[Rhythmbox-devel] Music player UI

[ Because the following is not strictly Rhythmbox-specific, replies (if
any) should probably be send to usability@gnome.org only. ]

Hi everyone,

last year November, Jorn Baayen sent the following mail to the Gnome
usability list asking for comments on the Rhythmbox UI:


It seems many people will agree (at least to some extend) that the current
interface of both iTunes and Rhythmbox -- as interesting as the overall
concept may be -- has several, and in part quite serious, limitations.
This doesn't mean, of course, that alternative designs have automatically
fewer problems or that the current interface wouldn't all-in-all make for
a good enough user experience so that for many users it's the preferable
choice when compared to other existing music playing software.  It's not
perfect, however, and therefore I think it's worth to at least think about
different approaches...

To me it seems that almost all of the current problems with the interface
come from the fact that Rhythmbox (like iTunes) uses a single window for
both the player/playlist and the music library.  Of course, the
"library-as-a-top-level"-thing is also (I think) one of the biggest
strengths of the current interface and because of this I started wondering
whether it might be a solution to:

  1. separate the library from the player/playlist

  2. make _only the library_ the main object of user-interaction (for
     playing music from the library, at least)

  3. turn the player into a background process (CORBA factory?) with only
     a status-area icon as it's top-level UI and a playlist-manager as a
     second-level object.

>From a user-perspective it might look like this:

In the most simple case where the user just wants to play an music-file
lying on his desktop, he double-clicks the file, an icon (let's say a
note, just like the one currently displayed by rhythmbox) appears in the
status-area and "the Computer starts playing the song".  When the track
ends the icon turns to a paused sign and later, after some time of no
sound-playing activity, the icon again disappears completely.

At some later point the user might decide to play an Album from the music
collection on his computer.  To do so he clicks on the Foot-menu and
selects `Sound & Video -> Music Library'.  After selecting an Album from
the library (a window that looks surprisingly similar to the current
Rhythmbox UI) he presses the `Play Album' button (a button right next to
the `Play Selected Tracks' button; which is grayed out because no tracks
are currently selected) and again the status-icon appears and "the
computer starts playing the album".

After closing the library window and listening to half of the first track
the user realizes that he heard this exact same song way to often in
recent times and therefore decides to skip the rest (...the song gets
rather boring towards the end, anyway).  Therefore, to skip to the next
track, he context-clicks on the status-icon and selects `Next track'.

A few seconds later, however, the user is forcefully reminded of the fact
that the second track on this album just sounded totally awful even when
listened to the first time.  As he now generally starts to wonder whether
there were any good tracks remaining on this album he wants to take a look
at the playlist.  After context-clicking the status icon and selecting
`Playlist Window', a window opens containing a menubar, a toolbar with a
handfull of buttons and a playlist with the tracks of the album.

After looking at the names and realizing that they don't tell him that
much, the user starts to use the `Forward' button to click through the
remaining tracks one by one.  Soon he reaches the end of the playlist
without encountering a single track that seemed worth listening to.  Our
user, however, is not know to give up so easily and therefore he reaches
for the `Library' button in the toolbar and, just like when he used `Sound
& Video -> Music Library' from the Foot-menu before, the library window

Sooo... unless maybe our user died for lack of food or got arrested by the
RIAA he continues to do the things described above over and over again
happily until this day.



  * Playing music is something that the computer just does.  [ Among other
    things this means that it would be an error for the playlist to open
    automatically when music is played because this would spoil the idea! ]

  * Aside from allowing the user to sort and edit his files, etc. the
    library is the users primary way of telling the computer what music to

  * The status icon is the computers way of showing the user what it does.

  * The status icon additionally allows the user to manipulate certain
    aspects of the computers current state with respect to sound playing.

Ok, that's basically it.  To not spoil the main point I ignored additional
features like Radio or CD-handling... so far, however, I did not have any
problems to imagine ways of how to nicely integrate them.



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