Microsoft Explains the Windows 10 Design Changes

Microsoft Explains the Windows 10 Design Changes

Feeling a little hamburgled? Looking for something a bit more definitive than an ex-Microsoftie explaining away all the design changes in Windows 10? Well, good news. Microsoft has gone on record about what it’s trying to do with the design of the Windows 10 user experience. And I think you’ll be interested in the official explanation.

You can read the whole thing in a new post to the Blogging Windows blog. It’s written by Albert Shum, who oversees the design of Windows. And since it’s a bit on the long side and hits on some very specific issues. But here’s a point by point recap.

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Metro is dead. He doesn’t say it that way, of course. He says it like this: “Our design approach is evolving from our rich history in transportation graphics and the International Typographic Style.” Evolving “from” means “evolving away from,” by the way.

The new thing is … different. Shum says the new Windows design language was driven by developers who wanted it to be easier for people joining from other platforms. So the new design features “some new, more flexible global controls” and an “adaptive [user experience].” I won’t bore you with what they examined en-route to get to where they are today, but the themes were “making content even more expressive,” “overall simplicity” and “more personal expression.”

Phone and tablet look rough now because it’s still early. Which sounds disingenuous when you consider that we’re supposedly three months from launch, yes. “This ‘roughness’ is part of the deal when we send code out early … [and] the builds you see have many different parts of Windows 10 in various states of being finished.” For phone in particular “what you’re seeing today are apps only partially-adapted for the phone UI that we intend to ship when [its] finished.”

Hamburgers. The most dreaded word in UI/UX design today is everywhere, as Shum attests. But they’re listening. “We can use a hamburger icon without pivots on a PC version of the app for better keyboard and mouse navigation and then customize the same app to have pivots with swipe control for better one-hand-use on mobile. We’re making it possible for an app to have both hamburger and pivot controls—but to display the right control at the right time on the right device. This is one of the benefits of the new adaptive UX design.”


Outlook: commands at the bottom of the screen. “We’re happy to let you know we’re not moving away from that pattern—the builds you’ve seen have an incomplete implementation of the ‘command bar’ from Office and in the coming weeks you’ll see most of the commands back in a familiar-but-updated control at the bottom.”

Outlook: Hamburger menu. It’s changing. Relax.

Microsoft Edge. The complaint here is that the address bar should be on the more accessible bottom of the display, and not at the top. The jury is still out on this one. “We’re still investigating designs for this experience, but we don’t have a final approach ready to share just yet. Keep sharing your thoughts and we’ll keep you updated on our work here.”

Squares vs. circles. Metro was all squares and hard edges. Now, we see circles everywhere. People hate change. “For now, we’re going to stick with using circles to represent people, and we hope we’ll hear that you enjoy how easy it is to spot a friend when you’re glancing through all the things you do on your phone.” Suck it up, in other words.


Photos. Here, especially, the Hamburger menu makes plenty of sense. “The final design will have the Menu icon in the PC app and pivots for phone, allowing greater flexibility whether you’re using a keyboard, mouse, or touch.”


Task switching. This one is interesting. On a PC, the task-switching UI has historically been left to right, but on the phone it’s right-to-left. So should Windows 10 be consistent across devices (and if so, which design to use?), or should it be different on different devices? He’s not sure. “We want to have a good understanding of how tough it is for phone users to relearn before we make a final call.”

As Shum notes, “Windows 10 is just the start of a new way of designing and operating.” Microsoft thinks of Windows 10 as “Windows as a service,” in that it has a plan to provide ongoing updates and improvements over time. And that means “most of the apps we talked about here will be getting regular updates through the store so you’ll see refinements continue to happen after the broad public availability.” This is as expected, of course.

So. I don’t know. After watching Microsoft spend countless hours explaining the Metro user experience, it’s not clear that there was ever a reasonable plan to evolve past that. What’s happening today is more reactive than proactive, though to be fair the proactive approach (Metro) didn’t exactly resonate with the masses. I thought it was pretty sweet. But then I’m not all that burned by hamburgers or the general Windows 10 UI, as many are. I suspect we have more explanations to come.

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