The problem with metro is it’s hard to differentiate

I want you all to pause a moment or two.

I want you all to sit in front of Windows 8, and explore it some more and get to be intimate with “metro” as a user interface style. Really, immerse yourself in it and just stare at it, explore every pixel it offers up.

I now want you to imagine that this is going to be your user interface for the next 5years.

Still onboard?


I have been doing “metro” rinse/repeat designs for quite some time and it has long past bored me to the point where I wonder if I have metro-blindness now. That is I’ve stared at it for far to long that I really need a release valve, I crave something more interesting and has more depth.

This is the part where you respond with the usual metro rhetoric about content-first design, authentically digital blah blah the usual Microsoft Metro Zombie response that often the person at the other end of the conversation has no clue at what even it means, it just sounds smart to say and gives one a sense of authority over the conversation.

I am not saying the path that Microsoft has put the hordes of developers on is wrong but I’m not inclined to say it’s right either.

Who is the target audience?

Today, a 50 something non-techy came into my work pod to talk about the new iPad 3, we talked about what it has and doesn’t have but then I tried to get an unbiased non-technical opinion on Windows 8.

Me: “Have you seen the new Windows 8 yet?”

NonTechGuy: “Nope.. is it out?”

Me: “Not yet, it’s still in beta, but here have a look”

I then watched his facial expression; it looked like he wanted to go to the toilet but was holding back on saying so out of politeness.

Me: “Cool huh!”

NonTechGuy: “is that the whole thing?”

Bottom line was that he was not excited by it and we soon retreated to the iPad conversation. My thinking here is not that well this user speaks for billions of humans worldwide; it was just interesting to see a virgin reaction to basically metro.

This person uses Windows daily and has no issue with it, but when shown Windows 8 front-start screen it had this jarring effect on his senses, as if to say – “this is not what I expected”.

This is the part where someone now responds with “give them time”, “users over time will get used to it”, “I have xyz friends who see the opposite to this view” etc. etc.

I get it, I just disagree with it.

Windows 8 is targeted at us, the tech crowd, the more I think about its practicality the more I contemplate that maybe the reason why Apple is much more successful than Microsoft at this space as they target the baby-boomer style crowd. Microsoft and Google target us and in turn they fail more than they succeed simply because we are much harder to please than the Apple audience.

When Steve Jobs said that they only make products that they would want to use, I think we all in the tech-scene assumed he meant us. He didn’t, I think he meant to say “no, I mean guys my age and people who aren’t preoccupied with engadget/gizmodo style blogs.. I mean me, you people aren’t invited”

The thing that struck a chord today was the fact that iPad3 has failed in the eyes of most tech bloggers etc., yet 50-something non-tech guy walks into the IT cubicle and asks “Hey, you seen the new iPad!”..

Think about that a bit more. Firstly, he has already heard about it from mainstream radio stations and secondly he did not say iPad3 he said “new iPad” (interesting choice of words to parrot).

Metro will outdate itself.

Here is the problem I am starting to see with metro and I am arguably pushing it earlier than Microsoft is with a number of audiences. Metro fast out dates, that is to say initially people’s reaction to the design is positive and emotive. However over time the more and more it gets used, the more and more it will start to taper out, that is to say, you probably are already seeing this with Windows Phone 7.

There is no differentiation; there is no unique upgrade or themed approach to the way you react to data. There is just this metro-zombie existence where if you can slap together a few tiles, fluctuating typography case & size, few background pictures and then some minor rectangle decals here and there. Boom metro installed, payday occurs.

The design and experience over time becomes like chewing gum, the flavor disappears, and soon we are keen to discard and invite new flavor as soon as possible.

I see this as a problem going forward as Microsoft itself can’t control metro in a way that elevates and retains consistency in their emotive experience(s) and to be fair, metro wasn’t born from a scientific analysis, it was born from a group of guys inside Microsoft UX leadership who decided that they wanted to simplify the brand some more.

So what if Microsoft is wrong? What if Metro isn’t the correct way forward and what if it hurts our ecosystem much more than we realize?

Enter Metro-chaos.

Yesterday, out of pure design frustration I decided to do the opposite of what I know about Metro, that is, break the rules, and see what happens.

I came up with this design and then posted it online to see what people’s reactions would be.


I got wave after wave of “this isn’t metro” responses, I never got any reactions around how one could evolve this further. I was craving that and was really just curious to see what would happen if you assault this audience with the anti-metro design. I knew upfront what the audience would parrot back and sure enough I got lecture after lecture on what is or isn’t metro (some weren’t even accurate to the actual principles of metro itself).

I could care less whether people enjoyed the design I put forward as it was always just a throw-away composition and was more about me taking some time-out to just evolve a design.

It struck me simply that I worry now that metro-style as we see it from Microsoft will become tomorrow’s WinForm(s) that is to say we’ve replaced WinForm static UI with now a more monochrome blocky style UI. Developers rarely deviate from Microsoft’s theming (see Ribbon and Office theming as examples) and so from here it’s likely we’ll see the tired old look over and over and over.

I worry about this as I think this really could be the step backwards and not forwards in evolving our design energy.

With that, I leave you with just one question – What if Microsoft is wrong, how do we all collectively recover?

I don’t dislike metro, but I’m not excited about it as much as I should be. I want have more fun with it though, I want to see what others do with it out of the confines of the “rules”, as I think this could evolve further!

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  • Test

    I personally don’t like w8. First that when I install Developer preview few month ago My windows license goes out from my computer.I lose my license. later I nothing found is better. suppose

    VWd 2008 run in 2 second VWD 2010 run in 5-6 second (just example) maybe VWD 2020 run in three minutes. whenever other people like to make things who can be run on mobile then msft make thing that are not run on old computer.

    Like SQL Server 2012. When I install then I warned to install SP1 first. because of high dependencies you can’t make sure it’s work for you. 

    You need x to install y and y for z that’s how they play a game. in dev prev I thing their is msft make some improvement for classic mode but I not find their. What about those people who say “the last thing microsoft make better is w98”.

    I thing I already write a half plate of comments.

  • Hi Scott,

    First of I wanted to say cheers, it is nice to see someone actually exploring metro and not just blindly following. I am on a similar quest myself and have found that many people who are designing apps are missing the point of what metro is about.

    Regarding your picture above, I would actually class that as metro. The artwork serves to reinforce the type of screen this is and the chrome is kept to a minimum. What people are missing about this design is:

    1: Its pretty clear its a login screen.
    2: That your are being shown it for security purposes.
    3: The icons clearly reinforce points 1 and 2 above.
    4: The graphic and background give a bit of motion to the screen.
    5: The login box clear instructs you how to enter data and the login button is nice and big

    I think the problem with metro at the moment is that you have developers telling designers what is and isn’t metro. This results in bland designs that are blocky, static and have no motion. I have read over the design guidelines for metro and cannot for the live of me find the part that says screens need to be boring.

    I mention motion a lot because it is something that effects how you perceive software. That graphic mixed with some minor animation on the login controls on entry or validation would make that screen seem quick, fluid and responsive. If the window was just white, or black, even with the animation it would loose this motion.

    I have looked over you more traditional metro apps (traditional… its still in its infancy but you get my point) and to be honest I think you should be putting out more screens like above. The other screens are boring compared to this one.

    As a developer I can give you my word that it will be the picture above that I will be using in my metro mood board, not the others. I personally think you should start a bit of a metro nouveau movement as I think you are beginning to find the true realisation about metro… That is, it is a set of design language guidelines not a rock to beat designers over the head with…

    All the best


  • I broke the like button on that response .. Well said bravo ol chap !!

  • 🙂 While it’s nice to be light hearted about it I do think there is a bigger underlying issue that worries me….

    The most important aspect of metro is to design the experience, by all means use a common theme but sit down with the data you are presenting and think about how you are presenting it. Use a mood board and scrap all the information that mention a particular way of doing things. Microsoft were very clear in the fact that metro should be adapted not copy pasted ad nausioum. The guidelines clearly say design for the form factor and your data.

    This is not what is happening, developers are sticking points of data into boxes and calling it a day. They are not thinking about why the data is there, how its grouping affects its visibility and why its important balance the screen out with graphics or color to tie the whole thing together. I love the concept of metro but currently all I am seeing is winforms with transparency, background images and a nice font.

    The funny thing is if you look at some of Microsoft’s examples (not all of them, granted) they actually have well thought out data presentation combined with some visual candy to improve the experience. It’s usually not a random graphic placement but a well thought out visual that reinforces what the data is currently telling you.

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  • @mossyblog:disqus I don’t think your artwork follows Metro guidelines and I don’t like it either. And despite what Dean said, your design really isn’t that good. What are those humanoids there for? And what’s with the Earth graphic and the laser beams and cones and the shadows and blurry transparency? Is it a Photoshop effects test? And you’ve missed it on the font too – should’ve used Segoe UI Light or Segoe WP Light (if you wanted Metro look&feel) but you have Tahoma or Verdana there. Metro or no Metro, your design is bad. Take a course in Swiss or British design, learn less is more.

    Another thing, Metro doesn’t work with backgrounds like yours. It’s not because I say it doesn’t, it’s not that Metro “inventers” say it doesn’t, it’s that it has been tested – for decades – and proved. Metro signs on Tube or Underground or road signs on Highways don’t have dozens of different art pieces around them. And it’s right it doesn’t because they are ugly, StarTrek, geeky-DeviantArt inspired piece of cr*p.

    It seems you want to have an option to evolve Metro design into something “next level”. This post clearly shows to me that with regards to design you think in terms of what more can I add to the design to make it better, which is, to many top notch designers, an incorrect approach to have. IMHO that’s a wrong stance because Metro doesn’t need to evolve. It works. It’s clear, it’s understandable, it has served well for decades in transportation and it’s something fresh in IT. It doesn’t have to be decorated any further. I think MS did a good job. They have set themselves apart from the iPhone&Android styled icons. If anything, those are becoming boring.

    And I wouldn’t base my observations on babyboomers and cubicle guys either, they won’t be setting trends, they won’t be the ones that will influence whether in 5 years time we will have the 3rd generation of Metro powered tablet or not. They are always the followers, most of the time they don’t even know why they like “the new iPad” over the previous one better (with them it’s mostly the hype thing).


  • RE: Design. The design was done in a very deliberate fashion hence the “anti-metro” purpose to basically see how folks like yourself react and you have reacted in the same way I was talking about, blindness following of a set of principles and design modelling that you clearly have highlighted a lack of understanding. The hints are in wording like “you’ve missed it on font” and then echoing the same mindless rulings around “thou should always use Segoe UI” .. you’re given the stock trained response to questions you should be thinking more about and less joining the herd / echo chamber.

    Metro or Metro-style? (Do you know the difference?). As for backgrounds at times are a composition of imagery, what if this was part of an image background with typography over the top? what justifies a correct background vs “incorrect” background.  What’s your own thoughts on this beyond what you’ve read on some blog 🙂

    As for signage adopting pictograph elements to give visual queues to drivers who are likely to be travelling at excess of 60-100km an hour. Well yes, but a UI isn’t a sign you have to glance at as you speed past. A UI has more intimacy attached but again… you echoing here or adding your OWN thoughts to the discussion?

    Just so you know my I began my eye rolling when you said “they set themselves apart from the iPhone & Android” as yes they did, but that’s solving a brand compete problem not a UX problem. Breaking 20+ years of habitual visual queues does take guts whilst at the same time you must ask what was broken vs fixed (you’re homework: read more about spatial cognition, it will blow your mind).

    In 5 years time the very people you are talking about not only graduate further into the technical and business decison making process but they also bring a lot of the excess baggage that comes with what is being defined now. You should really sit down inside Microsoft marketing teams and listen to their various issues around the word “trust” when it comes to the brand(s).

    Silverlight’s most common and biggest issue throughout it’s life wasn’t the product itself. It was how badly the Internet Explorer team screwed up over the years – so whilst you may assume the slate gets wiped clean in 5 years, let me the first to break the news that not only it doesn’t but it actually could get much worse to break in the new technology vs today.

    As they say, it’s not about the destination it’s also about the journey.

  • Ananth Balasubramaniam

     First off – I see nothing so bad about the design above, I think its awesome. Everything is authentically digital, everything is placed functionally first and there are no extraneous details. I think a couple more iterations of simplification could be applied – but still, there’s nothing wrong with that. This is probably meant to be an in-your-face evolution based on a “pure” metro design and it works.

    Now, coming to Metro – I believe Microsoft’s design language is (also) a well thought out plan – not just a design language. Most (Microsoft) application designers use the guidelines as doctrine and produce user interfaces that center around getting things done than creating something revolutionary. While Metro doesn’t prevent anyone from doing that – it certainly evokes a sense of evenness. Having used Android and seen enough of iOS – apps look radically different. Faux wood here – dials there – a gradient somewhere else. XAML gives great power to a designer and yet most apps I’ve seen use it for rounded edges and gradients. Yuck. When an OS integrates features into itself and allows deep app integration (like W8 and WP8 will do) – it would be jarring to look at things that look radically different from each other on every click (or “back” keypress).

    The future of the app ecosystem depends on millions of apps written by boring, uninspired programmers/designers cranking out apps/solutions and a few designed to be art/application fused into one.

    Just like Microsoft is making hard problems like data access (LINQ), asynchronous programming (async), parallel programming (Tasks) easier for the masses, they want to simplify design to the point where a programmer can create a good looking interface and a designer can take that to the next level (like you did there).

    There are people who crave new flavors of bubble gum all the time – I used to tweak my android phone all the time with this look and that notification mechanism or that ROM or this theme. But ever since I got my Windows Phone, I actually USE my phone and set it aside rather than sitting for hours and tweaking it to look good and posting screenshots of heavily customized homescreens on XDA-Developers.

    I’m also not sure your “Non Tech Guy” was supposed to be excited by metro. The idea behind metro isn’t “WOW. That looks awesome”, but after an hour of usage – if the user interface never gets in your way, you don’t feel like you want to tweak that darn bright wooden bookshelf to a darker shade, Metro has succeeded. The best interface is the one you never notice, (IMO, in most cases).

  • This is where we are different: You assume I blindly follow the guidelines while I, OTOH, know for myself I am not following the guidelines but rather believe the guidelines are just written down thoughts and concepts in which I truly believe. I wasn’t the one to put them down and even if I did, it probably wouldn’t make the same impact as opposed to when a corporation like MS does it. But, in essence, we are all following Frutiger, Miedinger or Hoffman..what I wanted to say, you seem to believe that MS brainwashed my mind with Metro, while I know that is not the case, I actually made Metro like flyers from 2005-2007 for a company I worked for and I still have a few of them…have you seen them you would know that what they have done comes naturally to me and that’s why I like it.

    The other things you pointed out about backgrounds, fonts etc. I will elect to not continue with comments coz they are too subjective. I stand with my opinion that the design you presented was an overkill using too many elements and effects and that’s almost never good. Why would a login screen need to look like a scene from a bad SciFi film? Now should you again ask why not, I can only respond, take a stroll through a few London public places, museums and galleries and you will see the same, good, repetitive design patterns coming up and they all have a warm, intimate, clean feeling about them. It’s something like Saatchi or Tate used Comic Sans instead of Helvetica…as I said, things are getting too subjective, it’s like asking my neighbour why he painted his house in gipsy red color, no offense, but it’s just hideous.

  • interesting points..I like the “WOW” point..those WOWs most often come from people not knowing a thing about design and technology – they see grass in HD on screen and say “WOW”…;) one important thing to note in this discussion is, Metro has been around for less than two years (if we only take IT and MS in account), while Apple’s UI has been around for almost 10 years. So it’s not quite fair to judge Metro’s results just yet…The other thing about Apple’s apps to note is: Is the Bookshelf iPad app that looks like my Ikea bookshelf in my living room really less boring than a competing Metro tiles single colored grid book app? Why? Because they brought wood textures in? Who falls for that? Or, better question, for how long? Do you need a Faux kitchen table UI and a blender for recipes app? there’s some material to discuss…

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  • evilissimo

    Thank you! For me, as for many other people, Windows 8 is the next Vista or WinME. A screw up, how every other release of the Windows OS is, for whatever reason.

  • evilissimo

    Oh and with that said. Windows 8 has big usability problems. It is enforcing ‘Metro’ (for the name they got sued by a German corporate group called ‘Metro’) which is totally unusable for most nowadays home computers or notebooks with a mouse or touch pad. I don’t need ‘Metro’ to dominate my windows time, this is not targeted for normal computers, it is targeted on tablets and phones. I do not understand this, this should have been an optional addition to Windows 8 like the media center, and it probably would be much better. But because of Metro i wouldn’t want to migrate from Win7 to Win8.


  • I do agree with your point about “zombie metro parrots”.

    I also like your design. It’s cool (which is obviously much more important that functionality and visual aesthetics, like a Fez) (also it looks like graphics out of East of Eden).

    To me personally metro doesn’t feel right. I don’t have bars telling me stuff. Which I have found to be annoying to not have. I always have: network/clock/battery/CPU/RAM. Majority of what I do now is in Linux (It used to be windows, but I lost patience with it). I use XMonad + Gnome. So having my computer open up to the “Start screen” seems a bit absurd. I normally start to a blank screen and press buttons (Alt + P) to make stuff happen. If I ever want to start a program while I’m using something else dmenu takes up a single line at the top of screen. The opposite of going to the start screen and opening an app that way.

    However this is me, I’m not everyone. Not everyone can remember the names of 99% of the programs they use. (or know bash). But, some people can, I don’t want to same interface they give to everyone else. Why can’t I have the option to damn the whole thing to hell and do what I want, it’s my computer.

    I’ve also run to some annoying issues. Windows 8 defaulted to hibernate, when I pressed shutdown. I don’t mind them pushing a hibernate/fast boot feature. But why they don’t tell you is beyond me.

    Disabling scrolling and animations seems to be difficult as well. As scrolling animations give my Dad quite bad motion sickness (very quickly, he can’t even use a mouse wheel on a browser, all PgUp/Dn) it will be impossible for him to use it unless there is a way to disable it. (I have a feeling it’s all locked up to keep the “Fast and Fluid” feel stuck on)

    The main thing I would take from the article is that people are disagreeing with someone’s _choice_ if it conflicts with their design philosophy. Which I find mostly rude.

    But I can understand sticking to a guidelines for professional devs who need apps that work for most potential customers. But for desktop interfaces I expect some more choice.

    Rules are boring anyway.

  • keef

    Sadly, this is Microsoft’s big problem, they need someone new at the top

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  • Metro UI shows us a way to visually display those information. Metro is in evolution. In my mind, your new design is cool and it’s also metro.

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  • Martin Kirk

    “Windows 8 is targeted at us, the tech crowd”

    you are wrong, dead wrong… Windows 8 is a consumer version of Windows, which used to be a producer environment. Metro is all about consuming and buying apps – and Metro is getting in the way when you try to produce…

  • Ok i’ll bite how is ~Windows 7 and below different from Windows8 in terms of producer. What’s the split there? given you have RT and Pro polluting the sandbox “consumption only” argument.

    Basically it targeted a consumer focused approach at the start which wasn’t a bad idea but could have come under a WindowsMobileOS SKU instead of “all or nothing” which it has today. As the moment they allowed the “old” back onto the OS via Surface PRO all bets were off.

    Windows 8 Metro is targeted at the developer base as it put the entire UX Platform under a simplification process whereby handing out basic “wireframe” like UI patterns to derive the design(s) from is where you reduce reliance on high-end design (so we in a sense sacrificed inconsistent / innovative design for templates)

  • Jaime Bula

    Year later… It has been a mess

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