> This makes sense, right? Guitar pedals are, after all, a technology that you are supposed to step on. And not in some gentle, delicate manner!

I remember getting a guitar pedal for Christmas when I was like 16 or so. My dad did not believe me that you were supposed to step on them, and was angry at me for mistreating his gift, lol. I showed him footage of real bands doing that and he told me "Yeah and Hendrix used to light his guitar on fire on stage, but you're not doing that either." He thought it was a stage trick.

A well made pedal does feel great though. I still have a Boss pedal from 1988 that works with no repairs. Wish all of them were that durable, the DL4 is notable for having connections come apart internally after about a year. Easy fix, but sucks if it happens on stage.

Point #3 is a big deal, especially being easily readable on stage in no light or lights in your face. I have the Lillian Phaser pictured in #5 and had to put tape over the blue LEDs because they are so bright they blind you when you look down. This isn't an issue specific to the Lillian either. From what I understand, blue LEDs are much brighter than the rest, and most designers don't take any steps to dim them.

One can say that stomp boxes follow UNIX philosophy. They do one thing and can be connected ("piped") to make complex sounds. For example, if you want distortion, with some modulation (say, some phaser) and a little bit of a delay, you could build a pedalboard ("pipeline") with those three units plugged one into another:

  guitar | distortion | phaser | delay | amp
BTW. in real life, as - by some weird convention - most of pedals have input in right side and output on the left, it looks like that:

  amp                                        guitar
   ^            .-- phaser <--.                 |
   |            |             |                 |
   `-- delay <--,             `-- distortion <--'
> Physical UIs can be more intuitive and usable than screens

A thousand times this.

Not related to guitars, but I do a lot of off-roading and the multimedia system is only controlled by the big screen. In bumpy roads it's a trial and error operation to skip a song. Give me my previous/next physical buttons back.

It starts with guitar pedals, but once you get into eurorack synth modules, the UX is completely fascinating. Counter to the article's emphasis on obvious a clear functions, some of them are as mystifying as your first encounter with a unix command line, but once you get them going, holy crap. The depth of information you get from a synth is (literaly) infinite compared to what you get from text or images on a screen.
Don't forget the most common pedal-controlled electric (and now electronic) appliance, the sewing machine! In that case, the speed control pedal was a natural development from earlier machines powered by treadles and bicycle-like pedals. There's a parallel in flexible-shaft rotary tools (basically high-end Dremels), which also require simultaneous continuous speed control while both hands are occupied with the work being done. The lack of this requirement is probably why the other machines that were pedal-powered prior to electrification--grinders, saws, (dental) drills, and lathes--did not retain pedal controls.

Other "edge-case" pedals:

- various vehicles

- foot-operated computer mice, for accessibility (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Footmouse)

- elsewhere in music: piano, timpani, kick drum, and harp; organs (and rare pianos) with pedal keyboards (in etymological contrast to manual keyboards)

I really don't like articles like these. The author takes a cute analogy and turns it into guiding principals.

> Physical UIs can be more intuitive and usable than screens

Physical UIs also don't need to help the user navigate digital content. Hugely different to physical content.

> When tech is rugged, it’s a joy to use

It is? I would say that when tech accomplishes its job of connecting the user with the purpose of the tool (in an easy way) - then it's a joy to use. Ruggedness can be a boon here, sure.

Personally, as a musician, I've never been on stage and given preference to knobs & dials - I've given it to the sound and what I want the audience to experience with my playing or a song - not the joy of me stomping something.

Bit of a rant, sorry about that. But these sorts of "full of content, but no message" articles bug me.

"When we spoke, he told me how deeply he admires the interface design of musical equipment like guitar pedals."

Keyboardist here, so I cannot say much about guitar pedals, but I very much agree in general. Of course there is a ton of bad UI design also, but I think well designed musical instruments beat the best designs in other areas.

For example: I have a modern digital stage piano. It's a computer with several gigs of RAM an yet the whole manual is like eight pages. This is the complete manual, not some quick start guide.

While it's no DAW it's not simple either, you can do a lot with it and still my child uses it without ever looking in the manual.

As a gigging musician I've found that pedals aren't without their own UI/UX problems. Nearly every pedal has a gain control ... but they can interact in non-linear ways. Tiny changes make a bigger difference when the overall-gain is low, compared a chain with more amplification. When you're plugging into a venue desk (and not going through an on-stage Amp) ... it can be a nightmare trying to figure out what combination of gain settings and pads would work. Worse is that important parts of that are often hidden; pads are usually toggles just hidden on the side. And there's no feedback UX ... I'd love a simple VU meter on a DI or EQ-stage pedal for example (Studio V3 tube amp pedals have this, but it's not common). I have hundreds of photos on my phone of my pedal board memorializing the settings for a particular song, piece, or venue .... because good luck saving state across multiple pedals. Strymon have their own standard for this, but there's not much inter-operable, or you can spend on a multi-thousand dollar multi-effects pedal. Anyway, I could rant for hours about pedal UX.

But yes, way better than my Tesla.

Love when we go back to physical items to get lessons for GUIs.

"The design of everyday things" it's an amazing book to start in this area, specially if you work with something that mix hardware and software like IoT.

Other ux points he didn’t include:

One knob per option, not deep menu diving.

One pedal per function, not one pedal to rule them all.

I am by no means a musician. This friend brought me his guitar pedal because he could not fix it (got stuck somehow and he had not read the manual properly, that’s it).

After “fixing” it, he showed me how he used it (I had never seen one in use).

Those are true marvels of UI/UX. It was possibly one of the simplest pedals, but the things you can do with it and just “one” button. Unbelievable.

If you get a chance, drive a car from the 90s, especially a fully mechanical one (mechanical transmission, windows). Once you get adjusted, you'll find that you're almost totally relaxed while driving. There are few controls, and the ones that are there are immediately responsive & tactile.
The article doesn't mention this, but in my experience playing live gigs the full pedal stomp (1) is significantly better than dimple button style stomp (2). In fact, for me, it's a dealbreaker if a pedal has a dimple stomp. I'm curious if other ppl feel similarly.

1. https://www.roland.com/RolandComSite/media/uk/images/article...

2. https://delicious-audio.com/wp-content/uploads//2016/01/Iban...

I'm surprised the author didn't discuss actual electronics. Early BOSS pedals in the 80's were wonders of analog design. Check out the schematics of the chorus, flanger, and phaser. They are delightful to study:



There's a reason why the ratio of analog to digital designers is about 1:1000.

> When I’m driving, I do not want to have to glance at a screen to figure out how to turn down the damn air conditioning.

This is my #1 complaint about modern cars. It's like the designers don't know about the epidemic of distracted driving.

I think it's worthwhile to note if you never played with guitar pedals; they do something that really should be ubiquitous in computers; you can easily re-arrange them into different combinations to create different sounds. The basic idea is doing something that is technically/electronically, "high engineering" (problem solving with constraints) in a playful, simple way.

It's really neat to see kids thinking things out loud like, "I wish there was to apply an envelope filter and an echo to this thing I am building but it's not sound..." In education courses.

The interface is good, only because nobody has no ads / attention economy shit in the chain. Without that anti-pattern incentive we can wax lyrical about the joys of using something. Joy of use is still the objective.

When a company like eight-sleep decides to make pedals, there will be an app with a subscription, and 'content' and extra features for a fee, like 'adjust volume'. You'll get multiple emails every week with a breakdown of your 'pedal data' and suggestions for improving it - 'buy this accessory button!'. Bla.. I hate the internet.

On the other side, I’m selling all of my guitar pedals and going fully digital with plugins. I believe the future of guitar effects is digital. Some reasons why:

• Pedals are expensive, plug-ins are much cheaper in comparison. Often, you can get a collection of pedal and even amp plugin effects for less than a quarter of the price of a single amp or pedal. • Once you have a certain number pedals, connecting them is a huge mess of cables. • If something in your sound chain is failing, good luck at finding what it is. Could be any of the cables or pedals. • Want to swap one pedal for another? Well, it may be not that easy, as there is no standard, input, output and power may be on a different position, forcing you to re-cable large parts of your board. • If you want to experiment with more complex signal processing like multiple paths , frequency splitting, etc. Again it’s a huge mess of cables and super expensive. • Technology has advanced to a point where plug-ins sound as good as the real equipment, you can even use them live, as more and more people and bands are doing everyday.

So, in summary, as much as I love the design and feel of real pedals, they are no match for the possibilities that the digital realm offers for a fraction of the price, space and headaches.

You just need a computer and an interface or something like the Line-6 Helix or the Kemper Profiler and the world is yours.

I'm a musician, but not a music tech expert. However, most professional guitarists/bassists I know who play larger venues are using an effects rack, not a board of pedals (or maybe a pedal or two to switch effects). This has waxed and wanted in popularity since the 80s, but my anecdotal evidence is that pedal rigs are less common than ever. I agree about the rugged design, though--I still use a chorus pedal from the late 80s, and it's nigh indestructible.
I have thoroughly enjoyed using various pedals for playing music, and as others here, I’ve also rocked out with modular synths. But I have to say that pedals (and other musical equipment) can be very frustrating because their UIs are very obtuse. You can directly turn a knob to change the effect, but you often have no idea what exactly they’re changing.

It turns out that chorus, flangers, and phasers are all variations on a short delay whose time is controlled by an LFO. So you can change the average length of the delay and you can also change the amplitude of the LFO. There’s often a parameter labeled either “depth” or “amount” and it’s not clear whether you’re changing delay time, LFO amplitude, both, or something else. Worse, some try to have descriptive names that may not make any sense. A friend’s guitar DSP unit had a parameter just called “balls” for the amount of distortion. Turning it up made it sound more like AC/DC. No idea what it was actually controlling.

So yeah, direct feedback of physical UI is great, but if you don’t know what you’re controlling, it can be very frustrating to try and make it do something specific.

[Edit] Also, those pedals that are just a switch I find much less satisfying to use and harder to hit right.

Hopefully someday when mobile phones stop being such woo woo disruptive technology status symbols, they will be made out of metal and have buttons. Touchscreens 'have' buttons as long as it isn't raining, extremely cold, and you're not wearing gloves.
I recently had a go at TIG welding aluminium. This is regarded as pretty tricky for two reasons

1) The oxide on aluminium melts at a much higher temperature than the aluminium. A specialist AC welder helps 'clean' the surface. 2) Aluminium is a very good thermal conductor. Enough heat to start welding is far too much once you are a little way down your weld and your pool of molten metal will get ever larger until you burn through. One hand is controlling the torch, one hand is holding the filler. Therefore it is common to use a foot pedal to control the current. More to start, and backing off once you are running. It works pretty well once you get it all coordinated, but is daunting to start off with.

screens are just cost saving devices, knobs and buttons are always much better to use
Using your whole body to control things, yes!

My grandmother (whose occupation in the 1950 census is listed as "mangle operator" at a laundry) had a great big "ironer" in our kitchen, which I think was like [1].

I know that it was operated partially with the knees, although I can't really see the levers on this photo. She'd move her legs to make it do things.

Ironing a shirt was real fast with that thing.

[1] https://www.ebay.com/itm/144611617506?hash=item21ab862ae2:g:...

In the world of keyboards. a similar example would be stage keyboards, like the Nord Stage or the Yamaha YC.

Those are usually built like a tank to withstand stage "abuse", and the interface is mostly "one knob per function", as opposed to workstations (like the Korg Kronos or the Roland Fantom) where you have a lot of menu diving to do (the equivalent of workstations in the guitar world would be one of those fancy digital multi-effects like the Line 6 Helix or the Boss GT)

Guitar pedals have shit ui. They may be bullet proof, but try and recreate an exact sound using a series of pedals now switch that sound for the next song now switch mid song for the bridge. Each time you would spend at least a minute. Sure you can kick on an overdrive or delay or maybe tap dance to a few sounds, but really this setup sucks, one reason digital modelers that don’t sound as good are popular.
I recently acquired a Quad Cortex, and the rugged rotary stomp knobs combined with the 7" in display is awesome. The ML in that thing is sweet too. It's definitely a feat worth mentioning.
The UI is fantastic once you figure out that the pedals are to be wired exactly backwards, with input on the right side, output on the left.
> Guitar pedals are aesthetically gorgeous.

The writer lost me here. Sure, some have beautiful artwork. But pedals themselves are perhaps the ugliest contraptions I have laid my eyes on. Just look at the form of BOSS pedals. As always, there are a few exceptions. But in general, guitar pedals are an eyesore. To make matters worse, musicians put them on pedalboards in all sorts of kitsch arrangements. When you couple that with the pathological American dislike of feet and everything associated with feet, you end up with an object only worthy of contempt.