Hall of shame: MusicIP Mixer

This is the first of “hall of shame” blog post series. Here I plan to describe some design mistakes in existing software in order to prevent other developers from repeating them. I’ll try not to concentrate on “correct” solutions as copying good ideas without understanding why they’re good is just a waste of time.

So, our today hero is MusicIP Mixer:
main window

This program is designed as a player and a tool, helping you to select similarly sounding files (MIP uses a specially calculated footprint for that purpose) .

Let’s take a look at the main window.
First of all, it has a locked minimal size which is set by default. Nevertheless you may try increasing the Filters/Playlists area (left) and enjoy some redrawing bugs. Sooth to say “GUI art” is an inevitable part of many Windows applications but in most cases visual glitches of this process are less obvious. Besides, on resizing it becomes obvious that album image bitmap is resized with the most promitive algorithm (nearest neighbor I guess) so you may enjoy blocky distorted pictures in all their beauty.

Now let’s take a look below at the set of controls. First of all, controls create no visual feedback like i.e. Windows Media Player’s buttons which highlight on hover. Next, a progress bar doesn’t look like a control so you cannot tell if it could adjust track position unless you try it yourself.

The round green button is another freaky thing. Not even mentioning a weird selection of mnemonisc and its similarity to Linspire’s CNR icon by Everaldo. Try to guess what it does. Have any ideas? “Press this button once to begin scanning your collection. Press it a second time to listen to a mix based on currently playing song.” Isn’t there a button named “Mix” on the left-top cornet? Oh, this one is different…
Now try to answer a simple question: what does this button do in the middle of a classic set of controls (Prev,Play,Stop, etc…)? Not even mentioning that pressing it may freeze your machine for few seconds (well, slow interface feedback seems to be an inevitable part of this program anyway).

Also, by default all your collection is organized by genre, a tag which is most likely to be missing or incorrect unless you’ve bought all of your music from a single publisher and never grabbed CDs yourself or downloaded music from the net. So, prepare facing the fact that it doesn’t even try to group similar genres (which is a relatively complex program by itself).

That’s not everything for sure as describing all the “features” may take ages.
I really recommend you examining the program for various OS UI design guideline violations. Seriously. Knowing what’s broken is a big step to fixing it.

Now let’s take a look at preferences dialog:
MusicIP preferences

All 12 (sic!) tabs are groupped alphabetically. Good idea. I’d really loved to see this dialog translated 🙂 Well, when logic is not involved, alphabetical sorting might do its work.
Besides, pages like one on the shot are not uncommon: putting a group of two radio buttons together with two lines of text obviously required some serious design skills from developers.

The dialog’s minimal height is fixed, although most of it is just a waste of space for the vast majority of tabs.
Overall, thedialog’s aestetics seriously suffers. Even taking into account that MusicIP Mixer is a cross-platform application, OS developers often provide interface guidelines which here seem to be completely ignored. For example, Windows and Apple guidelines both insist on dialog buttons be placed on the right of the form and not on the center of it. One may even easily find exact spacing in case he’s afraid to place them too close (or too far) from the edges!

Now just few more shots of dialogs you may face in this wonderful application:
dialog

A good sample of poorly designed dialog with meaningless information. Guess how many people would read this text 🙂 I’d say “a few”.

dialog

Now try to guess why “Clear” button is located so close to “OK” and what does it “clear”. And why is it located next to “Add Condition”? Thunderbird filter creation process is also not a masterpiece of design but it at least gives you a clear idea about what does what.

Let’s go further:
dialog

Typical “Press [Start] to Start” dialog. This one also features four lines of text and a text link to the privacy policy. Well, it’s actually a link but you won’t find it out unless you hover it 🙂 Besides, does one really need to know that the company’s policy is located on http://blah-blah-blah/0_privacy.html and not in a different place? Are you sure?
(zero privacy in URL… that sounds promising)

I’d really recommend the program’s developers immediately start doing something about their UI. Like hiring a decent specialist or at least paying a bit more attention to UI guidelines. Apple one might be agood point to start.

As for you, readers, I really hope you’ll never create “masterpieces” of that kind…

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2 Responses to Hall of shame: MusicIP Mixer

  1. Wendell says:

    Thanks for the interesting take on the ui – I could provide some insight into why certain features are designed the way they are, but in a nutshell, I agree that we could do a much better job with the interface as a whole. I hope down the road we get the time and resources to do a full reimplementation of the ui layer, which is intentionally decoupled from the core engine.

    (Oh yeah – if you *really* want to see the preferences translated, just download the language pack, and take a look. :^) )

  2. Greetings, Wendell.

    Separating the engine and UI is a good idea, but, let’s face it, interface IS your product and as soon as you intend to sell the program or get some money out of its usage (no matter how: by selling a database access, charging for “premium” features or whatever else) making it look and behave decently might be a good idea, right?
    As far as I see, for the passed years (counting from the time from the appearance of original M3 program) your company have done a very little for attracting end users. Or do you really think these users need one more feature if they can hardly operate what’s already in?
    Still, I must say that Winamp plug-in version is not that bad 🙂

    But come on, is a dozen of icons all you can afford after a years of work? If so, why continuing the project at all?. I see some pitiful attempts to mimic iTunes taken by people who seem to have a little idea about anything related to GUI at all. Really. It’s a product level of early 90 and I’m really afraid it won’t rise in any visible future.

    Don’t get me wrong, Wendell, I really love the idea behind the program, but the implementation IS terrible and such level of UI work should be avoided by any company, IMO.

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