What does that bright blue region mean in terms of UI?

I’m a newbie.

Within the inspector view there’s a bright blue shape that includes buttons. I’m trying to infer and create a mental model of what it’s communicating. For example I’m assuming this is a very important feature since it’s highlighted in that shape. However it seems to just be Mute, Solo, Read, and Write.

Is there something I’m missing? Why is it visually emphasized like that?

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Commonly used features of a mixer. Mute, solo, record enable, monitor and automation read/write


I’m not 100% sure, but probably because they are really basic functions that apply to almost any track.
Also it looks like the GUI from older cubase versions - maybe they just left it this way …


This is what Cubase (more precisely Cubase SX 1) looked like almost 20 years ago:


It’s super cool to see that old Cubase face again. I started using Cubase with the SX3 version, which looked like this. I had to work with both Mac & PC platforms; Cubase was the most interesting and powerful software to perform this task at the time, compatibility was assured.

For the nostalgic, it would be really cool to have the current Cubase with all of its features and be able to give it that old look occasionally by switching from one to the other depending on our mood.

Well, that’s enough for the reminiscences, Cubase 11.5 will be here soon and I can’t wait to see what it has to offer.

So it’s in the blue shape because it’s commonly used? Okay.

To be honest I am a UI designer. I also teach the subject at a university. I’m also a musician. I… have a lot of problems with Cubase’s UI and I’m hoping people can make sense of it. I fear a lot of answers to my questions may be, “It looks like the GUI from a long time ago”.

Cubase looks like a Frankenstein UI and it inhibits our ability to quickly detect patterns and develop mental models of what the UI is attempting to communicate.


@estevancarlos In principle, I agree with you, but I also understand Steinberg. Cubase has been around for several decades and many users have been using it for a very long time. Any fundamental change in the UI would in turn irritate some of the users (and possibly lead to protests) because they can no longer find important functions where they are used to.
The more complex a software is (and Cubase is very complex), the more difficult it is to make changes.
But maybe you have some easy-to-implement ideas on how to make the UI more user-friendly. Then it would be nice if you introduce them to the community, e.g. in the feature request area of this forum.


I plan on introducing ideas to the community yes. I know exactly what you’re referring to. I worked at a company some years ago that dealt with that same situation: changes led to revolt.

The fact is that there is a way to handle this. Most companies now slowly iterate over time–Facebook, Twitter. They create 5 year strategies where eventually the users slowly learn that this button is no longer one color, it’s now another color. Etc. In the case of Cubase, so are so many glaring issues that can be resolved… I’m a bit bitter and how expensive it is considering these details.

I feel like a weirdo whenever I discuss UI design with musicians because the response is often “I don’t care”. I won’t bore you with details but I will likely create a document with analysis and presentation of a “refreshed” Cubase interface that still includes critical elements of Cubase (we don’t want it to be confusing). Perhaps Steinberg will take it seriously.

For example I suspect that bright blue region doesn’t need as much emphasis as they’re giving it. I strongly suspect that they may even keep it there because they think it’s their brand.

However leaving those visual identity things in the UI can create a less intuitive interface. Additionally the shape itself is already identifiable. It doesn’t need a bright blue that harkens back to previous versions.

Here’s my mockup. The shape remains. The buttons remain but it’s now in a gray. Why gray? It’s a neutral color. Why is it neutral? We need Cubase to emphasis its color coding system. Notice how the track on the right has strong emphasis. Notice how the red record button has a lot of emphasis. There is less competition with so many colors and lines within this mockup. It still has a similar, related quality to the previous layout.


Thx, @estevancarlos
Personally, I would really like such a tidy UI!
But if you remember how Cubase looked a few years ago, you have to acknowledge that Steinberg is already on the right track. I think the current benchmark that Steinberg set himself is Dorico. Gradually, Cubase will be adapted in this direction. On the other hand, Steinberg has to ensure that the development work also generates profit, and that is much easier to do by offering new functions. The user does not like to pay for troubleshooting and optical clean-up work. That may change if Steinberg manages to offer a lucrative subscription model. But many users are also skeptical about this question …

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“The user does not like to pay for troubleshooting and optical clean-up work.”

That’s the problem. There’s always a misunderstanding the UI design is some arbitrary or aesthetic process. Cleaning up the UI can improve cognitive load. It can improve our ability to concentrate and intuit how to use functions and features.

But I realize that most software users don’t know this. Here’s an analogy:

Bob eats a quarter pounder from McDs every day. Shelly tells Bob that eating those every day is not good for his mind and body. Bob says, “Well, that’s your opinion.”

At this point in time, in 2021, we can all agree that eating like Bob would be unhealthy. However we don’t realize yet how complicated UI/UXs create friction and frustration. We basically just get used to it. It could be beneficial to Steinberg financially because it could also creating a smoother process for beginners and new adopters. It may attract people who don’t want to feel intimidated.

“remember how Cubase looked a few years ago, you have to acknowledge that Steinberg is already on the right track. I think the current benchmark that Steinberg set himself is Dorico. Gradually, Cubase will be adapted in this direction.”

I actually have ignored Cubase for years. I have no real idea how they used to look besides the late 90s when I paid attention to them. I haven’t looked at Dorico yet either. So that’s all good news. I’m happy to hear.


I’m used to how it looks and because of that I can work fast. I don’t want radical changes as it always takes time to re-learn


And this is always a challenge with UI updates to an interface. The truth is radical changes are often not necessary. Many modern companies have learned that incremental changes are better as it allows the users to learn over time.

Apple has done this well over the years with MacOS. Microsoft screws this up often with their OS updates.

Take a look at my example above. Even though it’s missing some details, do you think the changes to the “blue region” are radical? The primary change is that it’s no longer blue but is now a medium dark gray.

I was with you on almost every, single point you’d made … up until you attempted to counsel that a change to ‘yet more shades of grey’ would be a useful GUI change.

Yes, there needs to be more consistency in the use of shape and colour in Cubase’s interface, but simply removing some clear delineation (in order to promote overall consistency of design) appears a somewhat retrograde step, IMHO.

Perhaps I’m missing something and you were attempting to illustrate a different point?

I too have worked on GUI design (without any academic understanding, I hasten to add) and consistency of implementation across a system is critical to understanding, ergonomics and adoption; however, whilst I seldom used glaring contrasts (save for areas of design where their use is necessitated - warnings, critical functions, et al) ‘colour-coding’ and aesthetic consistency really does help and the clever, subtle use of colour and consistency of shape, coupled to optimum position on screen real estate, really can aid workflow.

In my ignorance - and I’m sure that’s what it will be - I fail to see how more grey achieves any fundamental improvement…

Anyways, thanks for stimulating some much-needed discussion on this.


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There are a number of details I’m skipping and my previous post may not be clear.

“We need Cubase to emphasize its color coding system.”

The important word there is emphasis and hopefully that doesn’t imply “consistency” which is not a word I used. When we create color system it should first be for the purpose of visual hierarchy. Another word I used is “neutral”. When creating a color system some colors should be neutral. This will allow important colors to stand out.

In other words I am not proposing that the shape be gray because it needs to be consistent. I’m proposing it COULD be gray because it isn’t hierarchically important enough to be a bright blue.

Now that’s speculation on my part. In a design studio setting we would need to do research and testing.

Let’s say it turns out that the shape with its buttons is extremely important. Then we would need to look at our color system in order to decide which tone, shade, and hue is necessary to convey its hierarchical importance. Should be white (high contrast)? Should it be red? Should be a brighter gray with a blue hue? A research and testing process would find that out.

I’m guessing that the region is of modest importance hierarchically. Maybe a brighter gray with a blue hue would be more appropriate. Unclear at the moment. That’s the thinking behind this process.

Thanks for the clarification - that makes more sense.

However, I believe what is more fundamental here is that the Cubase GUI becomes more ‘adaptive’ in nature, stripping away all those elements that are all-but-unnecessary from any particular screen, leaving the most important elements visible, with other elements relegated in one form or another, to sub-screens, pop-ups/pop-unders, temporary floating windows, whatever. However, their implementation requires a consistent implementation.

Steinberg have always been slightly guilty of simply trying to ‘cram too much in’ … and now, more than ever, their GUI’s need to become more reflective of what’s required at any moment in time.

This better use of screen real estate, coupled to your colour schemas and hierarchy will all aid this.

PS And, I used the word “consistency” … which, in my experience, IS critical to the fast adoption and improved workflow of any software.

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Yeah, to a large extent I’m focusing my conversation on UI and not UX which may include more of your adaptive concerns. I have fewer opinions on that because I need to use the software more and would need more research. However it’s definitely the way to handle modern GUIs.

Their use of the inspector panel is great. Adobe has only recently started putting that in their applications over the past several years.

Regarding the idea of “consistency”. I think my position is that visual consistency is product of hierarchy. Eventually we realize many components are somewhere in the middle of importance. This means they can be a similar color. But yes, that consistency can make things easier to process.

Disclaimer: I’m not a designer, nor do I play one on TV. But I’ve been through every generation of computer UI since the 80s as an intense user.

I’m generally more a fan of flat design vs skeuomorphic design, mostly because it allows for more efficient use of a given number of pixels.

But flat design does miss out on some emotional connection potential for users transitioning from a 3D environment like music hardware. This is still a thing for guitar players only now starting to get into software. A stompbox UI metaphor creates an emotional connection for anyone who’s in the process of abandoning their cherished pedalboard in favour of a DAW environment. And a recreated a Jupiter 8 or MemoryMoog visual holds much emotional appeal for many hardware synth enthusiasts. And many a grizzled studio cat, who is migrating from racks filled with audio processing gear feels emotionally connected to the visuals of the trademark knobs, sliders, buttons and switches they’ve been twiddling for decades.

I’m definitely not enthusiastic about overly low contrast designs. Even more so when working on a 4K screen in non-retina mode (in my case a 40" TV on my desk). Different areas of the large screen looking differently is a feature for me, not a bug. – It’s also an inclusivity/accessibility issue, since not everyone sees colors with the same degree of vividness. Of course, colour schemes can also be too visually noisy.

And I think one of the problems is that what’s visually too noisy vs. what’s too low contrast attracts widely different visual perceptions and resulting opinions. From color vision deficiency to tetrachromacy, we see things quite differently.

So for my particular (obviously highly subjective) sensibilities, your UI mockup example is too low contrast / too few colours, while the current Cubase 11 light blue area is maybe a little bit too high contrast. But I definitely like the contrasting black bands as obvious cues, that those areas are for user input .

The other thing I really appreciate in a UI, is when I can immediately tell sub-consciously even without reading any labels and preferably even without directly staring at the screen, which potential sub -window (or UI mode) I’m in. – That in turn means I don’t want a consistent look between different modes/windows.

Obviously UI skinning would be a great thing for Cubase, but I have no idea how realistic that is given so much of the code is quite old and there are probably quite a few entirely different generations of code in Cubase.

One last comment - I’m not sure, if the version of Cubase you’re currently looking at is even giving you the complete visual picture. Cubase Pro has quite a bit more functionality than the other versions.

For example, the left Inspector area for Cubase Pro is a rather complex beast in my configuration with two tabs at the top and two more at the bottom.

The problem with this mockup is that it’s clean and simple because it’s removed most of Cubase’s functionality…