RIA: 10 Questions on Icon Design – I ask our Microsoft Design folks to respond.

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I have an Icon fetish that is disturbingly wrong. In that I collect them, horde them and would happily spend Microsoft’s good hard earned money on as many of them as I can find – if allowed.

Yet, what makes Icon’s so special? in that why do they enhance an applications user interface to the point where it almost is lost without them. Why does Microsoft and Apple spend a lot of money and time ensuring that menu navigation and icon’s are done in a manner that’s not only attractive to the eye, but enhance a users experience?

Well, I decided to ask our UX folks, the same folks whom chose Icons for our operating systems, software applications and so on. I had one intent, to get to the bottom of this whole Icon business and more to see where Icon’s can play a role in tomorrows RIA. RIA is going to embrace the icon market, something I have now doubt and so with this, onto the top 10 questions with Frank Bisono & Brittnie Hervey (UX demi-gods).

Top 10 Questions for the Icon Ninja’s here at Microsoft.

Q1. What is an icon?, in that we all see them daily in software but what does the icon represent to the end user? 

Brittnie: An icon represents an action a user will take.

Frank: For our purposes, an icon would be a graphical representation (small picture or object) for a file, application or command (action).  For the end user it should be an easy way to quickly identify what product they are in and what action they could take on a given object.

Q2. When you choose an icon, what is the process that you go through in selecting the right one?

Brittnie:         In Vista there is set usages for every icon that we define when created.  We align the concept of the functionality the user is taking to the best visual representation we can get based on elements rather than words.

Frank:          So generally you don’t just have the luxury of choosing a pre-existing icon here.  For most products or features, we create a custom icon.  On the server side, this means literally THOUSANDS of icons.  We follow the same process as Brittnie described above.  That generally means meeting with a PM and translating the description for this icon into a graphical representation.  Sometimes we have existing elements that we re-use to create an icon, other times, it’s a completely custom concept and we start from scratch.

Q3. Microsoft has released some guidelines around designing icon’s, do you feel that the icon design community adhere to these? 

Brittnie: I believe it depends on group and situation.  Our current guidelines do not map 1 to 1 to what MS sets as guidelines.  I think we adhere when appropriate.  This is a harder question to answer.

Frank:          If you mean the design community OUTSIDE of Microsoft, well – it all depends.  We haven’t put out the most robust set of guidelines I’ve seen, but they are generally a pretty good start.  The main problem I have seen with regards to icons is that sometimes the importance of an icon is overlooked.  There are the obvious visual aspects of creating an icon, but then there are also things to consider such as geopolitical issues that can come back to haunt a developer or studio.  The last thing you want to do is insult a particular culture with the use of an icon that has a detrimental meaning to them.  I’ve also seen updates to products that continue to use icons developed for an older platform like XP.  If you are targeting your application to run in Vista, then you need to refresh the icons to match the visual style we have set for Vista (the aero style).  The last thing I’ll note is that all too often I’ve seen folks take a shortcut and use an icon designed for use at say 256×256 and they scale it down to fit a 16×16 block.  Or even worse, they upscale an icon.  That just doesn’t fly.  There are a number of reasons why you can’t just shrink an icon in Photoshop and call it a day, and the same goes for sizing an icon up.  At the end of the day, it just doesn’t look good.

Q4. I’ve always said that the icon market is ripe for the picking giving the technology going forward, where do you foresee this market going and is there room for icons in formats such as XAML? 

Brittnie:         I foresee icons becoming less important and the UI itself becoming more self explanatory.  With that being said I don’t think icons will ever go completely away, just less needed. 

Frank:          The icon market is definitely getting more advanced.  We are now seeing icons as large as 512×512 directly in the UI and with much richer detail than ever.  I totally see a future with dynamic icons that change as the application’s state changes.  As the graphics engines in our OS get better, so too will the use of icons and the value they can bring to the OS or application.  That’s just one example.  As far as XAML, there’s definitely something to be said there as well.  Right now if you take an icon created in Illustrator, you could export that as XAML and drop that right into code using Expression Blend. After all, a vector is nothing more than a mathematical computation rendered as a graphic right?  But another way to drop that into XAML is by defining a brush in Blend with an icon image and then using that brush in Blend (this is for when you only have a bitmap icon for example).  The “icon” does ok at scaling, but there is room for improvement using that technique.  XAML is definitely going to present some interesting possibilities moving forward with WPF applications.  We are still WAY early in defining that, but as we move more towards a WPF based environment, you will see more attention being given to XAML Icons.

Q5. I have an icon fetish, i just seem to store them, 1000’s of them. Do you also have hordes of icons tucked away on your hard drive and what is it you look for in the design styles?

Brittnie: No, I do not have many different icons I store on my hard drive but we do have thousands tucked away on a sever/share.  The design style is the same for all the icons we create, as we have the Vista guidelines we follow.  I only collect those icons. J

Frank:          Well, I’m not going to lie here, I am a total icon fanboi  🙂 I literally have TENS of THOUSANDS of them hoarded away on my drives at home.  I’ve been collecting them for years.  I just love customizing my desktop and folders using custom icons.

Q6. OSX and Windows Vista have a unique design style to both, and lately the "Glass Effect" plays a role in design style(s). Why is this so? and do you have any thoughts on the next upcoming fashionable style? 

Brittnie: I believe this is because it is a new visual style that you don’t see in a lot of places, and it gives the icons an extra bang.  They feel more like a piece of art work then they do just a simple icon and glass adds some elegance.  I can’t predict the next trend, but if I had to guess, I would think it would be a hybrid between the MSN style of icons and the current Vista style, giving a little less importance to the icon, and more importance to the UI.

Frank:          Hmmm, the glass factor.  Yeah, this is all the rage and trend lately, but I think we’ll see some evolution in the coming years.  The glass thing is just a little too shiny and a little too frosty in places and I think you will start seeing that get toned down a bit.  The big effect there is transparency.  Like anything else though, too much is a bad thing.  I would totally tell you what I think the next trend in icons will be, but I’d rather keep that a secret and let you see it when we release it.

Q7. What is the biggest mistake a developer or designer can do in choosing an Icon for their applications? 

Brittnie:         In our world they could use the icon incorrectly, which then breaks the users understanding of what that icon does.  Windows, Windows Live, & IE all use the same library of icons so using them correctly helps the user to immediately identify what action is going to be taken when the icon is clicked, thus enhances the User experience.   The second thing they could do wrong is size an icon up from a smaller file, pixilation then occurs in the image.

Frank:          Totally in sync with Brittnie here.  An example of using an icon incorrectly would be choosing an icon that has traditionally had a different metaphor to mean something else in your UI.  This is BAD…REAL BAD.  It’s hard to retrain people to think about something in a different way and if your use of an icon gives the user a result other than the intended result because of a bad metaphor, well then you just hosed the usability of your product.  Metaphors in general can be a bad thing and should be avoided unless it is universally known.  You have to think about localization here and what the icon could potentially mean in another culture.

Q8. What advice would you give to the design market around producing a set of icons? given that most software vendors require a themed approach? 

Brittnie:         I guess the advice I would give would depend on what style they were trying to create an icon in.  If they were trying to create an icon in the Vista style I would say the most important thing to do is work closely with the library owner so they can understand what is already built, and how to visual represent something that needs to map into our icons, and to make sure the style guide is being followed.

Frank:          For designers outside of MSFT, the #1 thing I’d say they need to know their target audience.  Sounds stupid, but if none of your users are running Vista (which we all know they should right? J), then you shouldn’t be using the Aero theme for your icons or your UI will look like butt.  This is where proper research comes into play.  Know the limitations of your product.  Think about WHERE the icon will be used, platform, form factor, etc. (mobile device or a huge honkin projection screen in a NOC center).  Think about the environment in which your icon will be seen (potential lighting situations, types of display technology).  We all like to think we are designing icons that will be used on a Windows box in a home or office environment, but the reality is that your icon could end up in a place you never expected it to.  You have to think about a lot of factors when choosing the right design.  Think ahead, anticipate the unexpected and ask a lot of questions.

Q9. Icon’s typically have two states associated to them (eg: recycle bin, full/empty). Yet some (Audim on OSX for example) are now using animation to represent status change, what advice would you give around keeping that from getting out of hand? 

Brittnie: I would say each situation needs to be addressed case by case.  I avoid using animation or multiple states of icons unless there is a status to an icon that needs to be represented for its functionality.    I think the cost of making second/third icons and the additional cost of animating those icons will keep us from doing it too often.  That is usually where I push back from when an icon of this type is requested.

Frank:          I would actually argue that it ISN’T typical for an icon to have 2 states.  There are definitely times when this is the case however.  Status change and animation are two separate things.  You can have one without the other.  I think that having status change is an effective way of providing feedback to a user for certain things.  Animation is where things would tend to get out of control if not done correctly.  In the case of an object that is synchronizing something or transferring data, I can see the value of adding animation to an icon because it’s representing that there is a task in progress. It’s live feedback letting the user know something is happening. But gratuitous animation for the sake of animation is where you start getting into the cheese factor.  How long did those flaming .gifs and websites with music last back in 1995?  Yeah…

Q10. Why can’t we have a universal icon format that fits all platforms, devices and other digital surfaces. 

Brittnie: I think it would be AMAZING to have all platforms support then same file type/format, but I don’t know if this would ever be possible considering the constraints on the web that don’t exist in the OS.

Frank:                   I also think that the idea of a universal icon format would be ideal.  Unfortunately we live in a world where everyone wants to be king and nobody wants to concede to the other player.  You can say that about almost any format on the market.  Blue Ray vs. HD DVD /  PDF vs. XPS /  RAW vs. DNG, the list goes on.  Then you have the issue of maintaining backwards compatibility and re-engineering existing apps to take advantage of a universal format.  Then who owns it?  I think people are just set in their ways and on the grand scheme of things, a universal icon format isn’t at the top of the list of priorities for most folks.  It’s a shame really, but I guess that’s life in the 21st century.

Conclusion

I think that there is going to be a very lucrative market ahead for Icon Designers, especially as RIA begins to heat up more and more as technology gets advanced. Themed Icon designers, and quality ones will be in high demand along side UI designers – in fact – one could argue that a good UI designer for applications should come in armed with Icon Design capabilities. As you can then complete the entire themed experience in a way that others may not be able to.

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XAML, is also something in which I think there is could have stronger potential. The ability to transfer icons back and forth amongst designer & developer workflow will also work towards reduction of having to design icon’s for different scales (16,32,48 etc).

This is also something which probably doesn’t get discussed enough, in that Microsoft Community can offer a lot of maturity in this space going forward. We have exceptionally talented, intelligent and extremely focused User Experience folks on our ethos. I expect as time passes we will continue to see some of this thought leadership and maturity help shape the Microsoft version of “Next Web”.

Also we have  icon design guideline(s) which others may find useful:
http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa511280.aspx

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How do I get started in User Experience?

I’ve had this question put to me in the past month about 20 times or so. It’s a tough question to answer in a nutshell, as it has a lot to do with “How do I retrain my skills to focus on User Experience” which is really what i think is the right question to be asking.

Firstly, I’m personally constantly learning new things around User Experience daily so I’m by no means done with this subject as there is more secrets of human behavior yet to be unlocked. My approach here is to get started at what i call the core of UX – the human 🙂

Secondly, User Experience for me is purely around how humans behave, in that I think you really need to sit down and read as much as you can on how the human mind works, specifically in around cognitive science.

Cognitive science is usually defined as the interdisciplinary study of how information is represented and transformed in the brain. It consists of multiple research disciplines, including psychology, artificial intelligence, philosophy, neuroscience, linguistics, anthropology, sociology, and education.[1] It spans many levels of analysis, from low-level learning and decision mechanisms to high-level logic and planning; from neural circuitry to modular brain organization.

The keyword being study as in the end, listening and learning about how a human being processes information and makes decisions is one thing but then mapping this knowledge to interface design in software is really what i personally think comes back to experience. Building the muscle here is something that is done with both trial/error, whitepapers, videos etc of how others have succeeded (i.e. Microsoft’s favorite one is the old “Ribbon Menu” and how it supposedly won over the Microsoft Office Masses).

Thirdly, I think you need to practice the art of design, I’m not talking about high fidelity user interfaces, I’m talking about wireframing and prototyping your ideas. These are crucial as it forces you to jump into the hot seat of the end user and try and see things through there lens. It’s also important that you understand who your end users are likely to be, as we human beings aren’t the same. We are made up of different ages, sex, race and abilities – so understanding your target demographic is just as important in software design as it is in marketing the software (the two are interlocked really).

Example. If your expected audience was made up of 10-35 year old males from an English speaking country, would you approach the software user interface from the angle of a 35 year old only? or a 10 year old? would you fork the UI depending on age brackets? if so why?

To answer that, prototype. Experiment on what you think is the right theory, research how to design for the aging brain, find out as much as you can on how males differ from females, and does this offer any extra clues on how it should be approached? or does it even matter. Point is, absorb who your audience is and find ways to make the software design suite their needs to carry out actions and less on the easy route that gets you done quicker.

Example: Inside Microsoft, I often heard UX designers complain that they are limited in terms of winning over the engineering teams on fixing bad UX within the company. The reason being was that a lot of the times the engineers would simply refuse to change their practices, and would constantly throw the old “it will cost more” argument onto the table. This in turn left the UX Army frustrated, as nothing was changing and they were constantly having to accommodate engineering’s needs and less on the end user. An example of bad UX in Microsoft that i can think of is SQL Server.  Its a horrible installation experience and makes you the end user feel like its way more complex than products like MySQL for example.

Fourthly, experiment and listen/learn from others who are in this space. A lot of times people are often echoing the same b.s they probably read in Jenifer Tidwell “Designing Interfaces” book, but mainly research what terms like “Progressive Disclosure” means..or specifically how Fitts Law is relevant to software you are designing today and does it have a positive or negative effect? if so, why?

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I personally am constantly retesting theories all the time, my main focus is not to play it safe with software design, I want to essentially break out of the mould of guys like Jakob Nielsen.  I instead want to push the boundaries and break rules, as my theory is based around what others in Apple have told me – “We know what people want, they don’t know what they want”.

It’s arrogant and bold, but i often wonder if products like iPhone were put to the usability test, would it pass or fail? Same with the Windows Start bar, isn’t the BOTTOM LEFT position more cumbersome than say TOP CENTER? is this accepted now due to habits being formed around its current location or would a virgin user likely accept it being placed elsewhere on the screen?

Habits can be the enemy in user interface design, as in order to break away from existing patterns (good and bad) you have to convince the end user to change their habits in a subtle way. If you succeed, then you innovate and we see more and more exciting experiences emerging (or flipside, horrible ones) – the key though is doing this within context and within scope (ie pick your battles)

In order to get started in User Experience, sit down and read as much as you can on how humans interact with software. Books, Websites etc are all going to offer clues but the best starting point imho is reading as much as you can on “Cognitive Science”

One of my favorite books I often refer to a lot is -  Universal Principles of Design.

I’ll continue to explore this subject more.

Links you should click:

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Silverlight and the reality of Accessibility

 

I’ve just finished reading Kelly’s post on CBS + Silverlight + Accessibility.  Its a great post, as the intent and motivation behind it seems to be based from a healthy place.

The thing about this post however, is the cold hard reality of what the intent of this post today is unlikely to yield a positive outcome. I say this boldly knowing full well someone out there will highly likely go “Just wait a darn gone minute barnesy, what are you saying here..”

The rationale behind my wording here is that when you combine a somewhat complex UX issue as Accessibility and mix it with Silverlight, well your talent pool can drop significantly beyond where it was before the two pieces were to meet. As it stands today, finding UX Specialists that can bring high quality experiences to Silverlight isn’t as vast as one would have hoped, now combine this need with “must have accessibility experience” and well, its small is all.

Its a tough problem to crack and any who do wish to partake in the quest to dominate this problem, will do so without a lot of guidance from the web. Silverlight is still in a relatively early stages of growth, as whilst there is wild success in installation and developer uptake, there is however a lot of unchartered ground to cover in terms of identifying best practices, guidance and techniques to solving problems that are mostly covered off 10x over in spaces like HTML/JS/CSS – not just with Accessibility as well.

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Having said all of that, there are pieces to this puzzle that can be brought forward from HTML/JS/CSS into the Silverlight arena to push that agenda forward more. The question is really how does one bring these to the surface? who’s the folks leading this charge and how can more sites like CBS take a page out of their gospels? This is a problem in which more light should be cast as well as ways to ensure Silverlight based solutions also factor in a graceful degradation for situations where there is either a technical or resource challenge in place.

Is that fair though? in that if accessibility is too costly for a brand and as a result they adopt the cheap approach by marshalling folks with accessibility issues to a separate and less immersive experience, does this not hurt the equality of the web? Bloody oath it does and everytime that occurs, a kitten gets punched in the face – as its just as cruel.

In the end though, sadly, its a numbers game, and whether we wish to face this reality or keep hammering away at the politics surrounding it, often, companies will balance between quality vs quantity when it comes to issues like this.

If an intended experience is made up of 95% of folks who aren’t likely to face accessibility issues vs 5% who are, what is the risk/consequences of ignoring that 5%. Is that right to state that so coldly, no, but in today’s online environment that equation is often calculated daily if not weekly.  There are a lot of highly visible brands online today who aren’t 100% accessibly compliant – in fact Microsoft.com/Silverlight itself has issues there – so who or what entities cast light on this problem as one-off blog posts aren’t really being as effective as it could be. How can this issue in general, especially for the Silverlight community simply turn a corner and lead more by example?

I know there is a few folks inside the Silverlight engineering team that are solely devoted to the art of accessibility, so its not like Microsoft is ignoring the existence of this problem, absolutely not instead they are attacking it the best and fastest way they know how with the resources they have. Question is, who in the Silverlight community is actively supporting them and how many?

Where is the guidance on this problem in a more real-world focused way.

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GUI Design : I like to focus on important tasks.

I take a lot of inspiration from the iPhone, as to me its this device that fits in your hand and has not a lot of real estate, yet it accomplishes more tasks at times than most computer desktops today. I can make calls, check email, look at calendar, browse sites online, play a game, set a task, take notes, tag a song for future purchase, tag a book for future purchase and so on.

All tucked inside a small device.

I typically each morning, check email in bed when I first wake up – habit from working at Microsoft where email dominates your life – and it struck me this morning about the way the iPhone was designed. I looked at the outer frame, and noticed for the first time that it was designed in such a way to be simply a "frame" to what is important, the software.

It hit me as a profound thought that despite the look and attraction of the iPhone, the actual device itself was firstly made to look appealing as it sits in your hand, but secondly it was designed to fade into the background when you decide to actually use it.

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Armed with this thought, I jumped on both my iMac and Windows machine and explored the various applications I have installed and noticed that there seems to be a lot of confusion on the Windows side of things and less on the OSX side of things. It struck me that the difference between Windows and OSX isn’t the brand wars, it’s the subtle way things are designed to keep people focused on the task and less on the framing of the task.

In Windows, each application becomes its own pattern, or "iPhone" whereas on OSX typically most applications chrome looks the same, in fact it must be extremely hard for software vendors to deviate from Apple’s look and feel.

This then made me think about how I’ve designed UI in the past, and I often think about the way I’ve approached the overall user interface. I have since then experimented with the way one project’s design looks, and thought about how my chrome should be prominent at the start of the applications boot sequence (login etc). Then once the hygiene task has taken place, it’s job is then to blend into the background.

Look at below, you will see that in isolation the design (even in its blank canvas form) becomes a focal point, the icon and then the panel at top etc.

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Now look at the change if I simply add a rounded white rectangle, the actual chrome fades to the background, and the white overpowers your attention. You probably wouldn’t of even noticed this had i not told you about it either.

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This to me is where I think software design – aka interaction design – can make or break you in terms of how users interact with your solution. My theory is that a user interfaces job is to take you to the heart of a problem, its job is to connect you to the most important thing you can possibly do from within the context of the application. Sadly though, I rarely see this in software design today, all too often I see the software become more of a Swiss army knife in terms of features and needs. The argument there is well we are good at processing multiple tasks at the same time, which is true, but i also can’t but help wonder if we’re following the same mundane pattern over and over, resulting in no evolution in GUI.

The only evolution in GUI that I’ve really seen in the last 5+ years has been the introduction of gesture based interfaces (iPhone, Microsoft Surface etc). This has changed the way we’ve approached design, as now it’s about touching the glass and manipulating design with our hands. It’s about designing around the fact we can’t see through our hands and traditional software GUI has to change into something that accommodates the new approach.

In doing this, we reverted back to simplicity. This to me, highlights that as much as we want to argue that Office Ribbon for example makes life easier to experience the plethora of features found in Microsoft Word etc, the reality is, they (Office Team) just found a way to simplify the overall interface to the bare minimum, and keep people focused on the important features.

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The problem though is I can’t seem to separate the framing of the software from the functionality, meaning as I type this blog post in Microsoft Word, I keep noticing the Ribbon Menu as I type. I instead want the UI to somehow take the life of the white document space and this is all I see, then when I need something from the office draw, I then go to it. The same as if I would on my desk at home, where if I need a post-it note etc, I turn away, open a draw and get it.

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Its a rough example, but the point is hopefully made.

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Don’t abuse the Desktop.

If you’ve read any book on design patterns, prospective memory is bound to come up. A lot of folks may read it and go “ahh, nah, i don’t know what to do with that” and i state this as i constantly wonder as to why applications continue to hassle users to “Save this to the desktop”.

The desktop inside windows in my mind is like your desk in your office. It’s your surface area where you keep things that you can recall at a later date – “I’m going to put that TPS report in the upper right of my desktop surface, so i know where it is later”.

Problem today in software land is everyone keeps asking you to keep their TPS Reports on your desk and either you’re too lazy to agree/disagree or you didn’t notice they just did it. Pretty soon your desk is cluttered with lots of paper and it’s hard to find your chosen items vs.. everyone else’s.

Don’t abuse the desktop.

At present I’ve not seen an installation experience that tackles this problem other then a weak check box that is default checked (like somehow its important that you clutter my desktop) and that’s essentially your way out of this installation spam.

It doesn’t work really, as firstly you’ve got to be conscious of the fact that the checkbox is asking you “Would you like me to add to the clutter” and secondly making things “default checked” is an assertion really, much like “Push Polling” – it casts a prejudice up front and rarely have i seen actual self selection work.

Instead we should approach it differently. Instead of approaching it as a default checked item, allow the users to opt in manually and educate them on the power of the desktop itself and why it exists – as often I’d argue folks assume its simply part of the vortex of “things i don’t understand about my computer”.

e.g.:

Would you like to save this application shortcut to your desktop? Yes/No

The desktop is where you keep important information on your computer that helps you remember where things are – treat it like your desk in your home/work office.

Something like that anyway.

I’d argue the desktop today has fast become the wasteland of “icons that i’ve long forgotten” or “those icons that get in the way of viewing my desktop background”.

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Apple vs Microsoft – Web Usability.

Microsoft vs AppleI recently found a site via a colleague today, which basically outlines the way in which we approach our customers/consumers via the web compared to Apple.com

[ Click here to view the post ]

At first I just simply groaned, and waited for the beating, as I know internally I’ve moaned about our approach, so i was expecting to see us slaughtered in a pro-Apple fashion. The Author however, did approach the post from an unbiased perspective in my opinion, and i don’t see anything outrageous about the post (other than the stupidity in the comments in parts).

I happen to agree with the majority of the points and have arrived in many ways at similar conclusions to the author.

For me, I recently (early this month) took ownership of our Microsoft.com/Silverlight site (specifically the User Experience) and it’s a site I’ve agonized over for weeks on how to fix. The current version of the site is not one we as a team are content or happy with. We can do better, and we will, but its posts like this that help me navigate the best approach with regards to user experience and information architecture.

Silverlight is one of these products that we are keen to simplify more in terms of understanding of what it is, why its important you invest in and lastly what the possibilities are in using it.

Keep it Simple, Don’t make me think – are the mantra for my next version of the site and it was blog posts like the one mentioned that simply help.

I love this kind of open raw feedback, we need to see more of it.

Send me your vision of how we should build Microsoft.com 2.0, i.e. what is it we can do better, what we aren’t doing, lets paint a vision of the future? If you feel in the mood to redesign the sites and want to pitch your design to that team, PLEASE DO SO.. I will walk your pitch to the team(s) myself personally.

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Apple stole my whitespace.

I often meet up with a co-worker (Michael Bach, Product Manger & Designer for Microsoft.com/Web) and we talk all things design. As it for us is therapy given we are constantly surrounded by engineers within Microsoft 🙂

One insight Michael came up with the other night is that Apple own white. It got me thinking and the more we looked at how other sites are designed, the more we both agreed that in the end its very hard today to come up with a site design that uses a big picture and is done in white without someone saying “dude, that’s so apple”.

I’ve done some design mockups for microsoft.com/silverlight that i want to pitch to the team, but am very annoyed as the more i look at them the more i can see them being labeled “that’s so apple”.

Another insight is that we noticed these days a lot of the brightest and best website designs seem to evolve around a central image, in that photography is playing a vital role in the way sites are designed.

A big vibrant picture can actually hide a lot of “meh” in a design.

Example:

http://sethsaid.com/

With a big vibrant image, i found my initial reaction to this site to be well designed.

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Now without.

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It just seems flat? and very monochrome. You can find more at (Web Creme Web design inspiration) and have a look at BIG Image vs SMALL Image.

Now lets take a throw-away design I was tinkering with for Microsoft.com/Silverlight.

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The design is ok, but the image for me lacks life in that without the image, the design would look very basic.

Now lets see what happens if I add some other elements that i got from another site (as it struck me as a great concept to mood-board together from).

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The two look completely different imho, and it sort of brings new energy levels to the design – even though its a very very basic design in the first place.

Damn you Apple, damn you and your white space designs.

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Scott Out.

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