Windows 8 UI - A designer's perspective close

Massimo Martinetti
Massimo Martinetti
In Codegent College
17th July 2013
Windows 8 UI - A designer's perspective

Microsoft's new operating system is full of very effective and bold ideas, improved and innovative technologies, peculiar and slick elegance, intuitive UX and a very playful visual language.

It seems to be a UX revolution that aims to change the way we've been interacting with computers for the last couple of decades.

I think the new, radically enhanced interface is a pleasure to use, especially in tablets and phones. However it does falter on today's larger computer screens and lacks usability, this is being addressed later this year after much complaint from users. The commitment to "touch" on laptops and desktops inevitably means that Modern applications show less information on the screen than their Windows 7 counterparts.

Microsoft asserts that "touch" is the most natural way of interacting with a computer. However the mouse is still a critical part of the desktop experience. The space and size given to the tiles is too large for the precision of a mouse when compared to a “fat finger” so I believe this needs to be reconsidered when rendered on non-touch screens.

More information could certainly fit on the screen so I feel that a solely touch-based user interface has been designed for consuming information and having fun, rather than for doing serious work. Maybe Microsoft need to consider different, and easily configurable, appearance options? As it stands Windows 8 is the perfect platform for the non-technical user who just wants to access Social Networks, share information, create basic content, watch a movie or browse the web.

Overall I'm very pleased that Microsoft recognised the value of design (led the way by Apple's successful range of products that regained market share in the last 7-8 years, monopolising some audience groups, such as designers). Investing more time into pleasing typefaces, a beautiful colour palette and thoughtful animation can be very profitable.

The Look and Feel

The new face of Windows is a grid of coloured tiles that refer to a Mondrian picture. The tiles populate all the screen giving the user an immersive full screen experience. No toolbar or framed windows are present and the UI is minimal, featuring only clean typography, basic icons and engaging, slick animation.

Microsoft believes consumers have developed a fluency for digital interfaces and no longer need any kitschy digital translations so the decision to abandon "Skeuomorphism" (has since flooded into all areas of UI design, most prevalently in Apple’s software, where digital calendars have faux-leather stitching and pinewood bookshelves) allowing an "authentically digital" experience and officially let the pixel be a pixel.

The look of the Modern interface is beautiful. The typography is light, airy, and very distinctive. The tiles on the Start screen and many of the application buttons give the appearance of being pressed down at an angle when they are touched, almost as if they were hinged pieces of plastic suspended from the screen.

There are no overlapping windows, everything slides and makes space for new windows, there are no menus, just the icons and the toolbar.

Every gradient of colour or artificial glossy reflection is gone. Windows 8 emphasises a stripped-down user interface that’s flat and without flourish. "It’s not about adornments," says Sam Moreau, the director of user experience for Windows. "It’s about typography, color, motion. That’s the pixel."

Some Key Elements

The system works very harmoniously and confronts the user with a completely customisable Start screen: a multichromatic strip of tiles, each representing an installed application. Some tiles are flat, static, and monochromatic, while others burst forth with colour and even video. Click a tile, and that application fills the screen. Users switch applications by going back to the Start screen and clicking on another tile, or by cycling with the application “switcher.” It is possible to split the screen between two apps.

The emerging problem is that there is simply no way to see three different apps, or even three Web pages at the same time. The waste of screen space becomes increasingly evident as the screen gets larger. The result is that many tasks become unnecessarily difficult.

Another big feature is something Microsoft calls “charms” - hidden menus that appear with a finger-swipe toward the right side of the screen and contain a mix of controls for the current application and controls for the computer as a whole.

Microsoft Charms

I personally have found it hard to recognise that "Change PC settings" was clickable because my attention was on the 6 icons above it, which I thought were sub-categories of the settings.

I think the most outstanding improvement is in the Social Network integration. Windows 8 integrates Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Google. Give it your online usernames and passwords and the People tile on the Start screen will come alive with photos taken from friends’ Google+ and Facebook profiles.

Windows 8 Social Media Integration

Touch the tile and each person’s address-book entry will be augmented with his or her tweets and Facebook posts.

There is definitely an amazing and challenging future for Windows 8. It has just been born so there is from for growth and learning but we are already defining the co-ordinates of a new design era.