On Skeuomorphism and Market Leadership

Discussion with the author of this fantastic and hilarious article: https://theoutline.com/post/2157/why-are-there-so-many-knobs-in-garage-band

From: Erik Gavriluk
Date: Fri, Aug 25, 2017 at 3:08 PM
Subject: Big Knobs. Big Sound.
To: John Lagomarsino

Loved your article!

The reason for the audio software industry’s knob obsession? Me.

Bomb Factory launched in 1999. We were the first audio company to license brand names and work with original equipment inventors. Before that, companies didn’t dare say “Hammond Organ.” Mega-corporations like Roland would spend millions of dollars designing a keyboard then slap a “Ham and Organ” preset on it.

Instead we worked directly with original inventors like Dr. Robert Moog. We lifted them into the digital age. In return they kept us honest on authenticity and quality.

Rock poster by Justin Hampton

We saturated five different magazines with full-page, full-color ads for six months. Then we shipped. And our competitors immediately dropped to near zero revenue.

But something else happened, too. Timed to our launch, a hacker released an industry-wide crack tool. So all companies (including us) actually went to near zero revenue for a while.

Competitors overreacted and thought we’d eaten their lunch. They decided to do what we did. And they’re still copying designs I made in the ’90s, only worse.

My Pultec (note the minimal amount of ornamental lights and screws):

Just a few of the copies that shipped after:

What was supposed to be a very specific thing tied to a very specific type of professional audio software somehow became the standard for most audio software. “Big Knobs, Big Sound” flyer from decades ago, attached.

Pro Audio, despite the glamour, is an industry with very little money, very little expertise, and very little innovation. In what other industry could a high school diploma and being Billy Joel’s keyboard tech qualify you to be a CTO?

That said, the whole “anti-skeuomorphism” movement is a bit of an overreaction. In discussions with high level people at Apple I never spoke about skeuomorphism. We spoke about affordances — and skeuomorphism is an over-used word that represents just one trick in that bag. The problem is less the skeuomorphism and more the fact that most people (even Apple) suck at it.

Cluttering up a computer screen with non-functional elements like handles and missing screws is pure idiocy. But hey, they had to make theirs look different somehow.

From: John Lagomarsino
Date: Wed, Aug 30, 2017 at 11:17 AM
Subject: Re: Big Knobs. Big Sound.
To: Erik Gavriluk

Hi Erik,

This is FASCINATING stuff, and I’m actually getting emails from people that are painting a pretty clear “how did we get here” picture. It’s totally mind-boggling that Propellerhead, for example, still makes Reason look like a rack, but their mobile UIs are so clean and intuitive and fun.

I’m considering doing a follow-up piece, maybe in podcast form, that’s a little more reported out. I think it might make a good segment if I talk to a few people involved in this industry about it, and how interfaces haven’t offered enough affordances as the industry has grown up.

Thanks for reaching out. It really makes so much sense how this all happened, given your backstory.