Minimalism is one of the driving principles behind Valhalla plugins. In our opinion, a plugin should have exactly what is needed to do the required job. Adding extra stuff in there complicates the situation. Plugins are tools, and an ideal tool is easy to pick up and use right away.
The GUI design philosophy reflects our love of minimalism. Back when we were starting Valhalla DSP, Kristin mocked up a GUI. It used circles for the knobs, short line segments for the knob pointers, and a sans-serif font for the knob labels. The name of the plugin was prominently featured. I looked at the mockup, and said “THAT’S IT!!!” We both fell in love with the simplicity of the idea.
In the past, I’ve written about how I want a plugin to reflect the nature of the medium. A plugin isn’t a 3D object. It isn’t made out of wood, or brushed metal. It doesn’t need screws to hold it together. A plugin GUI is just an idea actualized into pixels of light on a 2D screen. Our goal is to create GUIs that reflect this essential nature.
Minimalism, Winslow Warren, and the Swiss School
One of our big GUI influences was the “Swiss School” of graphic design. Kristin and I love the poster work of Josef Müller-Brockmann, Jan Tschichold, and other minimalist graphic designers . We wanted to design plugins that looked like they could be screen printed, using a few colors. There’s so much noise in the world already. We get overwhelmed by it sometimes, so the idea of keeping things simple with just a few colors and lots of space feels refreshing to us. Ideally, these GUIs give your creativity some room to breathe too.
During the early design period, we envisioned a GUI that looked like a poster. Text areas would appear next to a knob or slider to explain the function of that parameter. We were also inspired by a genius software developer named Winslow Warren that Kristin used to work with. He insisted that all documentation live in the product as functional code. Thinking about this, we changed our approach to a single tooltip area on the bottom of the plugin that changes functionality based on the selected parameter or current settings, so that the documentation made more sense in context and was easier to use.
The name of the plugin is prominently displayed in the Valhalla GUIs so that you know what you’re using. This also stems from our love of Swiss School posters, where there are often 1 or 2 blocks of HUGE text.
Of course, too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing. ValhallaRoom’s original design text was gigantic, and used up space that could be put to other purposes. The recently released 1.5.1 revision of ValhallaRoom brought the title text in line with the other Valhalla plugins.
We’ve also learned a lot about the importance of color in accessibility, thanks to helpful feedback from our color-blind customers. The revised Electric Blue color palate for ValhallaRoom should be much easier on everybody’s eyeballs. Enjoy!