Before I start, let me ask one question: which software is more complex, an operating system or a music editing software? Hint: operating system has more than 1 GB binary code and this music software is under 10MB!
Reaper is a lovely piece of software if you’re looking for an affordable commercial tool for editing music at home. I have used it for a week now and I’m going to buy it. But this tiny piece of code is too customizable. In fact it has so many options that I still haven’t had time to go through all of them and see what they are, let alone trying them and see what different combinations do! Let’s see some of the pages in the options dialogue box:
Did you notice that the options tree on the left is so huge that the user needs to scroll it? Imagine each of those pages are as complicated as the few images above! Something is wrong: too much text, too little space between items, long options and the help is inside the dialogues indeed! The options dialogue of Reaper is so complicated that it has a search feature (quite weirdly it’s positioned on the bottom left instead of top right).
Do you think you’ve seen enough options in this dialogue? Just see the options menu itself:
OK, back to the question I asked at the beginning of this post. I don’t think in the entire operating system you can find a dialogue box as complex as the options for reaper. Even if you find, the size and complexity of the operating system may justify so many options. Most of the options in Reaper’s options dialogue are not used by average user or even beginners like me. Reaper is not the best music editing software in the market. It cannot even show a sheet music. Its pricing and feature set seems to be targeted to amateur users like me. Yet it manages to confuse me with so many options (but I’m going to buy it anyway because it’s cheap and it has a few things that my favorite open source software Sekaiju doesn’t have).
Either Reaper is bragging about the flexibility of its software or it got the design wrong.
First of all, if the options dialogue is going to change just a little bit, I suggest making the dialogue bigger and letting some space between the options. A little study on readability might help.
Second suggestion is to add beautiful icons to each dialogue (and possibly their corresponding tree node on the left) to give life to it. Users remember icons and colors easier.
A very big improvement can be to categorize options into basic and advanced mode. Let the amateur users access the basic crucial options and if an advanced user wants something that is not available in the basic mode, they know where to find it. I would be glad to see only 20% of all these options in the basic mode.
Another suggestion is to shorten the text and take a minimalist approach. Remove all the text that doesn’t make a direct added value. Let the “help” text reside in a help menu or even tooltip. Keep it brief and neat.
And the last suggestion is to review these options and merge the ones that are similar.