[Opinion] 3.5 UI and clutter

(My post will consist of two parts, which are marked: preamble and criticism. Feel free to jump to the latter :wink: )

Dear team,

first of all thank you for your work!
Dorico 3.5, on the short amount of time I was able to test it, looks and feels amazing.
Not only have their been new features, but a lot of bug fixes and requests by the community. I at least felt a little proud to have contributed in some small way and I think a lot of us might think similarly.

My post now doesn’t want to take anything away from that - but rather be a friendly warning/opinion and share of thoughts. (As I heard, these are valued by the developers).

I am a Tonmeister and composer, both mainly in classical music, with adventures to other fields too.
As the latter, I used Sibelius prior to Dorico, but was never happy with it.
Switching to Dorico was the best decision in this field for me, and I hope my expression of gratitude in this forum elsewhere as well as my attempts to contribute here and on Facebook in my limited capabilities will underline not only this statement but also the friendly sentiment of this post.
My following criticism will therefore not be a “why doesn’t it work the Sibelius-way”, as some recently released videos on YouTube already covered that. :wink:

No, my criticism relies on my first profession.
As a Tonmeister I use many different “industry standard” software, such as Sequoia and Pyramix (mainly), but also ProTools and Logic.
I know therefore powerful audio software, which was developed over years and has features added incrementally.
From this perspective, the above mentioned software differ IMMENSELY in how they remain an overall thought through experience.
As I am rather young compared to the (assumed) average age on his forum, so my first contact with these programs were in more developed stages of them.
I had to learn them (and still do to some extent) and their capabilities quickly. Good UI and structure was crucial. Of course not everyone delivered. This experience, learning fully fleshed, industry standard softwares(!) is what I base my critique on.

But since this is a Steinberg forum, I will use the software I never really got warm with to explain my criticism.

Of course I tried Cubase. But I never really was hooked by it. Of course, it is powerful.
But I actually just yesterday gave home recording tutoring, where my student was using cubase. And again, I encountered the same issues.
This post is not about cubase, but let me briefly explain:
The GUI is overloading, one can access the same settings in many different ways. Some of them are in my opinion wrongly categorized. I just lose orientation, and I know my digital signal processing facts and lingo.
All in all, I felt cubase was overloaded with Junk (new features) that sometimes rather got jammed in instead of carefully implemented.
(No, I don’t need help with Cubase, I’ll find myself around :wink: )
Some of the features of dorico 3.5 got me thinking similarly:

  • the new properties options are a lot of new small buttons placed at the properties panel. It felt really “cubasish” but I cannot tell exactly why yet. Definitely not the cool Dorico way (correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me they are the smallest button in dorico with text yet?)
  • The Transposition of layouts is in some context menu, instead of directly clickable in setup mode. Why is it not in the layout options, by the way? Wouldn’t that make sense?
  • System breaks carry a lot: staff size changes and now even hiding staffs. Again, this seems a little jammed in to me.
  • Graphic slices: shouldn’t they be in print mode? I understand: one can draw frames in engrave mode but… the essential semantic is to export graphics - which has nothing to do with engraving, following doricos logic.

These are all not big issues per se honestly. But add these things up until Dorico 10.0 and you have a problem.

Apple solved this with final cut and logic quite drastically: basically programming it from scratch. I welcomed this decision, but back then I was far from being a power user. But there are also always new users to be kept in mind, and the wide spread use of these programs still speak in favor of this decision.

On thing I liked about Dorico 1, 2 and 3 was something that surprised me in the same time: it was - as cubase - a Steinberg product, but so much cleaner, neater, more thought through. I LOVED the design choices and the smartness, such as popovers.
It looked modern, simple, yet so powerful.
The graphics in the Options were so helpful! (Also I feel these are getting rarer with new dialogues being added)
Comparing that to my old notation software foe — I had found a friend in dorico.

This is a post, which is calling for looking again for the long run.
Implementing features and fixes in the speed the team does is astonishing, but might result in losing the oversight a little.
The dorico team has proven in the past that it’s capable of doing so, and I hope this will remain.

Thank you very much for reading and have a good day. Also be proud of yourselves, you accomplished a lot!

I have not yet upgraded to 3.5, though the addition of figured bass means that I shall do so. But the increase in complexity of the GUI was the main thing that struck me when watching the video presentaion yesterday. It strikes me that some of the complications are caused by the provision of ways of changing the defaults. The method shown for creating parts in different transpositions is one of these. It seems to me that the aim of being able to select in one click an instrument with its clef and transposition already defined by Dorico goes too far, to the extent that customising these definitions is not possible. If the user were able to add an instrument, choose its name (in any language), transposition, clef and synthesizing sound (with different nad multiple options for parts and score), etc, this would be useful. Yes, it would mean that each instrument would take more time to create but, if the user could save it as a template, in the long run it would not be onerous. I would not argue for the exclusion of pre-defined templates, and most of us use only a small subset of the total number of available instruments anyway. Too much hand holding and prescription of what is “good practice” can be counter-productive.

Being another Tonmeister, I wonder whether these opinions are nativer to us! :slight_smile:


I think we might be used to workflows which may be extensive and time-consuming - but at least streamlined (such as signal paths :wink: )

I also actually wanted to add, that of course 3.5 brings some features to work against it, like the search feature in options and properties, or the rearrangement of the icons in write mode to the left. This is exactly why I am so faithful in the developers of Dorico, and hope this kind of post will be heard, too.

I can’t speak for the development team, but I may be a little ahead of you on Graphic Slices, klafkid (full disclosure: I wrote that section of the ScoringNotes review).

The Print Preview in Print mode is not interactive.
It retains the “page range” setting from session to session, meaning that when you switch to Print mode the page you’ve just been working on in Write/Engrave may not immediately be available.
The paper size of the print preview may not match the page size you’re actually working at, given the preview is dependent on paper sizes compatible with whichever physical printer is attached to your computer (or via a network). Furthermore, a substantial part of Print mode is an off-the-shelf Qt widget that the Dorico development team can’t much alter.
Unless the Dorico team rebuild Print mode from the ground up, not much is going to change there. Taking the time to rebuild Print mode from scratch would slow development down in other areas.

If I want a Graphic Slice I want it now. As things stand, I have one shortcut to switch from whatever mode I’m in to the Graphic Slices submode of Engrave mode, but I still have to manually click on the “Create Slice” button. Dorico 3.5 always seems to leave the correct section of the correct page on screen, which is great.

This is vastly quicker than my previous method (that I sometimes used hundreds of times weekly), which was
Note which page I was working on in Write/Engrave
Switch to Print mode
Set Page Range
Cmd-Tab to Acrobat
Open PDF
Save (and rename)

I’m not suggesting that Print mode is a bad place for Graphic Slices in theory, just that without entirely rebuilding Print mode, it’s not useful for this functionality. In the meantime, Engrave mode feels like a fairly sensible place for it to be.

Thanks Leo,

your insights are really astonishing as so often. I didn’t know this (and I think most users don’t). I was really mainly targeting the stringency of the different modes here. Off the top of my head, I would think about different modes in Print-Mode, similar to engrave modes drag, frame, and spacing modes. But you described it seems hard to implement. (Not so say I wouldn’t wish for a more interactive print mode, too :wink: )
Also of course, all my critique is coming from a high horse: often, I do not even provide a better solution. I really am aware of that.

We think very carefully about where new features should go in the user interface, and have a strong set of principles that we use to determine where things go. We carefully designed Dorico at the outset to provide a framework that would allow future expansion without making the application overwhelmingly complicated.

The sum total of significant new user interface elements added to Write mode in this version is three: a new button in the notes toolbox on the left, a new button in the notations toolbox on the right, and the search bar on the Properties panel. In Engrave mode, it is a single button in the toolbox. In Setup, Play and Print modes there are no significant new user interface elements. Despite this, the program has gained dozens of powerful new features. Now, of course, there is an argument to be made that the average user looking at the software for the first time will not know about all of those new features, but that’s OK: very few, if any, of the new features added in Dorico 3.5 are crucial to the early steps of becoming familiar with the software, and so it’s actually a positive that they are not presented with every feature at once.

The aim is always for consistency, so that a user may build a mental model of how the application works, and then learn where they should expect to find certain things. I agree that the graphic slices feature would more naturally fit in Print mode, but unfortunately sometimes pragmatism has to win out over ideological purity, and since all of the infrastructure that is required for working with frames existed in Engrave mode, and not only did none of the infrastructure for frames exist in Print mode, but it would actually require a complete reimplementation of Print mode (that in any case may not have been successful, since the entire point of Print mode is to show you a real print preview, something which Dorico cannot itself produce, instead relying on the application framework that is responsible for printing to show what will actually be printed), which is not a good trade-off in terms of the ideological gain versus the time expended.

In the case of the Clef and Transposition Overrides dialog, we could indeed have added this to Layout Options, but we chose not to do that because it seemed particularly appropriate only for individual layouts, rather than for multiple layouts. The Layout Options dialog is the one of the five multi-page options dialogs that we are least satisfied with in terms of its natural organisation, and we often talk about how we might improve this in future versions.

I do not claim that Dorico’s user interface is perfect; far from it. But it is carefully considered, and balances the philosophy of the application’s design that we in the team have collectively developed over the past eight years against the practicalites of actually building functional software. (Not to mention our many years of experience working on another major application in the same domain prior to starting work on Dorico.)

We are always open to constructive criticism and feedback. But I would also hope that we have shown through the evolution of the software since its public release in 2016 that we can be trusted with expanding its capabilities in a thoughtful, careful and consistent fashion.

I hope you understood my post as constructive and open, and not crossing boundaries. I am very thankful for your open and honest reply.
The principles of Dorico is what I liked so much when opening the program for the first time, as I mentioned. You confirming your (and the team’s) your onholding dedication to these is more than calming.

Please again, understand my criticism as the most productive and friendly as you can. I know it may come over harsh after such a big release, but far from it was my intention.

EDIT: Funnily, I like the Layout-Options the most. (and also use it the most). It provides me with the most significant things I want to change first hand on a score/part, when my goal is creating quick good looking results for musicians.

The day after a major release is not the ideal time to ask the developers of the software to engage in detailed rumination on their design philosophy, as you might imagine, but I will always try to answer to the fullest extent possible given my available bandwidth, time, and brainpower. However, if you would like to discuss this with me or other members of the team, there are better times than within 24 hours of a major release. Thanks for considering!

Noted. I apologize for my insensitiveness in this area.

No apology necessary!

Since the term Tonmeister has come up here, a term I am unfamiliar with, I want to ask its meaning.
Google Translate translates the term as “mixer.” Would that suggest the word is related to producing, mixing, engineering recordings?

Wikipedia has a decent article on the concept.

I might add that the Wikipedia article linked by Daniel has a quite British point of view on the subject in the Details, but conveys the general idea. (Being a highly musically trained sound engineer, basically.)

More modern terms are Music Producer or Music Director in some cases. It’s always hard to translate because in German speaking countries it is such an established profession with such a particular specialization, that actually other countries just started adapting this term.

Thank you both.