“What’s an Intuitive Interface? An intuitive interface is one that works the way the user expects it to. In other words, we find something intuitive when we don’t have to think about it.” Princeton University, User Experience Office
The organ is the “King of Instruments” not only because of its majestic sound, but also because of its incredible dynamic range. The organist interacts with the instrument via a interface known as the organ console that serves as “command central”. Early pipe organ consoles were limited to their keyboards, a pedalboard and stop controls. Even with these relatively limited controls, changing dozens of stops during a performance was daunting. In the early 20th century capture combination action systems were added, making preset stop combinations available, freeing organists to create more expressive music. Since then, builders have added more sophisticated user interface systems to the organ consoles.
With the advent of digital technology, organs went through a revolution. Today’s finest digital organs can duplicate the sound of pipe organs. Also, with increasing power, computer processors have enabled enhancements that expand the instrument’s versatility, including more advanced capture combination systems, record and playback capabilities, the addition of orchestral and contemporary voices, multiple stop specifications, and more.
At the same time, the additional organ features have increased the number of physical controls, adding complexity to performance. Utilizing these features required understanding huge owner’s manuals and navigating multiple controls.
The challenges brought about by increased capabilities is not limited to the organ, but is universal to all technology products. For example, automobiles now include GPS, Bluetooth, backup cameras, and sophisticated audio and climate control systems that had initially required separate buttons and knobs which distracted drivers. Consumers demanded a better user interface system. The answer: a color touch screen that has become the universal solution for nearly all high-tech products.
Until recently, all organ user interface systems were older technologies that included multiple button and controls, but no touchscreen. Making changes to organ console functions required engaging multiple controls, as well as memorizing menu levels. While most builders continue to offer this type of interface, Allen Organ Company recently introduced a system with a responsive color touchscreen that has become the standard for controlling many products, including automobiles and mobile devices. The system is intuitive to the point that even guest organists not familiar with the instrument can easily access dozens of important console functions without reference to an owner’s manual.
For digital organs, the most important task for advanced technology is to enable the production of realistic pipe organ sounds. In addition, technology should enhance the user experience so that organists can focus on creating beautiful music, not operating complex controls. An advanced digital organ today should include not only superior technology in tonal production, but also in its human interface system.