Andrew Stone Responds

May 31st, 2006

I had an off-line chat with Andrew Stone, to see what his reaction was to my recent entry about the design of Videator. He agreed to let me publish his response here as a counterpoint to my pretty strong criticism. He makes some good points and at the end of the day, he’s right: it’s best to download and try it out for yourself.

Thanks, Andrew!


Thank you for all the attention you have lavished on Videator.

I would ask you to consider people’s motivations in dissing both the application and me personally so vehemently. Why was such an emotional response generated by this new application? Should I be flattered that my work is not being ignored? Do I win points for touching raw nerves? ;-)

Working with the metaphor, batshit is an extremely rich source of nitrogen prized by gardeners. My software and the ideas contained therein is organic fertilizer for the software world. And in Jazz lingo, no higher complement than ‘crazy’.

I’m one of the last truly independent developers who has scratched out a living for 18 years innovating ideas which quickly get re-used and popularized by larger, better-funded software houses. I rely on good word-of-mouth to continue to get sales, so of course, getting such negative publicity is painful for more than just the ego.

When a new application comes along that does things that no other application has done before, of course there are going to be complaints about the way we decided to implement it! You have some valid design points of course, I am not attempting to deny that. However the emphasis on the exterior drowns out all the core brilliance of what the application can actually do.

It’s as though no one actually used the application but simply decided to trash it from the screenshots or their personal distaste for my independent status. The power of Videator is that it’s not a “limited choices – canned settings – just click here” kind of app Mac users have become so comfortable with. Those types of applications are easy to apply the design guidelines you mention.

Alas, Videator is breaking new ground and is perhaps outside the comfort zone of the armchair critic. Providing a set of tools to do almost unlimited manipulation of video, Videator takes on a very complex domain. Could the UI be tweaked to better? Certainly.

BTW – for people who don’t like polished metal, there is a switch in Preferences to get Aqua windows…

Why not focus on what’s cool and innovative about the application? I encourage people to download and try it for themselves – it’s free for 2 weeks and then just $49 and free upgrades for life – where new and better UI’s will no doubt emerge, it’s still a deal.

Download it now – or learn more at:http://videator.com

24 Responses to “Andrew Stone Responds”

  1. Rob Winchester Says:

    Independent of the actual debate, I give Andrew a LOT of credit for a mature and even humorous response to a strong attack and a lot of piling on…

  2. Andy Lee Says:

    Thanks, Daniel, for continuing the civil exchange of ideas.

    Why not focus on what’s cool and innovative about the application?

    I would turn that around and ask Andrew, “Why distract needlessly from what’s cool and innovative about the application?” — by which I mean its feature set. A great feature set deserves elegant user interaction design, and the Videator UI contains all kinds of misalignments, HIG aberrations, inconsistencies, and violations of the principle of least surprise.

    The funny thing is, although I never met Andrew, I had the impression back in the NeXT days that he was something of a perfectionist, so I would have thought the distracting little widget misalignments would bug the heck out of him.

    It would be neat if a few talented UI designers would rework the design and submit entries to some kind of contest or showcase.

    To take that a step further, and a little off-topic, I would love it if someone with Andrew’s skills would create an app that was perfect for mocking up UI designs. “GUIator”? What would be a great tool for exploring design ideas for an app like Videator? Recently on Brent Simmons’s blog, there was a call for suggestions from people who would like to see Greg Landweber revive Greg’s Browser; what would be a great tool for hashing out UI design details for such an app?

    I think there’s a whole genre of multimedia document — the UI mockup — that is begging to be explored. I’d love to be able to say, “Imagine if the following app existed…” and have people comment. And I’d love to be able to see other people’s ideas for their dream app. The movie “Minority Report” did this; it implicitly said, “Imagine if you had this UI that was the ultimate in direct manipulation.” And long before the movie, Apple had that video about the computer of the future — I forget what it was called.

    Anyway, sorry for blathering again… I swear, once I get started… I promise one comment won’t become four in a row like I did in your earlier post.

    Oh, and one more thing — Andrew should collect great videos created by Videator users and showcase them on his site. Or maybe have, say, three canonical example videos that really show off what you can do. That would say a lot about the usability of the product as well as its usefulness as a tool for creativity and communication.

  3. Jon Hendry Says:

    “The funny thing is, although I never met Andrew, I had the impression back in the NeXT days that he was something of a perfectionist, so I would have thought the distracting little widget misalignments would bug the heck out of him.”

    I think he had a staff back then. I’m not sure he has one now.

  4. Jon Hendry Says:

    “I would love it if someone with Andrew’s skills would create an app that was perfect for mocking up UI designs. ”

    I imagine that could be done with Interface Builder itself, if there was a set of palletized objects which were designed for that purpose, which could be used in place of the normal widgets.

  5. Andy Lee Says:

    Rob, I share your appreciation for the fact that Andrew took the criticism with good humor and a thick skin. I must say, though, statements like these can contribute to an image of nuttiness:

    emphasis on the exterior drowns out all the core brilliance of what the application can actually do.

    It’s as though no one actually used the application but simply decided to trash it from the screenshots or their personal distaste for my independent status.

    It’s *possible* Andrew is a misunderstood genius and I just don’t “get” the brilliance of his UI. But I’m pretty sure my intent was not to persecute him out of hatred for independent developers. And I did try the app before forming an opinion.

    If there are people out there who think the UI is brilliant once you get to know it, I hope they chime in.

  6. Ashley Clark Says:

    Andy, I don’t think he’s claiming that his UI is necessarily brilliant. It seems that he’s stating that the UI may be rough but what the application allows the user to do is brilliant.

    It’s *possible* Andrew is a misunderstood genius and I just don’t “get” the brilliance of his UI.

  7. Andy Lee Says:

    Ashley,

    Yeah, on closer reading, I think you’re right. When it’s put that way, I’m a little closer to agreeing with him. But wanting partial credit seems like a pretty low standard for someone like Andrew to set for himself. I hope he gets more constructive criticism and fewer ad hominem rants, and I hope he can at least see where the complaints are coming from, even if he doesn’t always agree with them.

    Recently there was a reality show called “Top Chef” in which ten chefs competed in various challenges and were judged by various big shots in the cooking world. In the final round, when it was down two people, one of the judges asked each of them what their philosophy of cooking was — whether it was to cook for themselves or to cook for the customer. One contestant, Harold, said he tries ideally to cover both bases. The other, Tiffani, said she aims to satisfy her own tastes and opinions. I suppose you could argue either way, but I bet the two philosophies have different consequences in terms of how customers feel.

    So, is Andrew Stone a Harold or a Tiffani?

  8. Julian Grey Says:

    Hmm,

    thanks Daniel for posting this follow up.

    Andrew Stone comes across as a smart, humble and honest person.

    Clearly, personal criticisms of him were out of the question before and something I did not pay attention to, nevertheless its good to hear the other side in its original form.

    It seems to me that Stone is very excited about the capabilities of the software code, and the UI is simply there so that you have any GUI to access code functions. The user is left to deal with videator’s un-intuitive, non-uniform UI and what andrew seems to be saying is, once you learn to use videator, the way it is, the applications innovative functionality will outweigh any aesthetic, intuitive, or consistency issues you may have.

    Obviously you will have to try it and if it does not work for you, you can trash it.

    In my opinion, he deserves all the respect for getting products out of the door. His offer of lifetime upgrades are a clear indication that things could better than what they are now.

    Unlike many who die with their ideas never seeing the light of day, because the presentation of those ideas was never as perfect as the idea itself, here we have someone whose ideas flow freely into the user and developer community where they are free to live out their course and affect the world. There is something very positive about that.

    That being said… so who is gonna set up the contest for the UI design >.>;

  9. Chucky Says:

    “And I did try the app before forming an opinion.”

    Perhaps you did, and if so, good for you. Personally, I haven’t downloaded Videator since I recently gave away my DV camera.

    But this whole controversy came about from a John C. Welch doing a “review” of the app solely from viewing a screenshot, rather than downloading it and trying it out from a functionality perspective.

    —–

    And to me, that’s the real underlying point here. Functionality is more important than pretty screenshots.

    Most of the apps I value have very simple and clean interfaces. This normally helps increase their functionality. For example, I prefer NewsFire to NetNewsWire despite its fewer features due to its cleaner interface. But that’s not something I could discover via a screenshot.

    There are also some apps I value that have lousy and cluttered interfaces. I use DevonThink despite its lousy interface. I use PhotoGrid for iPhoto-type purposes, despite its lousy interface.

    I value and use these apps because they have functionality I can’t find anyplace else. This is also something I couldn’t discover via a screenshot.

    If I had an interest in playing with live video and manipulating it in a non-professional setting, I think I’d be running to download Videator, and I think I’d probably highly value the app despite any interface failings. It seems to contain functionality that no one else is bringing to market. Criticize the interface all you want, but don’t forget why people use software in the first place.

  10. Mr Rant Says:

    [A.S]: “When a new application comes along that does things that no other application has done before […]”

    Before what? Before WWDC 2005? Before Motion? Before AfterEffect?

    It’s not because you’re releasing an application for the home user that it’s necessary the first one of its kind.

    [A.S]: “Why not focus on what’s cool and innovative about the application?”

    Because unless you can endure strange workflow in a very improbable UI, you’re not going to see the beginning of it?

    —————-

    Andrew needs to understand that in the Apple world, the UI is 80% of the product. You can have a poor engine. If you have a nice car design, it’s going to get positive comments or review. Pimping a car is usually not a good idea if you’re planning to sell it to the broadest possible market.

    o Aperture 1.0 didn’t import RAW correctly. Who cared during the first demos? The UI is great.

    o iWeb produces fat websites. Who cares for the review? The UI is good.

    o Keynote 1.0 could ruin a presentation because of bugs. Who cared for the reviews? The UI is great.

  11. Chucky Says:

    “iWeb produces fat websites. Who cares for the review? The UI is good.”

    I care. It doesn’t do what I want.

    Functionality is important.

    “Before Motion? Before AfterEffect?”

    Some folks (lots, actually) care about price and steepness of learning curves. If I’m doing video for fun, I don’t want Motion or AE.

    “You can have a poor engine. If you have a nice car design, it’s going to get positive comments or review.”

    You ought to try reading a car magazine before you rant, mister. Lots of folks seem to care about engines.

  12. Julian Grey Says:

    @ Mr Rant “Andrew needs to understand that in the Apple world, the UI is 80% of the product.”

    This is incorrect. In the Apple world what is prized, are things that “just work.”

    Mac users do prefer elegant interfaces, but I have never met anyone, PC or MAC who has chosen and stuck with any given application based on the way it looked rather than what it did. This argument is logically flawed at its very premise.

    We get it, that you would like to see it prettier, but to argue that this UI revamp is an absolute necessity, has no basis other than it should conform to YOUR idea of what is right and that is kinda shortsighted and solipsistic.

    Like Andrew said: try it, if you don’t like it move on.

    Of course, you could always try your hand at re-designing it and submitting it to Andrew.

  13. Greg Says:

    You ought to try reading a car magazine before you rant, mister. Lots of folks seem to care about engines.

    So who would care if a V12 Ferrari engine was in this car?

    http://www.funnypart.com/funny_pictures/shitbox.shtml

    I certainly wouldn’t.

  14. Andy Lee Says:

    People who sneer at “pretty screenshots” sometimes confuse prettiness with usability, which are two very different aspects of “design.”

    Usability has to do with how a person interacts with a program to get things done. Will the operations I want to perform feel natural and efficient — even pleasurable? Or will they seem needlessly arcane — even stupidly so? People who appreciate tools tend to appreciate well designed tools, tools that are a joy to use. This kind of design is called interaction design, a term which is a bit more precise than “user interface.”

    What I would call “prettiness” has to do with aesthetic appeal — tone, style, and image. Do the colors go together? Are the icons consistent in style? What metaphors and memories do you want to evoke in the user’s mind? I believe this stuff generally falls in the realm of graphic design, not interaction design. It’s the way an app markets itself, not how it does its job functionally.

    Both interaction design and graphic design have their place, and there is some overlap. But let’s be clear, a complaint about poor usability has nothing to do with a “pretty screenshot.”

  15. Darian Says:

    So who would care if a V12 Ferrari engine was in this car?If that car had a working V12 Ferrari engine and the car drove, I imagine the price would make it a bargain – so I think there’d be a market for that. Obviously you wouldn’t be in it.Belive it or not, aesthetics isn’t everything for everyone.

  16. leeg Says:

    Andy Lee:

    To take that a step further, and a little off-topic, I would love it if someone with Andrew’s skills would create an app that was perfect for mocking up UI designs.

    Build your mock UI in IB, then hit Cmd-R ;-)

  17. Marc Driftmeyer Says:

    Anyone who has personal angst against this gentle, caring, ethical old soul has about as much character as a piece of dung drying on the backside of a camel. He is one of the most sound and talented developers in the Cocoa Community. He is also still the most cordial person I ever had the opportunity to support while working for NeXT and Apple. He’s a true friend and one I still have to visit down in NM. Katie and Andrew are extremely rare..

  18. Mr Rant Says:

    1. I don’t see why people feel the need to testify that Andrew is a nice guy. The problem is not Andrew. It’s the lack of a nice UI in his software. It’s not because someone stupidly criticized Andrew as a person that it means that the UI of his software suffered from an unfair trial too.

    2. Usability vs prettiness: Those can be different sure. vi usability is great once you know how to use it (after how many days?) Respect of UI standards (workflow, layout) not only provides you with a minimum usability but it also allows the user to understand how your software is working without having to read the manual.

    3. When usability and prettiness are missing:

    * Effects popup menu in Videator:

    The labels are mostly meaningless
    The huge icons along with the labels don’t help the user understand what the effects are doing (too small previews)
    The Icon of the pull-down menu is completely meaningless.

    * Search field on the left by default when it’s on the right by default in most software

    * Remove button:

    The icon is so complex that you don’t see the standard delete icon among the gears

    * Picture format control thing in the toolbar:

    Standard user will wonder what this tool does (Video vs Picture) and changing the value in this strangely designed control does not give a hint about the goal of this object.

    * Isn’t it Mr. UI at Apple who said putting the Preferences icon in the toolbar of an application is useless.

    * Pref panes:

    If I forget that most of the items goal is eluding me, you can quickly note that the General item is in the middle of the NSTabView when it should be the first one.

    BTW, the Aqua vs Metal texture is not working if you switch to Aqua. You probably need to relaunch the application but it’s not explained to the user.

    * Left colum:

    Meaningless labels for the items in the NSTabView

    Different types of items in the list: Actions and tools.

    If you select an effect and then another one in the list, both are added whereas the logic behavior would be to replace the first one with the second. Clearly a Add button is missing

    While you understand that the first checkbox in the upper left corner of an effect indicates whether it is enabled or not. Can someone swear that he understands what the second checkbox purpose is (Noise rerduction filter for instance)?

    The use of a horizontal tableview (the kid icon with a preview of the effect) is strange:

    You don’t have any relationship between this horizontal list and the vertical one.
    It’s not a timeline thing even though it would tend to make you believe it
    It would have been more clever to remove this useless list and put the icon preview in the vertical list.

    The Undo manager support could be seen as cool if it was not sometimes freezing the application for a while.

    The cross icon in the Search Field is not working.

    Timeline controls for the effects: One just doesn’t understand what what it do.

    Do I need to mention the complete inconsistency of the UI which uses Brushed Metal buttons with Aqua ones. I think the Options dialog of the “Disintegrate with Mask” task/effect sums it up.

    I could spend two days listing all the UI and usability issues within this software. Would I have to review this software, I would give it 2 out of 10. The UI sucks, the usability sucks. I don’t have any fun using this software because of that (YMMW). Yet this could become a nice application if a LOT of time was spent on the UI and usability.

  19. Mr Rant Says:

    “Can someone swear that he understands what the second checkbox purpose is (Noise rerduction filter for instance)?”

    I need to clarify this one. Add: “without looking at the Manual or Tooltip)” at the end of the sentence.

  20. Andrew Stone Says:

    And, taking Daniel’s thoughtful UI criticisms to heart, I’ve just posted a new version of Videator which addresses many of his issues. Download it here. Of course, you can’t please everyone – that’s a Sisyphusian effort!

    If one doesn’t like the arrangement of tools in the tool bar, click the standard customize button and stick the search field whereever you want it. The next new window you create will be Aqua or Metal, according to your preference.

    When people get so vitriolic, I always wonder two things:
    what motivates them to only percieve what they don’t like?
    what awesome software and innovative ideas have they brought to the Mac?

  21. Bob from Texas Says:

    Andrew Stone builds great software. The interface is rough on this one, but the functionality is very cool. What is does that Motion, etc. don’t do is rob my bank account.

  22. Julian Grey Says:

    /cheer Andrew Stone ~ ^^;

  23. Bob from Texas Says:

    Hate to post twice, but after switching to the aqua interface, a lot of badness of the gui sort of vanished. It’s really pretty easy to use and fairly intuitive if you understand the effects. And, while it would be nice, documenting all of the details of the effects is not necessarily the developer’s job. As an artist, even a home artist, you learn this by doing. Oh, and fixing a typo, I meant to say: “What it does that Motion, etc. don’t do is *not* rob my bank account.” Sorry for the mistake. This is a really good app at a terrific price.

  24. Boulder Geek Says:

    All I can say is, I vividly remember the stunning and ultra-creative Stone Design parties at NeXT Expo ’93 and ’94. I’ll never forget the experience.

    For that, and for being a major value-adder to NEXTSTEP and the community as it existed and evolved, Andrew will always get a pass from me.

    Still waiting for OS X to be as good as OpenStep 4.2.

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