Windows 8 UX Review

While the first reactions to Windows 8 UI demo ranged from “whatever” to “WTF”, most of them were focused on the published technological decisions rather than UX aspects. I want to present my opinion about the UX itself.

The very first word coming to my mind when I see the Metro start screen is “gaudy”. And no, it is not Gaudi, it is gaudy like that

There are too many details on the picture preventing it from having a clearly defined focus. This problem is not so visible on the WP7 devices, because of their small size and different usage pattern (more about it in a minute), but it is also present there.

Comparing Metro with the Start button and the taskbar of the previous Windows versions and with the taskbar of MacOS X, I believe this is a step back to the state even worse than Windows 3.1. Novices and elderly users will be confused, now knowing where it is safe to start.

Comparing Metro with the iPad, the latter has a very ordered matrix of relatively small icons with huge free space in between, while Metro glues all apps in a chaotic unfocused block of something.

In the real life, the start screen will look even worse than this carefully crafted one shown above, because random apps can (and therefore will) have mutually incompatible colors and visual styles. Again, having small icons with large free spaces like in iPad or Windows 7 alleviates this problem; having huge color-filled tiles glued together accentuates it.

Speaking of real life, the cut titles of the panorama control might look cute when the wording is carefully chosen and titles are hardcoded, but can quickly become a distracting factor when using a real-life, random user-generated data. And I don’t even want to start speaking about languages with words much longer or much shorter than English, or about the RTL languages.

But wait, things will get even worse with the announced dynamic updates of the tiles. As far as I understand, each app will be given the freedom to have its own notification UX. Just imagine these all apps glued together, blinking, rotating, jumping and putting on contrast colors to get users attention! Does it feel like a field of nasty banners to you?

For a minute, why would I want an app to display a notification at all? I tell you, even the uniform small decent red circles used in iPad are every time a disaster for my mother. The AppStore app just wants to tell her there are some updates. Actually she uses only two apps and shouldn’t care about updates at all. But because this notification looks so “urgent red”, she feels to be forced to update, just to get rid of this visual distractor. Which is a huge pain on iPad, because neither the AppStore app nor my mother can remember the password.

On Windows 8, such users would feel themselves even on greater pressure to “satisfy” all the apps, just to stop them blinking and jumping. Which is, in my opinion, not the way the user interaction has to be on slates and desktops, as opposed to mobile phones.

The mobile phones user interaction is very specific. A mobile phone IS in fact your personal notification device, with the added service of not only notifying you that somebody wants to talk, but also allowing you to actually talk with him. Half of the reason to always carry mobile phones with you is the ability to be notified, either instantly, or next time you look at the device.

Tablets are different. It you carry them with you at all, it is because you can – they are small and light enought to provide their services even on the go. But the services themselves have nothing to do with the location and mobility. Tablets are entertainment and working devices.

When I turn on the tablet display, I’m not going to quickly check what is going on while I’m trying to walk and hold an umbrella at the same time. No, when I turn on my tablet, it means I have some spare time I want to waste use to consume information: catch up all Twitter and Facebook updates, read some of the web pages linked from these posts, and maybe continue reading those Kindle books. I don’t really care that the apps have something for me to read. I don’t really care I even have apps. All I care for is that I have something to read, hear or watch.

If I was forced to use the Metro UI language even despite of its inherent gaudy nature, I’d shown content items in the tiles of the start page, instead of the apps, and I’d built the UX concept around elimitating tiles from the space by reading them. You turn on the tablet, you read the first tile containing a twitter message, you tap on it, it disappears. You continue consuming content items, possibly skipping some of them, until you have removed all the tiles except of the long-running ones (like Kindle books or movies). This would eliminate the nasty question of “where do I want to go first” and provide a simple and stable information consume workflow. Perhaps I’d allowed users to sort and filter the tiles. Or may be not even that.

On a positive side, I’ve spotted a photo selection interface, where the content items (the photos) are represented as tiles, and by tapping you can put any number of them for further processing in the footer area. This has vividly reminded me an UX idea we have implemented at Axinom back in 2008 for a Silverlight VoD shop :)

I’m looking forward to the next Windows8 videos from the Microsoft UX team.

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