What’s up with Graupner’s screen design?

Graupner

Graupner is a remote control model equipment company, originally founded 1930 in Germany. It went bankrupt in 2012 and was taken over by South Korean manufacturer SJ Ltd one year later. Graupner now continues as brand and sales organization. A large part of the product palette are stick-type transmitters for RC aircraft.

X-8E RC transmitter

The X-8E pistol-style transmitter for surface vehicles was first announced in 2013, but delayed until 2016. I can only assume this was caused by the change of ownership and restructuring. Given the rich feature-set and a price point of € 469.99 in their own shop, it is clearly in the high-end category and must face comparisons to Futaba 4PX, Hitec Lynx 4S, KO Propo EX1, Sanwa M12s and Spektrum DX6R.

However, the screen design seems incredibly rushed and not at all befitting to a flagship model in its category. Let’s have a look at the dashboard screen, which should be visible fairly often.

Import

I imported the dashboard screen from the PDF manual into Inkscape and scaled it to match the resolution of 320 x 480 pixels, with a little tweaking to have the raster image icons  at their original 40 x 40 and lined up on the pixel grid. A photo of the real thing and the result of these first steps:

graupner_x-8e_screen_layout_as_is

As you can see, the layout is all over the place. At least the varying corner radii seem to appear only in the PDF.

Quick and easy improvements

graupner_x-8e_screen_layout_changes

A: In the second row, I removed TX, 2x RX and 4.8V as they are absent in the photo, though their visibility seems to be conditional. There’s space left for them, anyway.

B: Making things line up within a grid. A table section with left aligned labels and units (%) in their own row.

C: Vertical steering and throttle meters (ST and TH) are aligned with the physical controls (wheel and trigger), but steering is better shown on a left-right axis and having the same orientation for all 4 channel meters tames the layout. Graupner is already written above the screen; the space can be put to much better use.

There are several deeper issues I did not touch:

  • Lack of differentiation between pure indicators, toggles and menu buttons.
  • Questionable icons, especially the two in the third row.
  • Just white outlines for some elements, where filled backgrounds would make them more defined.
  • Lacking and bad labelling with unnecessary abbreviations. The O.TIME in the bottom left is explained as model use time in the manual

“Hobby harder; it’ll stunt!” RC-car T-shirt design

Backstory

In 2016, RC-car company Arrma released the Outcast, calling it a stunt truck. That label lead to some joking around in the UltimateRC forum. One member had trouble getting his Outcast to stunt. Utrak said “The stunt car didn’t stunt do hobby to it, it’ll stunt “. frystomer went: “If it still doesn’t stunt, hobby harder.” and finally stewwdog was like: “I now want a shirt that reads ‘Hobby harder, it’ll stunt’.” He wasn’t alone, so I created a first, very rough sketch.

Process

After a positive response, I decided to make it look like more of a stunt in another sketch:

Meanwhile, talk went to onesies and related practical considerations. Pink was also mentioned, thus I suddenly found myself confronted with a mental image that I just had to get out:

To find the right alignment and perspective, I created a Blender scene with just the text and boxes and cylinders to represent the car. The result served as template for drawing the actual image in Krita, using my trusty Wacom Intuos tablet.

Result

hobby_harder_121_on_white_1024x0958

This design is now available for print on T-shirts, other apparel, stickers and a few other things, via Redbubble.

New Ardour Logo

Ardour is an application for recording, editing and mixing music. It is licensed under the terms of the GPL 2.

The upcoming 3.0 release seemed like a good opportunity to take another look at the logo I designed in 2006. A selection of drafts from back then, ending with the final design:
ardour_process_old

I had to ask myself: Is this logo (still) appropriate for Ardour?

The upcoming 3.0 release will be a digital audio and MIDI production application, available for Linux and Mac OS X. It is designed for frequent and prolonged use, being able to deal with huge amounts of material, complex signal pathways, precise and intense editing. Reliability, correctness and precision are of utmost importance.

The logo should take a matching stance, be sharp and have a strong presence. I think the old version does a fine job in this regard. It also happens to be well established and liked by the community (of course not by everyone). Back then I decided to use a free-form wave shape, less stylized, more realistic. Now I think a shape with even subdivisions will make the logo appear more precise.

I worked my way through variations of the curves that describe top and bottom of the wave, the number of teeth, their shape, relative height of the type and its consequences on letter spacing:

ardour_process_new
PDF of above image, in case you’d like to take a closer look.

ardour_logo_old_and_new

Application icons, first column are the old ones. I reduced the number of teeth for the smaller versions, keeping them at least 1 pixel wide.
ardour_app-icons

The new logo is already in use on the new website that went online about a week ago. I helped a bit with color selection, made a few suggestion and provided 3 icons:
record-edit-mix

Music: Gleshnor

Sugar-coated electronic rasp.

This project started as a test of Ardour 3’s new MIDI and synth-plugin features (still in beta). In this role, it served in uncovering and fixing a number of issues and grew into something a little more ambitious over time.

The kick, bass and lead all come from instances of Calf‘s Monosynth.

When thinking about what I could draw as a cover image, Driddee jumped into my mind. Similar to the music, creating this image was a test run, with Krita. Took a bit to get comfortable with it, but now I’m rather pleased. I need more practice, obviously 🙂

Other formats, the entire Ardour session as well as a track-by-track export (wavpack format) are available via archive.org.

Creative Commons License
Gleshnor and Driddee by Thorsten Wilms are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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Get on Board the Blues – Guicussion Remix

Dave Phillips recently published a great Blues track in a not so great mix and made the material available on request. Since others covered the gentle just bring out what’s there (by Fons Adriaensen) as well as tasteful addition of drums (by Jason Jones), I just had to do something a little different.

Online player, choice of different formats and the entire Ardour session packed up on archive.org.

All additions are created from the original material, no samples added. Both the original and remix have been produced with pre-release builds of what will become Ardour 3.0.

Lyrics

More music from Dave
More music from yours truly

Switches in Unity menus

Plans for the next iteration of the network status menu in Unity include the use of switch widgets.

As has been brought up on the unity-design list, their placement on the right is likely to make the issue of diagonal movement often opening adjacent menus worse. Independent of improving the menu mechanics, enabling/disabling could be handled differently in style and placement of the widgets.

I think the adoption of light-switch style widgets in point-and-click interfaces is a mistake. Their look implies a sliding movement, not just a click. They are unclear about whether the labels refer to the current state, or the state to change to (only the use of bright coloration for the On state helps here, but does nothing, if all you see is an Off).

If all you have to communicate is On/Off, what is wrong with checkboxes? They do have unclear target areas (in proper implementations, the label is clickable, too), but are well established and do not suffer from the problems switches have, as listed above.

In the middle: a different take on the switch widget, trying to do without separate label and state-labels. The state that can be switched to is represented by a button, while the current state is flat, as it is not clickable.

Finally an experiment, to see whether a strike-through approach could work for a very compact solution. It is hard to find a balance between legibility of the label and making the stroke clear.

Fun with graphics card drivers in Ubuntu 12.04

Summary: If you have performance problems using the JACK Audio-Connection-Kit and the fglrx ATI grpahics card driver, switching to radeon may solve them. Unity 3D and radeon can work, but leftovers of other drivers might get in the way. Also: Proprietary, binary blobs smell bad and Ubuntu’s infrastructure around those drivers is dodgey.

On Ubuntu 11.10, I switched graphics cards and thus drivers from nvidia to fglrx without much of a problem.

I recently upgraded to Ubuntu 12.04 and was quite pleased by how smooth that went and glad for not having to reconfigure and reinstall a bunch of stuff. As with every release so far, some issues might have disappeared, but a very noticable new one arrived: focus-follows mouse combined with auto-raise does no longer work reliably. So far I failed to identify the pattern for the cases where windows are not raised, when they should be.

After a while, I wanted to get back to music production with JACK and Ardour. My system was still configured for JACK to run in realtime mode, but I got many disconnects, often right when Ardour brought up its main window. I found out this only happened with Unity 3D, not with 2D. So it seemed like either one or the combination of Unity 3D and the fglrx driver interfered with realtime mode. A fellow #lad inhabitant knowledgeable about this realtime kernel business suspects that the 3D accleration part of the fglrx driver is not preemptable.

Where does one even report bugs about that proprietary blob? And how would one diagnose what exactly goes wrong?

Now I could use Unity 2D, but I really miss window drop-shadows, dislike the look and different notification animations for the Launcher icons and hate the fact that the Dash doesn’t react to the same shortcut I configured while using the 3D version.

Initially, I thought I would need the fglrx driver for Unity 3D, but still wanted to try switching to radeon. The Additional Drivers dialog claimed that neiter of the 2 ATI options were active, but lsmod told me otherwise. I have some Wacom-related stuff in my xorg.conf, which had to be moved out of the way, to get that thing to work. After a reboot, radeon was in use, but Unity decided to drop back to 2D. The cause: Xlib: extension "GLX" missing on display ":0.0". The solution was purging any trace of fglrx and nividia(!) from my system. Also, for good measure, but I suspect it’s unnecessary: sudo apt-get install —reinstall libgl1-mesa-glx libgl1-mesa-dri xserver-xorg-core; sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg.

Now I have a working Unity 3D, using radeon, no disconnects or xruns galore using JACK and Ardour. Only new problem so far: shaky mouse pointer on the login screen.