Fcp_colorboard_crop-224x123Some have pointed out that many of Final Cut Pro X's much-lauded new features are not really that "new." This backlash seems to happen with every Apple product, perhaps out of response to the rapturous reception with which Apple fanboys greet the superlative-laced presentations. In the case of FCP X, the criticism is that FCP X's list of new features (seen on video) have been around for a while in other editing applications (notably Premiere and Vegas). But a list of features does not an editing program make. It's not what features you include in a piece of software, it's how you design them. Read on for some thoughts on intuitive design and a few full resolution screenshots of the new Final Cut Pro X.

Intuitive design is not something you can quantify in a feature list, and as such in these discussions it often gets short shrift. I say this partially as a filmmaker and partially as someone who was a designer at MTV for three years of interfaces that are still used by hundreds of thousands of people every day. In response to the "it's all been done before" critique, I replied with the following comment (slightly edited):

There were a number of digital music players that had similar features to the iPod before the iPod came out -- but the iPod blew them out of the water with better design. NLE features are similarly design-dependent -- after all, the programs all do similar things, on paper. I can say from watching the FCP X demo in person that there was a definite sense of “this is going to make editing much faster” — in a good way — in the room. Yes, Premiere and Vegas have active indications of adjusted audio waveforms and built-in color correction features. But Apple’s implementation was just much more elegant.

If Apple really wants to get people away from Adobe — and I don’t just mean in the NLE market, which they’ve got locked up, but in other creative areas, which they don’t have a stranglehold on — then, to go along with breaking their creative apps out of a suite (thus the new a la carte pricing), they’ll also announce a Photoshop competitor. You can bet if they did that it would have basically the same functionality as Photoshop, and could easily be criticized as such. But Apple’s version would have an actually intuitive interface that doesn’t hide incredibly powerful functions three menus deep after a right-click. I levy this criticism at Photoshop as someone who made his living with Photoshop full-time at MTV for three years. Is Photoshop incredibly powerful? Yes. Is it intuitive? No.

So does the new FCP debut a dozen never-before-seen features? Maybe not. But the magic of software comes in allowing people to do complicated things in the most simple manner possible. That, more than anything, is what Apple is good at, and that’s why folks are over-the-top about the potential of FCP X.

This discussion reminds me of something said to me at NAB by a friend. He felt like he should've learned Adobe After Effects because it's an industry standard. But after trying and failing to animate something in AE, he booted up Apple Motion, and got it to work right away. He'd never had training in either, but Motion was more intuitive and that's what led to him accomplishing what he set out to do. ((Ajit, tell me if I got that right.)) I'm an After Effects user and I've never touched Motion, but what he said struck me as being representative of the importance of intuitive design.

Now that we have full-resolution screenshots of the new FCP X, what's an example of a design that's more intuitive than an industry standard? To me, a great example is the new Color Board. Apple scraps the three-way color correction wheels that we're used to in favor of this:


Just looking at the non-interactive screenshot, you can hazard a guess on how to use it: grab the white circle to adjust highlights, grab the gray circle to adjust midtones, and grab the black circle to adjust shadows. Move the icons on the X axis to adjust the hue and on the Y axis to adjust the brightness. Or maybe that's saturation. Either way, to a novice it certainly makes more sense than this:


Professionals used to lift-gamma-gain will surely complain about the change, but there's nothing stopping Apple from including a legacy three-way color correction interface as well (and there are always great plugins like Colorista if they choose not to). For any pro who might complain about having to learn a new system, I would point to Jaron Lanier's book You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto. In it, Lanier talks about the inevitable but undesirable process of "lock-in," wherein a flawed design becomes so standardized that moving onto something new becomes prohibitively difficult. Is our current process of color correction an example of lock-in? Here's an excerpt from a review of You Are Not a Gadget (it was easier to quote than the book itself, which is, ahem, locked-in to my Kindle):

With the development of software, lock-in occurs when too many other programs become dependent upon it and the cost of change becomes prohibitive. The result is that sometimes bad design becomes permanent. Lanier cites the MIDI protocol as an example. In a limited set of situations, MIDI can be an empowering tool for musicians, but because its use has become so widespread, it has ultimately had a reductive influence upon digital music. The phrase he uses is “nuance-challenged” and, speaking of lock-in, he observes that “a thousand years from now, when a descendant of ours is traveling at relativistic speeds to explore a new star system, she will probably be annoyed by some awful beepy MIDI-driven music to alert her that the antimatter filter needs to be recalibrated.”

Is three-way color correction the MIDI of the post-production world? Ultimately, I don't know if Final Cut Pro X's new ColorBoard is superior to what we've got now, but I'm not going to argue against it simply because I'm used to something else. Three-way color correction is extremely powerful, but to take full advantage of the interface you need a separate control surface that can cost thousands of dollars. Maybe Apple's ColorBoard will work better when all you've got is a mouse.

Apple has always been good at avoiding lock-in -- that's why they completely redesigned an application that already had a 94% satisfaction rate -- and because of that, I'm looking forward to what will be frequently disparaged as "iMovie Pro." Besides, if it turns out not to include the features that pro editors demand, I'll happily use one of the other feature-rich NLEs already out there.

Here are a couple more full resolution screenshots of FCP X (click for un-cropped versions):



Whether you edit on FCP, Vegas, Premiere Pro, or Avid, what do you think of these screenshots -- refreshing or worrisome?

Link: The Sound of 1,700 Jaws Dropping - Larry Jordan