The Root Problem with Halion UI: There is NO up or down here.

Halion’s UI is legendarily confusing. There can be dozens of ways to do any task, but you may take years to discover the ones, or the one, that works for you.

Let’s take some simple example, the very first thing you probably want to do with Halion or Halion Sonic: Browse your installed content.
The content is rich. I bought Halion 6 just a few weeks ago. My brain hasn’t recovered. There’s so much in here. But it’s hard to find.

The user interface was designed by someone who likes to have vast functionality that you need every day hidden behind tiny tiny buttons. You can open any panel you want, arrange any panels you want any way you like but the content inside those panels is tiny, nearly microscopic, in fact. It reminds me of that infamous website, Yvette’s Bridal, for how dense and un-navigable it is.

Let’s think within the subject of preset browsing, of the experience. You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike. Anyone remember that game from ancient Hacker Lore, the Colossal Cave Adventure, the mother of all text adventure games? Halion is like such a text adventure. Getting around in Halion is in fact, half the battle.

I love the pretty icons that you get if you manage to open the preset browser and manage to discover that you can click the current label showing the current content set, and get back to the pretty icons. Someone spent a long time making pretty icons for Raven, and Anima. They are even, unusually for the “we love tiny microscopic specks” UI designers, the icons are nice and big. And we click one, and boom, it’s GONE, and I can’t get back to that beautiful pictorial layout that would have helped me visualize the spacious caverns of content.

Imagine if, instead of going away, the media browser kept those icons around, maybe made them permanently visible as a series of thumbnails on the right side of the media browser. Imagine the friendly HOME icon, the one looking like a house, lived right above that. Imagine however deep in the crazy powerful amount of stuff the preset browsing experience permits, a big friendly home icon will always get me back home in halion’s browser experience. Imagine I could learn to develop spatial awareness (raven is always there in preset browser, near the bottom). Imagine not feeling lost at all times.

This may be over-emphasizing a single point (why did you make the pretty thumbnails go away? I like pretty thumbnails). But it’s not a single point. It’s a major UI fault.

Let me give a counter-example, something done very well: From Editing a zone there are nice vivid blue icons with black glyphs on them, to let me navigate quickly to the sections within the Zone, right beside where I set the zone type, there is a nice way to jump to that zone’s modulation matrix.

That set of nice big bright white-blue icons, is one of the NICEST parts of all of Halion.

The rest of Halion is the rule, the Zone setup page, is the only nice place in all of Halion’s UI I can see. Someone who understands human cognition and who understands spatial memory, had a hand in that page of Halion.

You are in a maze of twisty passages all alike.

There should be a clear or reset or go home button, in every page.

There should be large clear navigation toolbars in every non trivial page.

Figuring out how to go from a node in the program structure to the correct panel or sub-page to alter that node, is too hard.

There should be a way to discover what pages you don’t have open but which you need to open, to finish a task that is impossible when the required pages are not open. (Easier discovery than reading 500 pages of manuals, or watching 8+ hours of video)

Not to degrade your valid observations, as I recall feeling many of the same things when I started with H5 some years ago.
These are just tips that hopefully will be helpful.

Anytime you stumble upon a UI layout and workflow you like, save a snap shot of the screen set. A two click process…
Screen Sets

One can have as many ‘homes’ as he likes. Since we all have different preferences and sound design needs, as well as approaches in building sounds, well, my ‘home’ could be very different from yours. In my case, I often need to work with 5 and 6 channel samples for surround sound made in the DAW directly…I don’t use the built in sampler much, and I don’t mess much with the synth engines quite as often, etc. I also use 3 large screens, where others might only use a single small one. The next guy might mostly work with short mono samples, and plug those into wave tables or granular synths. Yet another might not actually care to author or edit sounds, and mostly be into simply auditioning and pulling up pre-made pianos and organs for stage performances, etc. Someone else might also be into building macros and packing libraries to share or sell, which can also involve third party text editors and graphic design tools. There is no one universal ‘home’ for any of these people to share. So…they give us the ability to build our own…as many as we like.

So…it’s kind of up to us to ‘make our own home depots, filling stations, rest areas, and destination hangers’.

Also, take advantage of the frame pop-out feature.

I.E. You can pop out a frame, then dice that ‘fresh window’ up into multiple frames with a set of tools you want together. Save a screen set and name it accordingly. Now you’re only a couple of clicks away from bringing this up at will, while preserving whatever main window workflow you prefer underneath.

As for the way the browser and all works, it is a little different, but it’s also a POWER USER setup. It’s extremely powerful and flexible. It’s also perfectly integrated with Cubase/Nuedno media browsers (Audition and load sounds without even having to open HALion itself). It takes a little getting used to, but there are wonderful reasons for the madness. The tagging, sorting, and management options for things HALion are pretty much unparalleled anywhere in the industry. While you might not take much advantage of it yet…in time it might prove pretty impressive, and actually turn out to be more intuitive when it comes to managing and navigating LARGE libraries of sounds.

Case in point…you can tag all sorts of characteristics about a sound. Later, this allows you to hunt and list things by name, instrument, rating, category, style, tempo, family, class, format, character, library, plugin, size, author, disk-location, and much much more. There’s not much out there in the sound design world that comes anywhere close to being as flexible and powerful. It’s a relational database at your fingertips, and YOU get to control it. Again, it’s tied perfectly into the same DB as Cubase and Nuendo, so it’s a one stop shop for people who choose to take advantage of this. I.E. Right from a Cubase track inspector, search for, audition, and load a sound into a track all ready to go. Save a track preset right there in Cubase for future projects if you like. Power, power, power, vroom…

In a similar way to the screen shots above, you can also build and save media browser filters to your hearts content. Example: Finding something in Garritan/ARIA requires all sorts of fiddling, clicking, scrolling and visual hunting. In HALion, I just build a filter to list all programs matching a set of fields (by now I have one saved already, so I just choose it). Boom! Every cello sound in the library is listed. Need to narrow it down? Boom, only the tutti cellos are listed! Still too many? Add a filter, BOOM! Only the ones from HSO are listed. Looking for a jazz drum loop sampled at 120bpm? A few clicks and that’s all I’m looking at (sounds with drum in the name, tagged as jazz, and tagged at 120bpm). Pretty good stuff…really.

Out of the box, tag based filters are already pretty darn good in my opinion. Like you, they gave me a headache at first. Now when I use other plugins and sound design software, I quickly start to miss these power user features offered in HALion. I can find and load things in a fraction of the time required by any other plugin of this massive of a scope that I have. Most of the others force me to manually go clicking about through pre-sorted lists or folders…on a library by library basis, and FORCE me to fill my hard drive and screen space with thumb-nails and stuff that frankly I don’t look at that much (I’m all for thumbnails if they are OPTIONAL, and we can control when/where/how they are displayed). So, I’d rather have a UI that is good enough that I don’t need so many visual cues to find things. With HALion I have the ‘option’ of restricting a search to a specific library, but I’m not ‘forced’ to browse browse browse to find and compare things. Ultimately, I want setups that translate into a DAW scenario where I punch in a few key combos and start playing/recording.

Excellent points. I definitely do need to learn my way around.