea for the next trendy module - Flisters

- Text now replaced with symbols which have no meaning
- Manuals etched onto solid wood and now uses some obscure BC era language
- Knobs everywhere, most of which don't do anything
- Complete enigma wrapped in another enigma, then shot point blank with a riddle (even we don't know what the fuck it does)
- Long, convoluted button combos just to do anything useful with it - don't worry, you'll discover them by mashing stuff!
- Can make it fart if you "experiment" with it enough. Some hipster on youtube will explain it all to you, some day.
- MkII version coming out next month
honeyb
IEC wrote:
i always plug them in offset somehow MY ASS IS BLEEDING i always fondle both sides of the connector after pluggin in to try avoid blowing shit up


I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. I will not take this out of context. :explodes:
deke
Shledge wrote:
I've an idea for the next trendy module - Flisters

- Text now replaced with symbols which have no meaning
- Manuals etched onto solid wood and now uses some obscure BC era language
- Knobs everywhere, most of which don't do anything
- Complete enigma wrapped in another enigma, then shot point blank with a riddle (even we don't know what the fuck it does)
- Long, convoluted button combos just to do anything useful with it - don't worry, you'll discover them by mashing stuff!
- Can make it fart if you "experiment" with it enough. Some hipster on youtube will explain it all to you, some day.
- MkII version coming out next month


Not sure if you saw my reply to you somewhere here with an apology. I would like to add to your excellent idea. The manual etched in wood is good, but let's take it to the ultimate hipster level. First, it must be reclaimed wood because nothing says locally harvested sustainable synthesis more than reusing a precious resource. The wood should come from some building with a unique history of something artisanal and be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. Second, the etching must be done entirely with hand tools commonly used in the early 1800s, but to take it even further, it must have been etched using only natural sunlight or candle light. I think this is the perfect guy to do this.

http://www.artisanalpencilsharpening.com/
timeforest
the only good ones are mannequins smile
Pelsea
Reasons manuals suck: (English language version)
10. Technical writing was an elective in ee school.
9. There was this really cute girl in English class who let me copy her work.
8. It was outsourced to a creative writing major.
7. Judging by the emails to support, nobody is going to read it.
6. It was translated by someone whose first language is neither English or the original (and has never seen a modular synthesizer.)
5. The mk IV will be out in six months, we'll fix the manual then.
4. The design changed five times in the last three weeks of development.
3. The tech writer didn't actually have the module, was working from the specs.
2. It was written over the weekend before the module shipped.
1. This module is not for amateurs!
Shledge
I can get by if the module is fairly simple. A doepfer module for example is generally so well laid out that I rarely have to guess anything. It really helped back when all I had was just a doepfer basic system. It's consistent.

I even got by with more complex modules like my Furthrrr Generator purely because the layout is pretty clear for what it is. Same with even MI modules like Braids (which Emilie considers pretty bad, UI wise).

While with some modules like Maths, they were so bad that they had to be redesigned to have a clearer layout. It's not a particularly hard module to grasp, but pre-redesign, it certainly was not an intuitive one. MN manuals are quite good though.
mskala
Pelsea wrote:
6. It was translated by someone whose first language is neither English or the original (and has never seen a modular synthesizer.)


"Modular As She Is Patch"
Keltie
deke wrote:
Shledge wrote:
I've an idea for the next trendy module - Flisters

- Text now replaced with symbols which have no meaning
- Manuals etched onto solid wood and now uses some obscure BC era language
- Knobs everywhere, most of which don't do anything
- Complete enigma wrapped in another enigma, then shot point blank with a riddle (even we don't know what the fuck it does)
- Long, convoluted button combos just to do anything useful with it - don't worry, you'll discover them by mashing stuff!
- Can make it fart if you "experiment" with it enough. Some hipster on youtube will explain it all to you, some day.
- MkII version coming out next month


Not sure if you saw my reply to you somewhere here with an apology. I would like to add to your excellent idea. The manual etched in wood is good, but let's take it to the ultimate hipster level. First, it must be reclaimed wood because nothing says locally harvested sustainable synthesis more than reusing a precious resource. The wood should come from some building with a unique history of something artisanal and be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. Second, the etching must be done entirely with hand tools commonly used in the early 1800s, but to take it even further, it must have been etched using only natural sunlight or candle light. I think this is the perfect guy to do this.

http://www.artisanalpencilsharpening.com/


You, sir, are a damned amatar.

Not only must the manual be carved in cuneiform “a” from locally sourced, sustainably recycled wood, it must be tropical hardwood. The packaging must be tied using strands of Beyoncé’s pubes woven by the virgin women of an uncontacted Amazonian tribe. It must be delivered with a skinny, free range maccachicocinno in a sustainably recycled fabric cup, and, and this is most, most important, it’s components must be made from toxic rare earth metals mined under slave labour conditions in a country under the control of a left wing military kleptocracy.

Viva la revolucion, hombres.

In other news, it’s not a biggie. Obscure modules with crap documentation just get the pass from me. Mannequins is laughable, but whatever. MI manuals are great. I forgive Paults cos his modules are quite easy and the quality is just so good, but manifold spatial generators sharing stories in a sonic continuum of self indulgent impenetrable stream of consciousness? No thanks.
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