Windows 8 is a graphic shift in computing habits

Last in a series. If you read tech blogs as much as I do I am sure you have seen a number of articles criticizing Windows 8. Among these are articles that focus on the overall design of the Modern UI and its numerous inconsistencies. I saw a forum post on one website claiming that visual designers hate Windows 8?

The reason, hold on to your seat because this one is a doozy: the Modern UI design language has done away with drop shadows and realistic looking icons; in other words, the interface looks nothing like the skeuomorphic interfaces of Apple and to some degree, Google.

There’s more than One Way to Skin a Cat

As it relates to interface design, skeuomorphism is a way of emulating real world objects in digital form. The major benefit of this design is familiarity. Using a notepad on a computer that actually looks like a notepad helps the unfamiliar application feel familiar.

However, skeuomorphism is not the only design style out there. Believe it or not, there is a growing trend away from skeuomorphic designs towards more simplistic and minimal type interfaces. For instance, see "Where Microsot Has ‘More Taste’ Than Apple". Google has found a great middle ground between the skeuomorphism of Apple interface design and the purely digital of Microsoft’s new Modern UI design language.

Where Google appears to be slowly making the transition from skeuomorphism, Microsoft is going "all in" with their new Modern UI design language. Formerly known as Metro, the design ideas behind the new Modern UI are not new. Modern UI takes advantage of design principles rooted in European design. Minimal, textual, and iconic are a few words that describe the new design language.

As with any design language, skueomorphic (Apple) or hybrid (Google), execution is essential. Apple benefits greatly because it is the platform of choice for interface designers. Google and Microsoft have to work a bit harder to get developers creating well-designed software experiences on their platforms. In fact, I would venture to say that Microsoft will have the biggest challenge because designs based on principles of minimalism, text and glyphish-looking icons are extremely difficult to pull off well. This can be good and bad for Microsoft. Personally, I think it’s a good thing. To work on Microsoft’s new Modern UI platform, developers will need to execute good design in their software applications.

While some people may hate the Modern UI, it is actually very forward thinking of Microsoft, for a change. For the first time in a long time, the software giant is actually ahead of the curve when it comes to design. For a company that is often accused of being "late to the party" isn’t this a good thing? Instead of chiding their efforts in this area, we should rally around them. Is Modern UI perfect? Absolutely not, but it’s a pretty darn good start.

It’s Way Too Early

I remember when Apple first launched OS X. Things just weren’t perfect. But over time, they have finally matured their design language into something that is quite pleasing. We need to understand Modern UI in this same light. It’s early. It’s not perfect, and it will take time to mature into a design language that is essentially pleasing.

I love the new Modern UI, not because of what it is today, but because of the potential for what it can become. Even Microsoft is struggling with how their new language works across mediums such as desktop, print and web. I love the way Modern UI is presented in Windows 8 but I find many executions of it across some of Microsoft’s web properties as well as Office applications to be appalling! But I understand if the company is still working out the kinks in how to properly execute in this area.

My point: we probably shouldn’t judge Modern UI as a finished language. It’s way too early and I think this should be taken into consideration.

The Influence of Consumers

Windows 8 is a consumer OS. There was a time in a previous era (see part 1 in this series) where the design of an operating system was influenced by developer and tech enthusiasts. We are no longer in those times. We now exist in a time where the consumer is the target audience. If you feel that Windows 8 is geared towards them, you are correct. It should be. But it’s important to understand that the design of Windows 8 does not ignore the tech enthusiast because the desktop is still there.

Design is in. Microsoft is right to reflect this in its new modern operating system. Windows 8 is representative of a massive shift in computing habits and their designers are off to a fantastic start in implementing new interface design ideas around mobility.

Large tiles and text blocks are the cornerstone of today’s new interfaces based on distinctly digital designs. Like it or hate it, it’s the new black. You will see many variations on this new minimal approach to design in the future whether it be from Microsoft or some other company. The web is ushering in this new design trend at amazing speed as new and current websites are being designed with new immersive (remember that word???) experiences in mind.

Conclusion

You may not like the new Modern UI design language. And that’s perfectly okay, but realize that it represents a shift towards a new way of designing interface that is currently being adopted by some of the top designers in the world. Please do not take away from this article that sheuomorphism, hybrid is wrong and Modern UI is right. If anything, take away from this article that:

  • Modern UI is one of many legitimate design trends.
  • Microsoft is ahead of the curve.
  • Modern UI has not quite matured and Microsoft is still trying to figure out how to execute it across different mediums from software to web to print.

Let me be clear: There are many design languages, styles and trends out there and designers the world over debate about the benefits and merits of each.

Also in this series: "Windows 8 is a compelling story"; "Windows 8 simplifies computing".

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