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‘You Can’t Escape Ken Burns’ and Other Horrid iMovie ‘Ughs’

iMovie_icon.jpgiMovie 3 is pretty awesome. I posted the other day about how it allowed me to capture video from my TiVo flawlessly, not dropping a frame while I checked email, launched applications, and otherwise went about my normal work day. I'm absolutely happy that iMovie 3 is "in a window" instead of "gosh darn it give me that whole screen of yours!" The new effects are awesome, the integration with iTunes and iPhoto are great, and the chapters are a smart addition. That having been said…

iMovie 3 breaks even more damn Human Interface Guidelines than I care to enumerate. I'll pick on just one, primarily: the extraordinarily bad "Ken Burns Effect" pane, also known as the "Photos" section. The problems with this one section alone are many. Let's take a look at them.

You Can't Escape the Ken Burns Effect
There is no way to simply disable the Ken Burns effect. Apple must think it's so cool that they want to ram it down your throats. Until you work around it by setting the zoom level to 1.0 on both the "start" and "end," even your title pages (if you've constructed one in Photoshop or something) will zoom by default.

Panning Whether You Want It Or not
While you can get rid of zooming by setting the zoom levels to 1.0, you can not get rid of the damn panning. Once you've applied a pan, it will be applied to all subsequent images. How do you get rid of it? The only way I've found is to grab the image and attempt to position the image so that the start and end positions "overlap" each other - quite a feat in a small "preview" view. And of course, the next time you apply this touted "Ken Burns Effect," you've destroyed all the overlapping work you've done.

Other Horrid "Ughs"
iMovie 2's timeline/clip viewer used what looked and functioned like a tab view. This worked, because effectively users were switching between two distinct separate views. Now, this has been replaced by what could be described as a "toggle" switch: click the left and you see clip view, click the right and you see the timeline view. The effect: the area beneath it changes.

Unfortunately, not more than an inch away we find another toggle - this time with a more realistic "switch" that moves between editing mode and importing mode. These two switches are not terribly unique: they both change a few (and thus some of the functionality). Neither are really "connected" to the view they affect - they're as close to the view the other affects as each other. Lame.

If we keep moving to the right we find the play button. Unfortunately, the Play button does not change into a Pause button when a movie is playing. Instead, the triangle (instead of the || pause symbol) remains. "Action" buttons should change to "Cancel" or "Stop" buttons, and Play buttons should change to Pause buttons. Witness QuickTime Player. At least it gets this right.

Really Ignorant UI
Let's ignore some other more minor flaws, however, and get back to the Photos section. Here is screenshot of the top section:

Apple's UI

This is what you see when you're choosing an image from your iPhoto library. The critical error? Radio buttons are used to toggle between showing the characteristics of the start and end positions. You must click the "Start" radio button to set the zoom level and position of the start, and then you must click the "End" radio button to set the zoom level and position for the end. You know, since you can't escape the Ken Burns Effect.

To quote Apple's Human Interface Guidelines (HIGs):

Use radio buttons for a set of mutually exclusive, but related, choices. A set of radio buttons should contain at least two items and a maximum of about seven. (For more than seven items, consider using a pop-up menu.) A set of radio buttons is never dynamic (changing contents depending on the context). A radio button should never initiate an action.

Group boxes or tabs would have been a much better way to present the view. To that end, I've created a mockup. You can see the original above, and mine below. You can toggle between either by moving your mouse over the images.


While I do not claim my UI to be the "best" I do feel that it is much better than the one we're stuck with in iMovie 3 in the following ways>

  • It allows you to escape the Ken Burns Effect entirely.
  • It allows you to reposition an image "in the center" by setting its position to 0, 0.
  • It uses tabs to separate the "zoom" and image position widgets. It avoids the use of a retarded radio button to do this.
  • In other words, the parts that change when you toggle between "start" and "end" are placed into a tab view indicating this far more clearly than a pair of radio buttons can ever hope to do.

    Alternatively, Apple could have used a group box or two to segregate the start and end information. However, this would present problems in knowing which endpoint's position you were changing if you drug the image around (you can't escape the Ken Burns Effect!). I think the tab view - albeit a bit awkward floating around inside a window - solves this problem fairly well.

    C'est Fini
    I'm sick of Apple "inventing" UI out of the air, especially when it's bad UI. I'm absolutely sick of it. We have HIGs, and how do they expect other developers like myself to use them when they don't. When they use radio buttons to and toggles and whatnot so haphazardly. It's sickening. John Geleynse and the HIG team need to walk around with a billy club and beat up the people who do this shit, because apparently that's the only way they're going to learn.

    Please don't get me wrong: the iApps are a tremendous thing, unequaled in their ease of use, power, simplicity, and creativity. But a large part of what makes a Mac "a Mac" is the attention to detail. The subtle consistency of user experience. iMovie 3 needs a bit more attention than it was given, and Apple needs to stop inventing bad UI.

    I plan to revise this entry as necessary. Feel free to email me at me at nslog dot com or to post comments here.

    17 Responses to "‘You Can’t Escape Ken Burns’ and Other Horrid iMovie ‘Ughs’"

    1. Nice article. I'm also frustrated by the Ken Burns interface. There should be a more obvious way to turn it off entirely, but the Create Still Frame command in the Edit menu is at least better than setting the start and end so that the KB effect is a nop.

      1. Ken Burns just takes old photos and zooms in and out on them and calls it a movie.... Lame Ass... People were doing that way before Ken Burns... it's not a effect, it's a "I don't know how to do anything else" zoom in.... zoom out. Hey let's make a cheap documentary to pawn off to PBS. Ken Burns should be Burned at the stake... and we can watch him as we zoom in and zoom out.

    2. The title of the last paragraph should be "C'est Fini" instead of "C'est Finis". For those wondering, it means "It's Over" in French.

    3. Preach it!


    4. you can turn off the KB effect by editing the default with a text editor as one user suggested, or you can also type command-. (period) after clicking apply. This will cancel the application of the effect, but give leave the still clip with the duration set in the KB UI.

    5. Death of a Dogcow

      Apple loves it when people go on about how the Macintosh got a lot of UI design principles right long before the competition. We all love stories about the Icon Garden, and love fondly remembering Clarus in the Page Setup dialogs. Ah, the good old days...

    6. apple's compliance with the hig released by apple

      both erik and matt both wrote articles about apple's ui principles and and what they are doing with them

    7. Given that OSNews is now linking to some mini-rants by Vinay, Matt, and myself, I thought I'd pull them all (the ones I find anyway, to this point) into one post. My posts, anyway - hit the trackbacks and links in the articles themselves to find most o...

    8. While ranting here may be more enjoyable, please do file bugs when you find bad UI. (And use the feedback page.)

      Apple isn't going to pay attention to your blog, but someone has got to process the bug, and I've been told that hot issues on the feedback page are summarized and given to management weekly.

      I know this routine gets tiresome, and you sometimes have to pick your battles, but it is really the only feedback channel we have right now with Apple listening at the other end.

    9. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone at Apple had produced a mockup using tabs, realized “crap! Aqua tab borders don’t look good if the tabbed section is less than the whole window!”, and used radio buttons instead in desperation.

      Meanwhile, controls dependent on a checkbox or radio button (i.e. those which are disabled/enabled depending on its state) should go underneath or to the right of it. So you could improve your design by putting the “Use Ken Burns Effect” checkbox above all the other controls, since they’ll become disabled if the checkbox is unchecked. This might make the separate “Ken Burns Effect” heading redundant, which would be a bonus.

      You should also rearrange the Duration controls on a single horizontal line, i.e. “Duration: [ 10:00] ===O===”. The slider is just another method of setting the value of the text field (similar to spin buttons, or a combo box), so it should go under or to the right of the “Duration:” label rather than above it. (I haven’t used iMovie 3, so I don’t know whether Apple have made the same mistake elsewhere.)

      And if you did both of *those* things, then you’d have room to use horizontal rather than vertical tabs, making them easier to read.

      — mpt

    10. Actually, now that I think about it, there’s no need for the “Zoom”, “Position X”, and “Position Y” fields at all. Just provide bevel buttons for “Start” and “End”, like the buttons for tools in Photoshop, so people can draw start and end rectangles directly onto the photo. Direct manipulation, baby!

      This could even be extended with a “Custom Path” tool to let you draw a non-straight-line path from the start to end points — zig-zagging from one face to another in a family photo, for example.

      — mpt

    11. Can someone define the 'ken burns' effect? What is that referring to?

    12. Inconsistencies and iApps

      John Gruber synthesizes the recent discussion on Apple’s (lack of) interface consistency. I can now scratch that off my to-blog list, since he’s said most of what I was going to say, better than I would have said it. I like Apple’s n...

    13. Today I filled out about 40 bug reports at Here's the list, from our previous articles on the "inconsistencies" we find creeping up in the Mac GUI. If you have any bugs that you'd like to add to this list, let me know (me...

    14. Given that OSNews is now linking to some mini-rants by Vinay, Matt, and myself, I thought I'd pull them all (the ones I find anyway, to this point) into one post. My posts, anyway - hit the trackbacks and links...

    15. defeating Ken Burns effect was much apprecaited - death to it!

    16. I gotta say, anywhere I can that it doesn't matter if you report bugs to Apple about their products. They are just too clueless or cool (can't tell which) to care.