Mike Propst User Experience

Tweakin'

I often wonder what the intersection of my two primary interests — UX and music — might be. Unfortunately, it usually seems like the main manifestation of this is in the obsessive tweaking of processes and tools.

It's probably natural for UX designers of a certain experience level to engage in service design thinking. You eventually start to think about the holistic world rather than just the point where a customer touches a software interface. But then again, it could very well be that the obsessive desire to have the perfect experience yourself is the driver of that kind of thinking. It's a chicken and egg situation, but whichever came first with me, my point is this: I'm constantly editing my tool chain.

The answer may very well be in simplicity (more on that at another time), and it definitely lies in compromise. I'm just not sure there's a really perfect process. Transparent tools that don't make you think are pretty much the ideal for creatives — for instance, in a live situation, tools that keep you from touching the laptop trackpad. That's why I bought an Akai APC40 controller for Ableton on Craigslist, but of course I still have to open new files, and that's a source of inaccuracy and anxiety onstage. So I've been trying to crack that nut. The quest continues. And in the meantime, I use the hardware equivalent of a polyfill, something that a layman might call "a trackball on stage."

Same in the studio. My best purchase of the past year was not a plugin or piece of hardware but a set of $10 keyboard shortcut stickers for Pro Tools. It eased my learning and enabled me to work much faster, especially in the editing stage of a mix. The up-front setup (about an hour peeling and sticking these little nightmare labels), analogous to say, setting up a new project management software, made every subsequent day a little easier. Until I ruined the keyboard with a beer spill. Don't drink and mix, kids.

Same with design. I've been playing with Sketch and ended up buying it because of the insane speed it offered me in a few key areas after just a short learning curve. The paradigm shift is just different enough that it mirrors Ableton: a program that is indeed a DAW and has mixer sliders but requires a completely different thought process from the old-school Pro Tools/Cubase mentality. Sketch is definitely a design tool, but it's been honed and trimmed back to incorporate only the elements you need for the particular type of design you're doing; in this case, it's screen design. But... there are holes. It doesn't do bitmaps at all, I mean at all, even compared to Illustrator. so I lose the valuable hybrid "don't think about the vector/bitmap divide" approach of the otherwise-clunky Fireworks. Which means that again, my process is incomplete and I have to fill in the gaps with workarounds and additional tools.

So what's the answer? I don't think there is one. If I rewrote this post next year, I'd be talking about different tools but it'd look remarkably similar. At some point you have to settle for "good enough it's not in my way," but it's still worths striving for the zen happy place of "perfection."