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

Yes, the mockup was made in 20mins. I was only focused on that “blue region”.

Do you not have other things to focus on other than that “blue region”? I guess I’ve never considered it such a distraction. Everyone has his own little things, I guess …

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I often focus my attention on the topic of user interfaces because I teach the topic to students. I also try to inform others on the topic because UIs influence user behavior often in implicit ways unknown to them.

Oh yes, the “unknown” …

You’re disagreeing with me and so I’d like to know more about your perspective. Perhaps you can tell me more about the topic. I am interested in learning.

Ummm … no.

This isn’t the first topic about the Cubase UI. A rather unusual one, however. I’m sorry, I have nothing more to add. Carry on …

I was referring to your remark on “unknown”.

Oh yes, the “unknown” …

The ellipses at the end suggested you had a different opinion. I’d love to learn more about it.

For me, they have to get the basics in place before the luxury of changing the UI wholesale as you’re suggesting. 4k/HiDPI scaling for example, M1 Native etc. But appreciate that it’s something your passionate about, but vast majority are using key commands for majority of there workflow anyway.

Can’t even think of the last time I would’ve clicked a play button on-screen for example, or toggled record enable buttons and such like.

Furthermore, I feel that a lot of the elements that exist are delivered via code execution rather than being an easily adapted template or interface builder as such.

The fact that each window and element of the software needs to be manually worked on suggests that it’s not such a trivial task. You can see with each update how little tweaks are forming. The better work would to be arguably move to a style sheet style adoption that all elements get moved over to.

Dunno, perhaps it is like that, and they’re just choosing to vet each element. Either way, I just think that there’s so many other things to correct than worry about why a blue region appears in the info panel for a track. personally :slight_smile:

Cubase is for me the best sequencer but the UI is one of the biggest weak points. That’s why I agree with you on all points and have been wondering for a very long time why Steinberg doesn’t hire an external UI “expert” who actually knows something about it.


My thoughts on that:

  • Much like Microsoft, Steinberg maybe had engineers designing their software for a long time.
  • There likely are UI experts in the company but their role is limited
  • Someone inside of Steinberg is doing UI research and redesign but it may be a several year project before they release it.
  • Someone at Steinberg mistakenly thinks usability is less important than features.
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I had a similar reaction when I installed Cubase. I am a professional member of ACM SIG/CHI and UXPA (User Experience Professionals’ Association) in the US and I was appalled at Cubase’s UI - it violates every rule that you and I both learned as professional design engineers.

It’s a large, complex, and feature-rich product, which makes it all the more essential that it should have a clear, consistent, easy-to-understand UI. Even Cubase fans acknowledge it has a long learning curve, which they explain by its rich feature set. But that’s a bit of an excuse - it’s got a long learning curve because its UI is not well thought-out and integrated. The DAW world is very competitive and usability is a selling point with modern software, especially with younger users.

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How do we know this? What are some sources or studies/information about Cubase users and their workflow, applications and demographics?

it’s got a long learning curve because its UI is not well thought-out and integrated.

Thank goodness. Someone else understands. It’s evident that over the years Steinberg decided to prioritize features over usability. Someone there doesn’t realize that improved usability can do many things:

  • Reduce learning curve as you mention. This can attract more users
  • Improve existing features which can attract more users
  • Remain competitive if it’s perceived as the most usable DAW with seemingly complex features.

Thank you for responding to this thread.

UI doesn’t just apply to software - it also applies to documentation. They could make the User Manuall much more easy-to-use without changing a line a code. That would help a lot.

I’ve often found myself reading in the Manual about some dialog box with no idea how or where to invoke it. The content in the documentation needs more detail, more illustrations and more links within the documentation.

I post lots of questions but before each one I spend lots of time searching the manual. The problem is that if you don’t know what something is called you can’t look it up. Yesterday I posted a question about how to unlink two sections of the screen so I could resize them independently. The answer is probably in the Manual but I couldn’t find it. (Ironically, while searching, I found a way to do something similar in Nuendo, which I don’t own, but it didn’t apply to Cubase!)

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Very interesting thread. :+1:

Here are my two cents.

This product is very old which always leads to some legacy issues. Add to that the fact that the interface, like most older DAWs, follows established conventions and paradigms born out of old studio hardware. For better or for worse. It does have the benefit of coming with a set of predefined cognitive models. Better ones could probably be created if one would rethink it from the bottom up but they are adequately functional as models and users instinctively understand them. When people moved over from hardware a long time ago this was probably more important and now were kind of stuck with it.

The interface is in fact quite usable (as opposed to intuitive). The majority of users are experts so this is not really a big problem and learning is an accepted part of use. Compare with an airplane cockpit. It’s confusing to laymen but adequate for its intended users. The design requirements for a DAW are naturally quite different from those of more commonly used software like a browser or even a word processor.

It does mean lots of buttons and such are crammed into fairly small areas of screen estate with little white space. This is partly because the majority of space is needed for content editing (i.e arranger and editors). The cognitive load gets much higher if you used the space for the instrumental functions instead as you would force users to spend lots of time zooming or panning to get to the data they want to edit. So buttonry tends instead to be smallish and pushed to the outside frames. Compare for instance with Adobe After Effects or other professional content editing software. Same story.

The interface in Cubase is far from perfect but I find it pretty ok all things considered. Compare it with Studio One or Bitwig if you like. They’ve tried to create more modern and clean interfaces but I find everything there takes longer to do and I feel less in control. They are however more consistent and this is where I think Cubase has its biggest problems. Various modules differ slightly or a lot in functional paradigms. And some stuff seems just left behind (like the blue panel which I think is just something they forgot to convert to dark mode). This is to be expected from a piece of software that is both old and engineer/feature driven.

At the end of the day you need to decide what’s most important. One could certainly design a DAW with a much more effective interface but the question is how much sense it actually makes and if it really improves the product more than creating features that come with actual value.

In other words: is an intuitive interface with low cognitive load the defining success factor of a DAW? I would argue that it’s not. Far from.

Although it would of course be terribly nice to have. And it would probably increase creative output from users but only in a vacuum devoid of competitors. Unless you had lots of time and money it would lead to a product that is functionally inferior to the competition and it would suffer as such.

It took Presonus quite some time to get their product to have at least some feature parity with other DAWs. For the longest time people tried it, praised it and then went back to their old DAW until feature X, Y and Z would come in.

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I’ve used Cubase for years but must admit if I come to use the manual for a feature it is very poor. I either can’t find it or if I do it doesn’t explain where it is in the menus. Also no illustrations. The written manuals were so much better with pictures. I found in my last job when creating guides screen shots were by far the best method for people to understand.

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Oh 100%, but then most modern software I struggle with their manuals - the amount of times functions get renamed for vanity or to resell a feature can be really confusing when looking at old posts or versions of the manual when you search for help.

Also, I think SB’s use of terminology is very confusing. VST Track Controls and VST Quick Controls - both mappable to 8 parameters, both can apparently control the same thing, but they’re quite different.

Along that line further VST Quick controls are “Per instrument” and offer multiple pages for remote controllers - except you can’t swap page from the controller, you have to do it with a mouse on-screen. Not even a key command! :slight_smile:

Unfinished elements like that, the points raised above… It really is quite a mess, but unfortunately you learn to work around it because the feature set is pretty wide. Feels like so much needs to be fixed before the UI could be remedied, hence why I believe so many people devolve into using key commands for workflow.


I’ve only recently got my hands on Cubase and so the manual is new to me. I’ve admittedly been a bit surprised at how minimal it is. It feels like an old school manual to a piece of technology in the 90s. I remember that philosophy. You kept it simple. Minimal. Nothing else. It is surprising Cubase still does that.

For comparison, here’s what Studio One does.

I’m not sure if their early hardware cognitive models is much of an issue with Cubase. It’s certainly there and most DAWs still follow that except a few exceptions (Ableton). I do agree the model could be reinvented. Perhaps.

This certainly seems to be where Cubase is coming from and they have the right to do that. I’ve been using DAWs since 1997. I do consider myself an expert at this stage. Part of my concern is that I think Cubase tries to appeal to a broad audience and not only experienced users. With that in mind, the UI/UX is not designed to communicate to new users.

The value of a feature will be partly due to its usability (UI/UX). So they are interrelated. I would argue it’s an engineering perspective to assume they are separate. Once Cubase fixes their licensing, people will be able to download multiple DAWs, use their trials, and then decide which they prefer. If two DAWs offer similar features but one is more usable… then you can imagine the outcome. Especially when you consider that they only have 30 days to decide.

In another thread, somewhere, I mention that their feature driven approach may take them off a cliff. I once worked at a company that only focused on adding half-baked features in order to attract more users. It led them to a point with underused features with poor usability. They then had to struggle to fix old features, address the poor UI/UX, and ask themselves, “Is this financially viable?”

I agree with you that Cubase comes off as a product designed by engineers. I question if that’s actually in Steinberg’s best interest in the short and long term.

High usability is not automatically high value. Many different factors determine aggregate value of any given feature and usability can certainly be one. But there are many others: development cost ratios, innovation rate, cycle times and tech debt accumulation to name a few. Sometimes efforts to gain high usability, or more specifically ease of use, might actually detract from value.

Your example above with the DAWs is flawed. Of course the usable product would win out against the less usable given they have feature parity. But that’s just not how the design process works in the real world. And it’s certainly not that simple when you’re designing professional software as opposed to common software.

A much more likely scenario is that one DAW is more usable and less powerful and the other is clunkier but can do more things. And then it’s suddenly a different story.

I do agree with you that it would be beneficial if Steinberg did a major push to clean up and modernize their interface a bit so they don’t fall too much behind.

But, and here’s the rub, I don’t know their business intimately so that is purely an uniformed opinion on my part. There are probably a bunch of good reasons why they are where they are with their product. There always is.

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