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More Windows 8 UI Rationale Explored and Explained

There’s a fascinating new post on the Building Windows 8 blog this morning, entitled “Creating the Windows 8 user experience,” by Jensen Harris, Microsoft’s Director of Program Management for the User Experience Team. In the story, he explores and explains the reasons that are driving how the user interface for and user interaction in Windows 8 are designed, with all kinds of interesting observations and insights.

Another Windows 8 UI discussion

Another Windows 8 UI discussion

Rather than drive you through his lengthy discussion in detail, with analysis along the way, I’ll simply summarize his high points, then conclude this post with a little (hopefully insightful) commentary of my own:

1. a quick history of prior Windows UIs with representative screen caps (1.0, 3 and 3.1, Windows 95, XP, Vista, and Windows 7)
2. basic design assumptions
2.1 People are connected all the time
2.2 People, not files, are the center of activity
2.3 The rise of mobile over desktop PCs
2.4 Content lives on the PC and in the cloud
3. Goals of the Windows 8 user experience
3.1 Fast and fluid means a “responsive, performant, beautiful, and animated UI” where “every piece of UI comes from somewhere and goes somewhere when it exits the screen” and where “most essential scenarios are efficient,…without extra questions or prompt” and “things you don’t need are out of the way.”
3.2 Long Battery Life!
3.3 Windows 8 apps have “Grace and power.”
3.4 Live tiles make visible UI elements personal and keep them current.
3.5 Apps work together to save users time (better communication and interaction among apps)
3.6 Changes and customization follow the user across multiple devices (“Roam your experience between PCs)
3.7 Make your PC work like a device, not a computer
4. Touch is a first-class input method (but not the only one!)
4.1 Improving touch on the desktop
4.2 Creating an environment exclusively or primarily (suited) for touch input
5. Metro style and the desktop, working together, where the desktop is there to run programs designed for mouse and keyboard, and Metro is there for touch-centric apps
6. Enabling devices that can work as tablets or full-blown PCs with equal zest and celerity
7. Updating the visual appearance of the desktop: preserve maximum compatibility with existing programs, but with what MS calls “chrome:” title bar, borders, and a Windows UI surrounding application windows. New “clean and crisp” approach means no glass or reflections, squared-off edges, no more glows and gradients, shadows or transparency.
8. People learn to use Windows 8 by adapting and moving forward, and MS plans to post soon about “how people discover and understand new concepts, and the specific steps…to make sure people don’t feel lost the first time they sit down with a Windows 8 PC.”
9. Windows 8 is forward looking: “a bet on the future of computing” that “stakes a claim to Windows’ role in that future.”

Phew! So much for the summary. To me the most interesting parts dealt with how apps can exchange information with each other, and how important across-the-board resource optimization (CPU, GPU, display, disk, and so forth) is to maximizing battery life and improving foreground element performance. There’s still an awful lot of rosy rhetoric tied up with the change to the Metro style start screen and overall system design and behavior, but MS also seems to be trying to provide technical, aesthetic, and ergonomic reasons why big changes are afoot, with only slight twinges of “because we said so” (the parent’s ultimate explanation for inquisitive youngsters when questions go on longer than answers do).

There’s a lot to chew on here and it makes me think there will be some changes in UI when the Windows 8 Release Preview hits as early as the first week of June. In particular I found the remarks that gestures, particularly those involving swipes from the edge of the screen, will work better in upcoming Windows 8 releases than they did in the Customer Preview both interesting and revealing. Indeed it is partly a hardware problem (particularly for touch screens with bezels that essentially prevent real touch access to the very, very edge of the display) but I have also observed that there can be other difficulties, too, particularly when running CPU-intensive applications on the desktop. Should be interesting to see how it all evolves.

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