MuseScore — An Example of Principled Design

Published August 5, 2023
Contemporary Commerce

Update: Congratulations to MuseScore & Muse Group for winning the Autumn 2023 UX Design Public Choice Award!

DESIGN is what can turn a great product into an extraordinary one. Good design isn’t just noticeable, it can make or break the user experience for the end user. For example, desktop and office utilities like calculators, writing tools, and computers are things we all use on a daily basis. But there’s always thought and intention behind the design of those utilities.

Good design should make someone feel good about the tools they’re using and improve the experience of using them. However, the design should never interrupt or distract the user from doing their intended task with the tool, or worse, slow them down. Thankfully, most office tools and utilities are well-designed and very functional today, refined after years of trial and error.

On the other hand, digital utilities like office software and e-mail clients aren’t always well-designed and fall short of their potential. Some suffer from having too many unused features and clutter the screen while others feel empty, oversimplified, and sterile. In the case of musicians and composers, options for great software and utilities were limited. But the programming and design team from Muse Group have introduced a powerful solution!

MuseScore by Muse Group

MuseScore’s release history started over 20 years ago in late 2002 and its first official release, v1.0, in February 2011. MuseScore’s primary focus is and has always been on being open source for musicians and programmers to modify, improve, and add new features. Version 2 was released in March 2015 adding better music composition and engraving features and Version 3 launched at the end of 2018 adding further improvements.

During this time, MuseScore was the only option outside of other well-known composition software like FinaleDorico, and Sibelius that didn’t have a price barrier. Each has its respective strengths but falls short in one aspect or another in design and usability. MuseScore was very functional and had a massive community behind it supporting it, but seeds of major change in MuseScore’s design were planted in early 2019.

From Critic to Head of Design

In March 2019, designer and musician Martin Keary (aliased tantacrul online) released a video on his YouTube channel discussing MuseScore’s design. Soon, he joined MuseScore as Head of Design and Product Owner all by mid-2020. The first task was improving the engraving font, also known as the sheet music font, on MuseScore 3 at the time. Martin Keary and engraving specialist Simon Smith soon introduced the music font Leland to the public and its implementation into MuseScore 3.6.

But next, development on the next major release of MuseScore 4 would be underway. Muse Group would acquire MuseScore and Martin would soon go on to now serve as Vice President of Product with Muse Group.

Martin Keary of Muse Group
Martin Keary (tantacrul)

Martin Keary (tantacrul) is a well-known YouTuber with a channel featuring over 350k subscribers and over 20 million views. He currently serves as Muse Group’s Vice President of Product.

MuseScore 4 And Its Success

Under new leadership, MuseScore 4 was officially released in late 2022 featuring a completely new and improved user experience and a new powerful music playback engine that lets composers hear simulated playback of their music from a virtual symphony. MuseScore 4 made this software, not just a respected community project, but a real asset for musicians. Just as a word processor, e-mail client, digital calendar, and music player are all staples professionals use daily, MuseScore 4 is now truly well-designed utility musicians could use just the same. Its design and functionality are noticeable and improve the experience of composing music.

MuseScore 4 is efficient, easy to use and understand. The sheet music font Leland makes for elegant digital and printed sheet music. While there are still some needed features, MuseScore 4 is just as premium a product and experience as any other composing software if not better.

Why Great Design Matters

Great design is what enriches our engagement with something and inspires the people who use those tools. Thoughtful design, like that implemented in MuseScore 4, has made it possible for tens of thousands of musicians, students, and both beginner and professional composers to express themselves in their art without distraction or limitation.

In 2023, UX Design Awards officially announced MuseScore as a nominee for the Autumn 2023 award, a well-earned milestone for Muse Group and the MuseScore Team. Neustart Digital believes that every truly great product is not only excellently engineered but thoughtfully designed. For this, Neustart Digital has officially endorsed MuseScore’s vote for the Autumn 2023 UX Design Award.

May the best designers win, and we hope to see more great work from MuseScore and the MuseScore Team!

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