Ayatana Sound Menu 2

After creating the previous mockups, I have been reminded of the need and value of taking a step back and asking the big questions of design, like: What are we trying to achieve exactly? What is the problem we are trying to solve? Who’s gonna use it in what for a context?

I would think everyone in the design team at Canonical knows about all that, but the specification for the sound menu does not reflect it.

The original reason for the existence of the sound indicator should be quick access to the master volume control. Sound preferences can be accessed by the same means as other system preferences, but it is so closely related to the master volume, that having it right next to it is reasonable. Especially as the speaker icon makes it likely that a user looking for sound related preferences will look there before they would open the System menu.

Having 2 user interfaces for the same things is something to be avoided due to the costs of design, implementation, testing, maintenance, documentation, learning and the decision a user has to make every time. It can be worth it, if there are differing needs that can’t be met as well, otherwise.

I really don’t see how I could define an audience in a useful way here. Everyone who listens to music played back from the same computer they are doing something else with it at the same time doesn’t help much. But the context I just described could.

To me it looks like the motivation for adding playback control and family to the menu is just getting rid of the per-player panel items. It is not a given that playback control in a panel menu is a good idea.

Why would you go through the menu, instead of using the player window? I think if you have your mind primarily on the music, it is a foreground task and the player window should be a much better interface than a menu could ever be. Playback control in the menu should then be about cases where you want to minimize the interruption from another task, where music is a background thing. You might have to listen to something else and want to mute the music, the entire computer, quickly. Or you go for a break and want the playback to stop. Now some will likely mention keyboard buttons for sound control on laptops or on special keyboards. Not everyone has one of those and some might find it more convenient to use the mouse.

Mute and pause all is based on the need to make the computer shut-up quickly. No reason to play on if muted. The user will likely prefer to continue to listen from the position where he muted the system (at least if it is for longer than a few seconds). I’m not quite sure what the label should change to. Unmute all if nothing was playing, Unmute and restart playback or even Unmute and restart playback for Rhythmbox?

The Show items are far from being necessary within my reasoning, as one would hope other means of window management are good enough. But they do show what will be affected by Mute and pause all.

About thorwil
I'm a designer from Germany. My main interests are visual and interaction design, free/open-source software and (electronic) music.

13 Responses to Ayatana Sound Menu 2

  1. Scaine says:

    Excellent post, Thorsten. Why would we go to the sound menu instead of the Music App itself. In hindsight, it’s an obvious question.

    However, there’s something to be said for the “bling” of the previous mockups. But I think you’re on the right track with this post.

  2. Tom says:

    Sorry, but I think this “Just make it look like regular text, so it won’t obvious that you can click it”-look is not really good. I know numerous people who don’t understand that you can click mute all in the current Ubuntu.
    Just put a checkbox or something in front. Something people know and get.

    It just isn’t obvious when you glance at it. That doesn’t need to be like that IMO.

    • thorwil says:

      Do the same people you mention understand that they can click on items in the Applications/Places/System menu?

  3. Flimm says:

    @Tom: Hopefully, it will be obvious once you hover your mouse over the menu item.

    Just wanted to say: I like your thinking, Thorsten!

  4. Thorsten,

    THANK YOU for this post. While I understand Scaine’s comment about the “bling” of the mockups people are working towards, many of us are simply not interested in bling, we’re interested in turning down, or up, or muting, our sound. If I want bling, I will buy a steroe and hang my Rosari Beads on the volume knob. I agree with Scaine’s conclusion, your on the right track.

    I also like your new mockup. THAT is friggin useful. Tom does have a point that it is plain text, but I think this direction you are headed is FAR BETTER than showing me the damned song that is being played, the album, album art and other things that I DONT NEED in a volume control.

    So my comments on this post are positive all the way around and thank you for listening to those of us that aren’t thrilled with the mockups that are being put out there. We are not opposed to the OPTION to have your sound display such things, but we should always have the option to NOT display them

    Kind Regards
    Aoirthoir Von Lipendorf.The Fifteenth and a Half. 😀

  5. Chris Irwin says:

    Since there is a whole menu dedicated to sound output, it would be nice if it could adjust volume of specific streams with it. Even just a link that goes to the “Applications” tab in sound preferences would be nice.

  6. Dag says:

    +1, the current marvick sound menu looks clunky and bloated to me and I’m not convinced I even need that in the menu.

  7. joel says:


    I like where you’re going. How about instead of mute all and pause all why not simply a pause all. If everything is paused there is no need to mute it as well.

    It would be nice to be able to press play/pause individual audio streams from the sound menu.


    • thorwil says:

      Because it could be a stream that you can’t pause. (Unless there is a recording feature taking care of that.)

      Though the Mute all does suggest that voice chat would be affected, too.

  8. Dean says:

    This makes much more sense than the other designs doing the rounds. I don’t understand why skip track and album output etc are being stuffed inside a volume applet…

  9. Philipp Weissenbacher says:

    I like your design and thinking out of the box by providing the user with additional useful functionality next to their volume control.

    What are your ideas regardig the mute hotkey (assuming that volume up/volume down and mute are he most common hotkeys)?
    Should it “Mute and pause all” or set the volume to 0?
    Also what’s the behaviour when it is in the mute and pause all and you press volume up?

    • thorwil says:

      If with hotkeys you mean keys that work specifically while the pointer is hovering the indicator or while the menu is open, I think arrow keys (both directions) and page up/down could all work for main volume.

      M, P and space bar come to mind for Mute and pause all.

      Muting should not change the level of the volume slider, but the slider should change appearance. This way you provide a hint of what’s going on with the extra bit of information what the volume will be once unmuted.

      I know that at least some TV sets with unmute if you change volume. I found it to be convenient, simply because the volume buttons are easier to find than the mute button, and I often want to adjust volume in that situation, anyway. But it could happen that a user think the volume is too low, when it is actually muted. The auto-unmute could be an unpleasing surprise.

  10. Roshan says:

    Oh dear god, I just noticed that later versions of Ubuntu apparently horizontalized the volume control. This is terrible. There was previously the straightforward association of scrolling-up meaning more and scrolling-down meaning less. Now it goes left and right for no conceivable reason and it only works if you click on the indicator first. I thought that was some short-lived design attempt in the beta.