Just had a nice tutorial from Soundcraft/Studer exec Keith Watson about the art and science of user ergonomics when it comes to audio console development. Keith was explaining why Soundcraft’s new, free Virtual Vi offline editor software for the company’s Vi Series of consoles is an important tool for audio engineers. The notion is that they can program consoles using software on their laptops even when they are physically apart from the console, and then simply download those settings to the console later on. The software essentially replicates exactly the user interface on the console itself.
That sounded pretty useful, but it got me to wondering how exactly companies like Soundcraft R&D such technology–in fact, how do they design the user experience to begin with? Keith joked about a secret compound inside a mountain in Switzerland where engineers are hooked up to consoles around the clock while their reactions and preferences are tested and re-tested. It was only partially a joke. Through parent Harman, Soundcraft and Studer have two European R&D facilities–one in Switzerland and one in the U.K. In those places, he says, engineers study such things as “eye movement fatigue” and how the human eye recognizes shapes and colors, and proper neck positioning and all those sorts of things. He even explained the thought process behind icon design on LCD screens on various professional consoles. (One hint–they usually pick ‘the familiar,’ so icons often resemble graphs or clocks and so on.)
More generally, while companies like Soundcraft and Studer and most others can’t continually be churning out brand new consoles each year, they are routinely churning out new software for them. The Studer Vista, for instance, will be getting a software update in about six weeks, Watson says. Every 3-6 months, such products normally get new software, he adds. Hence, the Virtual Vi, introduced this week at InfoComm.
And, he promises, the boys in the lab have lots more on the drawing board.