Digital Skeuomorphism decoded.

There seems to be an undercurrent of contempt towards Digital Skeuomorphism – the art of taking real world subject material and dragging it kicking & screaming into your current UI design(s) (if you’re an iPad designer mostly).

I’ve personally sat on the fence with regards to this subject as I do see merit in both sides of the argument in terms of those who believe it’s gotten out of hand vs those who swear it’s the right mix to helping people navigate UX complexity.

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Here’s what I know.

I know personally that the human mind is much faster at decoding patterns that involve depth and mixed amounts of color (to a degree). I know that while sight is one of our sensory radars working 24/7 it is also one that often scans ahead for known pattern(s) to then decode at sub-millisecond speeds.

I know we often think in terms of analogies when we are trying to convey a message or point. I know designers scour the internet and use a variety of mediums (real life subject matter and other people(s) designs) to help them organize their thoughts / mojo onto a blank canvas.

Finally I know that with design propositions like the monochrome like existence of Metro it has created an area of conflict around like vs dislike in comparison to the rest of the web that opts to ignore these laid out principles by Microsoft design team(s).

Here’s what I think.

I think Apple design community has taken the idea of theming applications to take on a more unrealistic but realistic concepts and apply them to their UI designs are more helpful then hurtful. I say this as it seems to not only work but solves a need – despite the hordes mocking its existence.

I know I have personally gone my entire life without grabbing an envelope, photo, and a paperclip and attached them together – prior – to writing a letter to a friend.

Yet, there is a User Interface out there in the iPad AppStore that is probably using this exact concept to help coach the user that they are in fact writing a digital letter to someone with a visual attachment paper clipped to the fake envelope it will get sent in.

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Why is this a bad idea?

For one it’s not realistic and it easily can turn a concept into a fisher price existence quite fast. Secondly it taps into the same ridiculous faux UI existence commonly found in a lot of movies today (you know the ones, where a hacker worms his way into the banks mainframe with lots of 3D visuals to illustrate how he/she is able to overcome complex security protocols).

It’s bad simply for those two reasons.

It’s also good for those two reasons. Let’s face it the more friction and confidence we can build in end-users around attaching real-life analogies or metaphors to a variety of software problems the less they are preoccupied with building large amounts of unnecessary muscle in their ability to decode patterns via spatial cognition.

Here’s who I think is right.

Apple and Microsoft are both on this different voyage of discovery and both are likely to create havoc on the end user base around which is better option of the two – digitally authentic or digitally unauthentic.

It doesn’t matter in the end who wins as given both have created this path it’s fair to say that an average user out there is now going to be tuned into both creative output(s). As such there is no such thing as a virgin user when it comes to these design models.

I would however say out loud that I think when it comes to down cognitive load on the end user around which Application(s) out there that opt for a Metro vs. Apple iPad like solution, the iPad should by rights win that argument.

The reason being is our ability to scan the associated pattern with the faux design model works to the end user favor much the same way it does when you 30sec of a hacker busting their way into the mainframe.

The faux design approach will work for depth engagement but here’s the funny and wonderful thought that I think will fester beyond this post for many.

Ever notice the UI designs in movies opt for a flat “metro” like monochrome existence that at first you go “oh my that’s amazing CG!”. Yet if you then play with it for long period of time their wow factor begins to taper off fast.

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I don’t have the answers on either sides here and it’s all based of my own opinion and second-hand research. I can tell you though sex sells, we do judge a book by its cover, and I think what makes the iPad apps appeal too many is simply – attractive bias in full flight.

Before I leave with that last thought, I will say that over time I’ve seen quite a lot of iPad applications use Wood textures throughout their designs. I’d love to explore the phycology of why that reoccurs more as I wonder if it has to do with some primitive design DNA of some sort.

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Here’s some research that hints at this space [Click here].

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Apple gets complaints about consistent incremental growth in their product(s).

Just like in the lion king, out come the Apple execs holding their new king high in the air as if the “circle of life” sound track is about to be played – yet again – hail the new Mac Book Pro and its retina display for it is the answer to a question nobody asked!

Apple Kool-Aid aside, something struck me today about the staying power of a Apple as a brand and it had little to do with the a-typical Steve Jobs circle jerk “he’s the technical second coming of jesus” rants.

Today, we cast our eyes to the big fruit in the RSS filled sky and we have two choices before us. We can either praise and high five Apple for all its brilliance and might – or – we can boo, hiss and denounce it as the new entity within the technology axis of evil for yet another lack luster development in product planning.

To me though something struck me as a stand out thought amongst many in my coffee overdosed bipolar mind. Today we are afforded the luxury of complaining about Apple and how dare they keep a consistent product roadmap that appears to be growing incrementally over the years. There’s no sudden abandonment or about face turn on product roadmaps, there is no product sitting in the portfolio suddenly gone really really quiet from a marketing standpoint to the point you almost would swear it never existed.

They have this nerve about staying fairly committed to their product vision and future and what really gets under my skin is how they keep improving on their designs.

An example comes to mind, the new Macbook Pro. All it has really is a tighter retina display that they borrowed from the R&D they clearly have put into the iPhone/iPad(s). What a cheap attempt at fooling me into buying their product – I’m outraged.

As you all know, I’m a Microsoft .NET developer & designer these days and to be openly frank about this, I don’t like it when a brand sticks to a commitment around their product line(s). I’m not used to it and I expect after 1-2 years the product has to be parked in the “old ideas” parking bay and I await now the new vision of what’s new coming up next.

The idea that you’re R&D can be re-used across all your platform(s) in a consistent and carefully designed manner that isn’t highly reactive to your competitor(s) is quite arrogant and clearly a dumb idea.

Microsoft will show Apple who’s boss, they’ll take the Windows 8 Tablet and ram it down the vegan fruit eating zen smoking hipsters throats. They’ll give them a lesson in how to confuse and alienate their customer(s) with inconsistent visions and platform resets that are a massive answer to a question that nobody asked.

Watch this space Apple as you’re about to be skooled on Windows 8 and yes there is no start button because that’s 25+ years of habitual usage that need not apply anymore – yeah they did it, they meant it and Sinofsky is here to represent it – Windows 8, no start, no finish just existence.

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Watching a father fight cancer.

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Its 11:30 PM on a Thursday night, my father is to my right in bed scared about one thing, drowning. He’s not afraid of dying; he made peace with the concept of what happens next long ago. He’s more concerned about drowning in whatever is pooling inside his chest due to the cancer aggressively growing inside of him. The doctors have said plain and to the point, that what will eventually take my father from this earth will be via drowning on his own internal chest fluids (among other things).

In order to defeat this, he has decided to cheat his fears and up the dosage of morphine and another drug that I can never recall. This will let him pass in a peaceful sleep, much like those ones you have after pulling an all-nighter and crashing at the end of it (Deep dreamless sleep).

I’m not one for talking about death, for me it’s one of those subjects I like to keep at the dark corners of one’s mind, tucked behind the bad memories and stupid mistakes I often make. I don’t seek this subject out; it often seeks me in the form of a friend or relative of some sort dying.

The last time I saw someone die was on a train station platform, this overweight man was slumped on the ground with a railway staff worker performing CPR on his chest and for me it was the most unsettling sight of all. With each compression, his stomach would inflate like a bull frog croaking and what made me stare with shock wasn’t the sight of CPR. It was the scary and most profound thought of a man dying on his own, on a random train platform in the middle of the day with a stranger fighting to keep him alive.

Once the ambulance came and went with his still body, I gathered my thoughts and boarded the next train. I went to work and thought “well, that’s how life goes I guess?” hoping that this new found event in my life wouldn’t fester. Watching that man die has always stayed with me though, I did want to find out his name and offer some comfort to his family, telling them something positive about their loved ones last moments on this earth.

I didn’t, I chickened out and put it down to lack of information to follow up.  That’s a lie though, I could have found out as my old boss from many jobs ago is now the CEO of the Rail Company and I went to School with one of the cops that attended the scene, so getting that information was easy, all I had to do was ask.

I didn’t move, I just sat there staring at others fight to keep someone alive they have never met and put it all behind me.

Tonight, my father lies beside me in a hospital bed, fighting with each breathe to buy one more day, as that’s what his life has now come to – fighting for a day or hour from now.

Dad has put up a fight, he can be stubborn like that, as he was told he had hours to live before, and I think that pissed him off. So much so, he decided to rally, live a few more weeks, probably out of spite or his dislike at being told what to do?

This time, he’s exhausted, it’s the 10th round in a long and brutal battle with cancer, he’s weak and mentally he’s ready. He’s made his peace with god, he’s told his children and loved ones repeatedly how much he loves them and why he’s proud of us all.

Punching out though isn’t still something he will yield on, as despite his exhaustion and all the conditions for a peaceful death are before him, he won’t go. It’s like he needs to go around that corner just one more time to see what’s next, read that next chapter to get closure on the plot or wait to see what happens after the credits in a new Marvel movie for that last nugget of “what’s next”. Curiosity is what I think keeps him alive the most – what happens next?

This is what my dad does, he fights. When the odds are against him, he always seems to dig deep, hunker down and duke it out with whatever is front of him.

My dad all my life has been the guy who refused to let a bully push him/loved ones around him around. The amount of times I’ve seen him push back on this has always left me with a sense of pride. He has always taught my brother & sister that you fight for those who can’t fight for themselves and thinking about all my child hood fights, turns out we did. I did get into a lot of trouble growing up, mostly for being a spoiled know it all brat but also for not letting someone push others around (teachers, school yard bullies etc.).

Yet again, dad sees a bully before him, its name is cancer and he’s simply saying “knock it off”. If he’s going to die, it’s now on his terms and despite the overwhelming amount of force cancer has over him, he’s still throwing some punches.

It’s hard to watch him fade like this, it’s not like the movies and it’s a lot more painful than hearing about a colleague or friend dying. Those are events to people that you are fond of but this is personal, this is your father.

It’s painful for a lot of reasons, as it feels like you’re the one who’s been given the diagnosis of an untimely end which would be easier as that means you’re in control. This however isn’t fair, as it’s the same feelings but you’re not in control, you can’t help them, all you can do is sit beside them, hoping for some Hollywood / Disney moment of a miracle to shine forth.

It won’t come, I get that and I’m not a religious guy to assume this is some “master plan”  – fuck that, there is no plan, there is just existence.

My father will die in the next few hours/days/weeks (hopefully), but he will die with his wife and children beside him, all in agreement that our lives where richer and thankful for his existence.

He won’t die like that stranger on a train platform, he will die on his own terms and surrounded by his loved ones and that for me is a rare gift. Not many of us can get that opportunity in life, to pass away with some forward notice whilst being surrounded by those you love the most.

Watching my father die is more of a gift than I had original realized. I get to say goodbye and tell him how proud and loved he will be..

Cancer you may have won the battle, but like all bullies you will eventually lose.

Filed under personal.

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When I first came to the Microsoft community in 2007, I was amazed at how many experts there were covering a breadth of its products. Being from an Adobe/Java community originally we simply had a lot less vocal experts floating about and the ones that were regarded as experts, well they were easily identified through their work.

To be fair, that’s really a personal issue as in the end if you assume the blog in front of you is an expert without studying their background or body of work, well, you’re the idiot not everyone else?

True.

Yet, I see this weird thing happening within the same Community today, that is to say I am reading more and more opinion pieces on Microsoft’s vision of Metro-Design.

That is to say, there is quite a lot of blogging echo’s on Metro Design being the way forward, there are quite a lot of folks suddenly taking an interest in Dieter Bram’s 10 principles of design, History lessons on Bauhaus, Transport Signage, Typography 101, Minimalism design for dummies and so on.

This is great; the more people can read about these types of subjects the more they can get a sense of bearings around “why” and “what” but it isn’t a launch pad for “how”.

The point is, unless these people have cracked open a design tool, sat down and grinded out some pixels for others to interact with and experience than all they are effectively is a digital sign post to the “why” or “what”. They really have no business telling folks on how things should be designed and more importantly how it’s going be an important component in our future.

It comes back to being authentic in your opinion or for that matter telling someone about your own personal experiences on why the subject matter such as metro is or isn’t important. You’ve tried your hand at the craft; therefore you’re the one who has something to learn.

If all you have done is sat beside a designer who did the work, read Microsoft’s PR/Marketing around Metro and figured this is a great way to launch your conference circuit/blog views in terms of preaching the mindless dribble that often is told over and over – then you’re frankly an idiot.

Developers aren’t designers; they are simply people who like design.

That statement for me is important as it simply means unless you try your hand at design, you’re not a designer, and you’re the other person in that equation who likes design. The moment you try and fail at design you have earned the right to talk about design, as now you have skin in the game.

To future metro design bloggers, less talk more pixels.

 

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Windows 8 Enterprise Monkey Edition …Why not just “Windows”..

Microsoft has this unique gift in their current product portfolios, that is they have a fairly wide range of offerings that at times on their own are quite brilliant and great to use.

This now brings me to my state of confusion, that is to say why they spend so much energy and time confusing the masses when its clear their biggest competitor, Apple, have figured out the simplistic pattern of “less is more”.

There is just Windows.

Today, Brandon announced what will be the upcoming SKU’s for Windows 8, and yes the ye olde “pro” makes a comeback to a shrink wrap shelf near you.

Stupid.

Why do they need to separate out the product lines as to me they really should reconsider this approach going forward, especially given Desktop/Device are blurring out one another’s value proposition(s).

Instead of breaking out a variety of comparison matrix that often as a consumer will result in ticking the lowest cost box, why not instead just let everyone buy a Windows core, that is to say you just “buy” windows.

Picture a consumer walking into a retail shop of some kind, they walk straight over to the Windows box, pick it up, buy it and then install it when they get home.

The installation wizard steps them through various basic features and so on but on the last screen they are asked “what other features would you like to buy? for 0.99c

The end user ponders, and starts to tick or untick boxes that they think they will need for their installation – which is linked to a Azure ID of some kind.

That’s it, no confusion around which Windows SKU you own or at times buyers remorse because you bought the wrong edition which had XYZ feature and now you want that feature but then have to shell out for features you don’t want at a upgrade price of XYZ.

Furthermore this then would condition them to an initial introduction to the “AppStore” market model which no doubt they probably have already learnt via their iPhones/iPad interaction(s).

Just Windows doesn’t stop there either, you also have this same principle applied to Tablet/ARM/Phone hardware as well as now it’s less about specifics of Windows and more about Windows as an abstract platform.

Ergo this would also underpin their entire content first strategy that orbits Metro today.

I don’t see a cohesive strategy within the Windows Teams, I see snippets of success but there appears to be no over arching cohesive strategy. The problem is still there with individual product teams competiting for consumer awareness and attention.

Is Windows a platform or not? if it is, how about it start acting like one and become one and not some comparison matrix which leaves you questioning “Do i need that?” vs “Do I want that”

Scott Out.

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Ex-Silverlighters and how they influence the vNext

On the Interwebz, when you stumble your way through the various “Silverlight is dead”-style blog posts, what you will most likely see is the theme around skill transference.
Silverlight advocates of the past, who have now switched over to WinRT, have begun to spread the message that not all is lost. You can take your Silverlight skills to WinRT!

It’s Kool Aid Time: this year’s batch is Raspberry.

When I read posts like these, I simply shake my head and admittedly get a little annoyed at the existence of such posts. More to the point, I’m also getting weary of seeing MVP’s of the Silverlight of yesterday flipping the script and now putting out a public audition for WinRT MVP auditions.

I get the mindset that often goes into these style posts, and in many ways you have to give these folks credit, as they have simply have moved on. Unfortunately like most people inside cubicles around the world, the luxury of riding the new wave(s) is often restricted to a small cluster of adopters and influencers.

You know these people: they are usually the same people on stage at a conference somewhere telling you what you’re doing wrong and how you should adopt vNext tech to do better.

Back to reality.

I’ve been at the birth of a new technology; I’ve been in a team that spent millions on marketing and seeding the new technology to over 6 million .NET devs and around 500 million PC’s worldwide. You could say I’ve seen a lot and learnt a lot from that experience.

The one consistent ingredient to seeding a technology is what we collectively call the “influencer”. The idea is you round up a bunch of Community Leaders, you shower them with Glass Awards, titles like MVP, or at the very least make them feel important or as your “favorite”, and then you get them to tell people your message (as the theory is that this in turn adds authenticity to your message).

When I was an Evangelist, I went from being an unknown non-.NET developer in an Adobe/Macromedia scene, to being suddenly invited to speak at Microsoft Conferences, Twitter Followings, Facebook Friend Requests, Invites to Business Deals/Meetings and so on. You feel as if you’re now the one being dated whilst at the same time you in turn make others feel the same the ripples of influence continue.

That’s how you artificially pump a community up around a technology adoption. There are different flavors to the approach, but ultimately, your job is to become a band manager and not the rock stars (you scale more).

The messaging framework.

When the time comes where you need to broadcast your message to the crowd of followers, your main focus is to ensure you get traction around repeatable messaging. That is to say, you ensure that you all sing from the same hymn sheet and with enough repetition this message will be the consistent soundbyte you hear at a local conference near you.

For example:

  • Silverlight isn’t dead; it will be around for 20 years.
  • You can take your Silverlight skills today and reuse them with Win8 tomorrow, as in the end it’s just XAML and C#, right?
  • And so on..

These are examples of how you frame the conversation to break down resistance, or what Steve Jobs would call the “distortion field”. It’s sneaky, and often if you’re not paying too much attention, it will creep up on you and then you find yourself saying the above as if it became suddenly your idea (kind of a mutated confirmation bias at work?).

Change is the enemy.

That’s how you flip the script; that’s how you get people to stop looking behind and start thinking about what’s coming up. You can shift an entire community from the old to new in under 2-3 years using that formula mixed with enough conference blitz, blog post(s) and so on.

This is, however, all a false sense of change. That is to say at the conference / front lines, it looks as if things are moving forward fast, quick everyone get on the new wave!

At the cubicle level, the environment that when the conference etc. is over and everyone retreats back to their various developer enclosures. They are still likely staring at WinForms, Windows XP, WPF, Silverlight and so on for the next 1-2 years minimum.

This is where the thinking around change truly festers, as now it’s less about having XAML and C# skills but more about how to use them in an upcoming project. The bottom line is if you are writing Silverlight/WPF, the very notion or idea that you can transfer your skills in 2-3 years when Windows 8 dust settles is really pie in the sky broad stroke thinking.

Today, you have to File-New Silverlight/WPF Project, as it’s realistically the environment in which you are likely to get success in this .NET space. You could go down the path of HTML/JS and really get ready for devices of tomorrow, but that’s tomorrow, this is today.

Silverlight is at the end of it’s life, and in turn anything that takes a dependency on it is sure to decay over the next year or so. Windows 8 is not a desktop release; it’s a tablet release. The future around how Windows 8 plays a role in businesses of tomorrow is still a huge unknown.

Microsoft really needs to stop switching gears so fast here. If the future is to gravitate towards the next wave, then fine. Change is good, yet do so in a manner that has clarity attached.

Stop hiding behind the sound bytes of the usual muffin eaters at the same conference(s). Stop just abandoning the toys of today because they aren’t as shiny as the ones you make tomorrow.

Spend more time in the transition or bridging between the old wave and the new wave, whilst lastly settle on a message around how you transfer and not throwaway messaging of “well if you know how to write code you can write better code tomorrow”.

I think it’s clear we all can learn a language or two. That’s not the point, the point is: What incentive do I have to relearn (or go backwards in) in order to move forward?

WinRT is Silverlight 1.1 or 2.0 when it comes to development experiences. Windows Phone 7 Development vs. Windows 8 Development isn’t as clear as it could be. Lastly, if Silverlight has no more releases left in it, then how do other products like Lightswitch, Expression Blend, Visual Studio, etc. get affected by the end of life stigma?

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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?

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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.

MetroChaos4

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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Windows 8 Metroholm Syndrome kicked in late last night.

Like 1million of you out there, yesterday I downloaded and installed Windows 8 onto get this – my 27” iMac – yes, I’m that guy.

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Here are my love/hate notes and a YouTube video to match.

What I like

  • Color Choice. I like the vibrant colors, I was skeptical from the initial //BUILD preview we saw that this would work as that iteration of Win8 came off very flat and really shallow baked. This iteration I am noticing some subtle differences and I am growing to accept its existence.
  • Start Menu replacement. I am surprised at how much I do actually like the Start Menu vs. the traditional one; I am always a fan of enabling users to break out of their chrome and into a more contextually driven experience for at times when specific tasks need to occur. I like this approach, it’s still a bit hard to break a lot of habitual usage and muscle memory, but it’s something I can see the Operating System will chisel away at over time.
  • AppStore. I like the AppStore, I think this is long overdue and am looking forward to seeing more about how this can increase the size of my own wallet (or decrement it). I still am skeptical of a try vs. buy approach to selling your apps, to me try kind of pushes prices further down then they need to be (AppStore anti-pattern).

    I like the almost seamless integration between apps, and how you can pin/unpin them to suite your hearts’ content.

What I dislike.

  • Tile Balance. The balance between typography and glyphs irritated me immediately. I found myself ignoring the glyphs and instead searching the text, but found that the text size itself is excessively small. The reason I think this is occurring is the shapes (glyphs) aren’t familiar outlines of entities I’m used to seeing, so my brain flips the concept around, ignores them given they are foreign and instead retreats back to typography for the answer. I think these needs more balancing between proportion and closer to home shape design(s).
  • Grouping. The grouping seemed did not seem to follow a consistent pattern (prolong usage may alter this opinion). That is to say, how it allocates proportional sizes when you start moving tiles around does not immediately offer up a sense of consistency as I found myself at times wanting a particular tile to be bigger than the rest.
  • Whitespace is amazingly wasted. I’m assuming the main driver for this UI is tablet / slate PC’s so I’m willing to cave a little on this opinion. That being said, if it is to go desktop then the reality around monitor sizes (I know Microsoft has this usage data, I’ve seen it myself) is quite alarmingly large. I mean sure I’m using 27” iMac monitor to view Windows 8 so my whitespace is going to be significantly high, but the thing is Microsoft needs to factor this into their designs (whether it by a pyramid of layout states etc.).

    For instance, when you install an application you pretty much have the upper left locked as being the only elements of UI? To me the far right is a huge wasted opportunity as you can still utilise the AppStore upsell here by feeding in one or two apps that are similar to the one you are installing, give the user the opportunity to read reviews of the application and so on. Point is you can still uphold minimalism but do so in a much smarter contextually driven manner.

  • Internet Explorer is terrible experience. I found the address bar being down the bottom to be frustrating at times, furthermore it often would get in the way of websites like Facebook who use the “Confirm/Cancel” buttons in the bottom right. I found when that occurred the address bar got in the way and left I playing a game of hide/seek until I could get to the said button(s). I am not sure what the science is behind moving it from a traditional top placement now to a bottom placement. I think they went a little too far on the “re-imagined” in this case.
  • Movement without touchscreen. Its clear this OS release is primarily optimized for iPad compete, but again if it’s a desktop release then having smarter keyboard control over how you interact with the OS needs optimizing.

    For instance, I found myself wanting to use START + LEFT/RIGHT Arrow to pan the screen left and right vs having to use the mouse and a scrollbar down the bottom (hit zone that alone was frustrating – fits law anyone?)

Summary.

Look, this OS is a consumer release that much is clear and it is also clear that this isn’t a desktop driven focused experience but instead the anti-iPad release. I can see a having legs on tablet devices, and can see the direction they appear to be heading down that path and can get on board with that.

If this however is to reside as being the replacement for our desktop computers accessing Windows etc., then they really need to think beyond the tablet devices here specifically around how not just consumers but workplaces etc. are going to handle this release?

The design was done an ok at reducing clutter and their marketing “content-first” thinking rather comes of still as being somewhat lazy. I think they can still increase more feature density here whilst retaining a minimalist design (web apps etc. do it daily so it is not really a pioneering effort).

I can’t see pre-existing Windows users who aren’t part of the 6million .NET Horde racing out to their local PC dealer to buy Windows 8 and use it, I think the whole operating system has moved a lot of things around, specifically the removal of the Start Bar Icon itself is going to irritate initially.

This Operating system will require a lot of users having to re-learn there way around the operating system and things they have built up over 15+ years of habitual usage has now been removed – that alone is going to send a polarizing shockwave.

I’m keen to see what the next release will look like and how they plan to market this operating system to the world without tablet device as its primary delivery platform. I think that will be the challenge for them in terms of separating the tablet focused way in which computers are to be used from traditional dell driven workplace(s) / at home laptops and pc’s.

Windows 8 is the primary flagship for Microsoft, its got billions of dollars riding on its success and fail so I personally don’t think this company can afford another Windows Vista moment.

I still think Steve Sinofsky has probably cut to much out in order to make the shipping dates when he probably should have pushed the dates back (screw the shareholders) a little more to give this OS more time in the creative oven.

I am however growing to like it more and more, I can see potential in how I could make a buck or two with it (despite the developer SDK story being a hodge podge of PR “how not to succeed” strategies).

Going forward I bleed metro; its really thin blood and made up of two primary colors and the blood cells are grid aligned…

I also came into work today inspired, that rarely happens after using something new from Microsoft! 🙂

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Microsoft Metro isn’t ready to go Dylan electric.

As inflammatory as this sounds, and it will piss quite a few Microsoft fans out there, but let me just get this piece out of the way before you make some snap fang filled responses.

The current “metro-style” as Windows 8 team puts it, simply is at present a huge missed opportunity that seems to be constantly being bent out of shape and isn’t ready to go electric (i.e. Bob Dylan went electric and everyone trashed him for it, who’s trashing now!).

Feature Density is cancer to Metro-Style.

The minimalist approach to design has been pretty much on the web for quite some time now thanks to a lot of creative souls in the CSS movement of the past (A List Apart, CSS Zen Garden etc. have all hinted strongly around grid focused design etc.).

There is really nothing new that the current “metro-style” brought to the table in terms of principles of design, the Zune however did put a new face to the idea that the a website-like User Interface could exist on a Desktop application.

It’s from there that the Microsoft UX mercenaries within various orgs began feeding the fire around what if you combined web design skills with desktop development.

Circa 2005ish we saw the first traces of the idea about bridging the two worlds together, but WPF got bloated and crappy performance and eventually failed in delivering to meet expectations. Microsoft Expression Blend also failed as at the time we found that whilst there where quite a number of downloads via MSDN subscriptions it had no revenue stream coming in and developers tried and pushed it aside. Designers disliked the complexity that came with the product and we at the time burnt quite a large bridge with Adobe in making the two potentially integrate with one another smarter (Adobe vs Microsoft war killed the vision).

It wasn’t until the guys behind the Metro as we know it today decided to regroup and come up with a pitch to the world on how Microsoft branding overall should unite, and to be fair – it at the time was a welcomed strategy (I for one was keen to see its momentum get traction).

Taking a page out of the Zune design it simply grew into what we see today, the infamous “metro-style” UI whereby you have a fairly flat canvas, a lot of typography, some primitive shapes and maybe one or two complimentary colors – boom, here’s your Metro-style application you ordered!

Attractive bias aside, the UI’s do look good and I don’t mind sharing that I’ve made a tidy profit churning these designs out for various clients, as they are dead stupid simple. The problem though I’ve personally found over time and discussed with many other fellow metro-designers out there in the interwebs is around how to navigate the pitfalls of feature density.

What do I mean by feature density?

Feature density is when you have a team of feature hungry customer(s) all wanting and willing to pay large bounties to cram as many features into the one product as possible and despite your many educational rants around “less is more” it plays out in way that basically ends up being a really bad execution of “metro”.

Interestingly when you discuss such things with others they tend to climb on top of that horse and start preaching the gospel around controlling the client, usability studies, user experience principles and what not to the point where you simply roll your eyes, make a hand jerk motion and thank them for listening and walk away from them even more frustrated than you were before – YOU DON’T FUCKING GET IT raging through your mind.

I at first like most out there I guess would be free to say that maybe I don’t get it, maybe I’m the guy who seems to not find the right balance between feature density and design?

The cracks began to emerge.

That is until I started to pay a lot closer attention to the way Microsoft themselves have been churning out applications within their own kingdom of metro`ness. Ahh yes, I’m watching you bozos and I can see what you’re doing so stop trying to hide it.

What I see is this, Microsoft started out with some pretty basic applications that arguably can fit quite snugly on a smartphone or tablet device? As in the end these aren’t necessary hardware elements in the day to day cubicles? They are more at-a-glance, downtime, basic operational use only (some may use them for word processing or two but in general it’s not a work tool at present).

Once you get past what I call “Kiosk” applications you then run into the same problems I’ve had a couple of years ago, how the hell are we going to keep parity with feature(s) in existing software with the new and modernized metro theme?

There’s a number of strategies I’ve formulated to help navigate these waters, but overall it comes back to cutting features down as much as you can and start dividing the monolithic application into user-contextual driven experience (content first is bullshit, context first is righteous).

Microsoft however aren’t catching up to this thinking as fast as I had thought, as I figured they are the ones who created this problem so surely they have some internal best of breed minds on the said problem right?

Wrong.

Look at Visual Studio 11, forget the grey controversy, that’s not the point what is the point is how do you think the Visual Studio team are going to navigate the metro waters with success? They are going to have to make some large sacrifices in features or come up with some radical left brain thinking here to overcome the “less is more” design principles outlined in the Microsoft doctrine titled “Metro Design Language”

Lets look at Office vNext (not officially but you get the point), I mean the current latest version of Office I’m typing this post in now has pretty much the right conditions for a flat metro theme, It’s almost pretty much there except that Ribbon kind of becomes the metro-style anti-pattern (note I said metro-style, not metro-principles).

Ok, so the overall problem with metro is that it’s probably gone a little to far to the left in scaling things back to the point where the grid-design patterns of the web probably aren’t going to map snugly to the desktop development story as even in the right hands it’s a balancing act.

In the wrong hands metro can fall off a cliff fast, you know those designs, you’ve probably seen them, hell even Microsoft itself puts those ones on full display (Microsoft.com itself is an metro-abortion on full display).

There is way out thought.

I think today, Metro itself as we see it in its incarnation is broken, it’s created this ongoing bad habit where if you nuke some gradients, whip up a lot of typography and pander to the masses you in turn get an instant “wow dude, so metro, high-five” – meanwhile you’re just feeling a little cheap inside, as you know that at the end of the day this is not your best work and you are just feeding the metro-zombies what they want.

Its only when I sat down to really think about how I would re-design Visual Studio that a few things began to click in how both I could navigate the feature density problem but also how unready the audiences were for such moves.

The problem I immediately am noticing the most, isn’t just about color selection (which to be fair guys is such a subjective discussion) its more along the lines of change management.

We are willing to accept small incremental changes or even twitter-like kiosk applications that sit on the Windows 8 mutated start bar or Windows Phone 7 install pile – they don’t really affect us as much as we think they do.

You touch my Visual Studio and Office whilst coming up short on whatever habits I’ve established today, expect a severe beating!!

On one hand the current execution of metro simply says “sorry, we’re going to have to make some radical changes here people” on the other hand it will require you the audience to be open to such change.

Its clear right now, in my view, the earlier can be done but the later, nope, that ones filled with a lot of forum focused anger “you suck Microsoft” style rants.

Sorry, Metro isn’t ready in the sense the current users aren’t ready for its minimalist focused design principles as we’re about to break the one known issue with most user experience today – Audiences dislike less is more, instead they are silently ok with the idea of having a 1000 features at their disposal even though the data says they probably use 20% of those features..

Metro isn’t ready for the mainstream.

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VS2011 “Reimagined” – Class View

Note: The below is an attempt to contribute to the discussion around Visual Studio vNext and what I think personally should eventuate into features for future generations of Visual Studio. The objective behind this is not to declare the UI examples as “done” but more to provoke a discussion around ways in which the tool itself could become more intelligent and contextually relevant to not just developers but also those of us who can do both design and code. I plan on compiling this into a more comprehensive document post public feedback.

Situation.

Today, the ClassView inside Visual Studio is pretty much useless for most parts, in that when you sit down inside the tool and begin stubbing out your codebase (initial file-new creation) you are probably in the “creative” mode of object composition.

Visual Studio in its current and proposed form does not really aid you in a way that makes sense to your natural approach to writing classes. That is to say, all it really can do is echo back to you what you’ve done or more to the point give you a “at a glance view” only.

Improvement.

The class view itself should have a more intelligent by design visual representation. When you are stubbing or opening an existing class, the tool should reflect more specifics around not only what the class composition looks like (at a glance view) but also should enable developers to approach their class designs in a more interactive fashion. The approach should enable developer(s) to hide and show methods, properties and so on within the class itself, meaning “get out of my way, I need to focus on this method for a minute” which in turn keeps the developer(s) focused on the task.

The ClassViewer should also make it quick to comment out large blocks of code, display visual issues relating to the large blocks of code whilst at the same time highlight which parts of the codes have and don’t have Attributes/Annotations attached.

Furthermore, the ClassViewer should also allow developer(s) to integrate their source and task tracking solutions (TFS) via a finite way, that is to say enable both overall class level commentary and “TODO” allocation(s). At the same time have similar approaches at a finite level such as “property, method, or other” areas of interest – (i.e. “TODO: this method is not great code, need to come back refactor this later”).

Feature breakdown.

image

The above is the overall fantasy user interface of what a class viewer could potential look like. Keeping in mind the UI itself isn’t accommodate every single use-case, but simply hints at the direction I am talking about.

Navigation.

image

Inside the ClassView there are the following Navigational items that represent different states of usage.

Documentation
TBA.

Stats
TBA.

Usage by
TBA.

Derived By

The “Derived By” view enables developers to gain a full understanding of how a class handles known inheritance chain by displaying a visual representation of how it relates to other interfaces and classes.

Minimap

image

This inheritance hierarchy will outline specifically how the classes’ relationship model would look like within a given solution (obviously only indexing classes known within an opened solution).

  • The end user is able to jump around inside the minimap view; to get an insight into what metadata (properties, methods etc.) is associated with each class without having to open the said class.
  • The end user is able to gain a satellite view what is inside each class via the Class Properties panel below the minimap.

Class Properties.

image

Interactive Elements.

  • The end user is able to double click on a minmap box (class file representation) and as such, the file will open directly into the code view area.
  • The end user is able to select each field, property, method etc. within the Class Properties data grid. Each time the user selects that specific area and If the file is opened, the code view will automatically position the cursor to the first character within that specific code block.
  • The end user is able to double click on the image first circle to indicate that this code block should be faded back to allow the developer to focus on other parts of the code base. When the circle turns red, the code block itself foreground colour will fade back to a passive state (i.e. all grey text) as whilst this code is still visible and compliable, it however visually isn’t displayed in a prominent state.
  • The end user is able to click on the image second circle to indicate that the code block itself should take on a breakpoint behaviour (when debugging please stop here). When the circle turns red, it will indicate that a debug breakpoint is in place. The circle itself right click context will also take on an as-is behavior found within Visual Studio we see today.
  • The end user is able to click on the image Tick icon (grey off, green on). If the Tick state is grey, this indicates that this code block has been commented out and is in a disabled state (meaning as per commenting code it will not show up at compile time).
  • The end user is able to click on the image Eye icon to switch the code block into either a private or public state (public is considered viewable outside the class itself, ie internal vs public are one in the same but will respect the specifics within the code itself).

Stateful Display.

  • Each row will indicate the name given to the property, its return or defined type, whether or not it is public or private and various tag elements attached to its composition.
  • When a row has a known error attached within its code block, the class view will display a red indication that this area needs the end users attention.
  • The image eye icon represents whether or not this class has been marked for public or private usage (i.e. public is considered whether the class is viewable from outside the class itself – ie internal is considered “viewable” etc.).
  • Tags associated to the row indicate elements of interest, in that the more additional per code block features built in, they will in turn display here (e.g.: Has Data Annotations, Codeblock is Read Only, Has notes attached etc.).

Tags.

My thinking is that development teams can attach tabs to each code block whilst at the same time the code itself will reflect what I call “decorators” that have been attached (ie attributes).

Example Tags.

  • image Attribute / Annotation. This tag will enable the developer to see at a glance as to what attributes or annotations are attached to this specific code block. This is mainly useful from a developer(s) perspective to ensure whether or not the class itself has the right amount of attributes (oops I forgot one?) whilst at the same time can provide an at-a-glance view as to what types of dependencies this class is likely to have (e.g use case Should EntityFramework Data Annotations be inside each POCO class? Or should it be handled in the DBContext itself?..before we answer that, lets see what code blocks have that dependency etc.).
  • image Locked. This ones a bit of a tricky concept, but initially the idea is to enable development teams to lock specific code blocks from other developer(s) manipulation, that is to say the idea is that when a developer is working on a specific set of code chunks and they don’t want other developer(s) to touch, they can insert code-locks in place. This in turn will empower other developer’s to still make minor modification(s) to the code whilst at the same time, check in the code itself but at the same time removing resolution conflicts at the end of the overall work stream (although code resolution is pretty simplified these days, this just adds an additional layer of protecting ones sandpit).
  • image Notes. When documenting issues within a task or bug, it’s at times helpful to leave traces behind that indicate or warn other developers to be careful of xyz issues within this code block (make sure you close out your while loop, make sure you clean-up your background threading etc.). The idea here is that developer(s) can leave both class and code-block specific notes of interest.
  • Insert Your idea here. These tag specific features outlined so far aren’t the exhausted list, they are simply thought provokers as to how far one can go within a specific code-block. The idea is to leverage the power Visual Studio to take on a context specific approach to the way you interact with a classes given composition. The tags themselves can be injected into the code base itself or they can simply reside in a database that surrounds the codebase (ie metdata attached outside of the physical file itself).

Discussion Points..

  • The idea behind this derived by and class properties view is that the way in which developer(s) code day in day out takes on a more helpful state, that is to say you are able to make at-a-glance decisions on what you see within the code file itself. At the same time providing a mini-map overarching view as to what the composition of your class looks like – given most complex classes can have a significant amount of code in place?
  • Tagging code-chunks is a way of attaching metadata to a given class without specifically having to pollute the class’s actual composition, these could be attachments that are project or solution specific or they can be actual code manipulation as well (private flipped to public etc.). The idea is simply to enable developer(s) to communicate with one another in a more direct and specific fashion whilst at the same time enable the developer(s) to shift their coding lense to enable them to zero in on what’s important to them at the time of coding (ie fading the less important code to a grey state).

Going forward, throw your ideas into the mix, how would you see this as being a positive or negative way forward?

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