Photographers use their computers a lot. I'd say 50% of the time spent working as a photographer or creative professional would be done on a computer. What if that could change into a more enjoyable experience, where you exchange your keyboard, which was designed for typing, for a console. Enter Monogram’s Creative Console Studio.
The User Experience
It’s a modular and customizable controller designed to make your creative work more tactile, enjoyable, and intuitive. It’s programmable for each app too, so you can set up what each button, knob, or dial does depending on the work you're busy with. And what's more is that you can even have various setups depending on what part of the process you are busy with Culling images and retouching can both have different keys, sliders, and dials doing different functions. Monogram Creator, the application that I needed to download, was well-designed and felt very modern. It was easy to find my way and to map each of the modules.
I do a lot of fashion and beauty retouching. I have a Wacom tablet on the left side of my laptop as I am a goofy-footed, south-pawed, left-handed photographer. I then have a mouse on the right, which I rarely use during my retouching workflow and process as my right hand is usually on the keyboard slaying the shortcuts. I’ve tested the Console to see if it can be better than the keyboard, and I was pleasantly surprised. I tested it with Photoshop first, and this was the process:
The console comes with software, which allows you to map buttons or download preset templates from other editors, designers, retouchers, or other creative professionals. I downloaded it, installed it, and opened it up with Photoshop. From the first instance of using the application, it was intuitive and easy to start modifying the various keys and dials.
During my testing, I also received a notification that I had a software and firmware update, and the process was smooth and simple to do too.
My Retouching Layout
My brush’s size, opacity, and flow were all mapped to the three-dial Dial Module, which made me feel like I was working in the future. I also mapped the large Orbiter Module to modify my brush size, because it’s something I need to use without moving my hand off its resting position. Doing this made it easy to get my fingers on it.
I was able to map the two buttons and one combination I use most on the keyboard to this Essential Keys Module too. These were Spacebar to move around, the Option key to select from the canvas, and Option + Spacebar to zoom in and out when dragging left or right on the Wacom tablet. Finally, I could get the “undo” shortcut, which is "option + Z" on a Mac, to one of the buttons and an action that I play with every file I open to retouch, which I could also map to a single button on the Monogram Core unit, and this had me retouching with one hand on the Wacom tablet, and the other on the Monogram Console. I only used the keyboard now to change tools, which I will surely map as soon as I get another Essential Keys module. This Monogram Console changed my way of doing retouching for good. You can even change the colors of each key, and dial independently and to your liking.
Instead of setting up the Console for Premiere Pro myself, I was able to download a preset on the database they have available on the support website. This is a space where you can upload your presets, or download someone else’s to use as you wish. It's a growing community.
With the Orbiter, the large wheel, I could set it to scroll through the footage frame by frame, or to snap to every cut between clips. Either one of these works and is an efficient way of getting around your sequence. I’ll keep it to scroll frame-by-frame as it works for me.
I am not a Lightroom user, although I’ve used it. For the review, I mapped some of the sliders to the Console, but I believe some photographers who use Lightroom will be much better at doing so. I also think the Slider Module will work well here, which is the one module I didn’t receive for review. What I thought was great though was with regards to color. The Orbiter has the spin control, but the pad on the top can also be used. I could change the color tone of the image by pressing down on various areas of the color wheel in Lightroom, which made this a fun part of the process of editing a photo. Here is a video that gives you a visual idea of how it works:
It’s not light and sits on the desk with authority. It has rubber panels at the bottom too, so I didn’t have the controller skidding around on the desk. The screen changes to indicate the app it’s linked to, which you can even change to any image you want to upload to it. Each of the modules are modular, meaning they can be attached differently, depending on what you’ll be using it for, and also whether you’re left or right-handed.
The buttons make a sound when pressed, but they have about the same sound level as the buttons of a keyboard.
I asked Calvin Chu, the founder and CEO of Monogram, whether he thinks we are moving past the keyboard when communicating with our computers, and whether he thought we will ever say goodbye to the keyboard.
He responded by telling me that it’ll always be about human interaction with gear, and how the interface is such a critical enabler to technology. He also mentioned how it’s one of the most overlooked aspects of how we use technology, and can also be a barrier.
During our discussion, he mentioned that he doesn’t think the keyboard will disappear, but that we’re far beyond old text-based command line terminals and that there is a need for more expressive interfaces suited for creative work.
He confirms it to be the reason for starting the company. They wanted to bring better tools for the modern creator and enhance creativity. They want to offer better experiences that lead to new sets of workflows. They, therefore, keep the console simple, adaptable, and personalized.
We design our tools to fit the way you work.
— Chris Chu
He saw the potential of empowering creative professionals when he was studying for his degree in human-computer interaction at university. He realized that musicians had tons of tools and ways of plugging their instruments into computers, but that photographers had quite a limited toolset. He had a bunch of photos of a trip to New Zealand to edit and asked the question “What would the ideal photo editing workstation look like?”. 7 years later and we’ve got a new method of editing photos, editing video, and making music.
Where I Think They Can Improve
- It comes with a USB to USB-C cable, which I think needs to change and doesn't communicate the great design and communication the brand does. It should be USB-C to USB-C today. This change should be embraced. I’m lucky enough to have a couple of these cables lying around, so I exchanged it, but I think it should be like this out of the box, or to have two cables to choose from.
- I would like to change the blending modes of the brushes by using either a button or dial. I often use the healing brush, so changing it from the "normal" to "darken" and "lighten" would be much better on the console than having to click on it to select the one you want.
What I Liked
- It’s made to last. There is absolutely no planned obsolescence here.
- The way I could modify the keys and the ease of doing so was a pleasure. The integration between software and hardware is something hard to find. It's done really well.
- It made me imagine the possibilities of the future with regards to creative workflows. As soon as the peripheral changes, it leads to new ways of thinking about how to solve a problem, which can be transferred to your creative work. The development regarding the hardware and software working together is done very well. It’s as if it’s the same team that did both the design of the hardware and the software, so there is consistency and a language of design that is pleasant to interact with. From installing the software to mapping keys to the modules, it all just works, and I’ve only touched the surface.
I was sent a Creative Console Studio box. I've browsed their website too, and even if you just want to see what length they go to communicate their brand message and the versatility of the products that they make, go check out their website, it's almost as much of a pleasure as it is editing an image with their Console.