Thoughts on Ableton Live’s Flat UI Style

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With some of the skeuomorphic atrocities that we’ve seen in the past few years – think leather wallets with galaxies inside them – it seems as though a lot of designers are leaning more and more toward a flat, untextured style. The new Windows and Android styles are well known examples of this sort of flat UI, but there’s one piece of software I’ve been using for the better part of a decade now that also utilizes a flat UI style: Ableton Live.

Much like how rounded rectangles take less cognitive effort to visually process, I can’t help but think that lighting effects and depth cues would also help users understand interfaces more quickly. I don’t have any solid data to back this assumption, but from my own personal use, I still fumble around Ableton’s interface from time to time. The software is intended for professional DJs and musicians and is often used in dark nightclub settings, which explains the color scheme, but it still lacks a certain level of scannability and easy-to-hit targets. Using subtle lighting effects and depth cues, along with better visual hierarchy and gestalt, would help out tremendously.

Ableton recently announced a much-anticipated update, which has an impressive list of new features, but seeing screenshots of the updated UI has left me underwhelmed. The previous version of the software was starting to look tired and dated, but this newest update almost looks like a step in the wrong direction – and from what I’ve read, it’s apparently still going to be just as fuzzy and pixelated on my MacBook Pro’s Retina display.

In conjunction with their software update announcement, Ableton also updated their website. I commend them for the responsive layout, but the color scheme and the flat, hard-cornered buttons are easily missed, and it took me a few times looking at this page to tell that this was a carousel:

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Sure, heavy-handed leather textures and egregious lighting effects can look noticeably bad, but outright rejecting the use of stylized but realistic visual cues in your UI design is not the right approach.

  1. jxnblk posted this