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8 UX lessons to learn from Windows 8

OdedK ‎04-14-2013 09:21 AM - edited ‎09-09-2015 11:25 AM

The release of Microsoft’s new operating system has created quite a buzz in the mobile world. Windows 8 arrived at a point in time in which their audience was well acquainted with mobile devices and touch screens. This fact is what makes Windows 8 especially intriguing. The key to success is by understanding how they leveraged their audience's knowledge from the one hand, and offered a new, refreshing approach on the other.


This can be translated into 8 interesting UX principles:


1. Content before chrome


When creating Windows 8, Microsoft drew their inspiration from the Swiss design style and the aesthetics of Signage Systems (e.g. airport or train station signs). They wanted to create a simple and functional interface that put its emphasis on the content, rather than on additional elements or decorations. Signage Systems are perfect for telling audiences where they are and how to get to their destination. This is exactly what a good interface should do: help its users navigate to the content they need.


A typical example for this in Windows 8 is the tiles landing page. This is the screen that meets the user at the beginning of every visit. It lacks typical navigation elements and uses the content itself as a means to navigate. This approach enables the user to engage with the content he cares about in order to get things done rather than just click on an icon or menu.


For example: instead of tapping the mail icon to enter the app and read mails, the user will now see the content of the last incoming mail and react to it. Another example is presenting photos from the user’s albums as an incentive to tap and enter the photos app.




2. Multi form factors

Windows 8 was released to a “multi-device” world. This means new devices are released to the market frequently and users use different kinds of devices throughout the day. Microsoft understood this reality and therefore created a system well-suited for these versatile scenarios. Their idea was to create a holistic experience across devices. Think of a user starting his day working on his desktop at the office, continuing on his smartphone on the way home, and then ending the day on the sofa with his tablet. This required a flexible user experience; one that looks and feels the same no matter what device is in use.




3. Self-customization

In a world in which the smartphone (or any other mobile device) has become almost "an extension" of our bodies, attached to us wherever we go, it seems almost natural for us to revolve our lives around it. Windows 8 suggests turning this around so that the smartphone revolves around us. This is accomplished by equipping the user with customization tools, so that his device is suited to his/her exact needs. The user can decide what content he will encounter in his landing page, and what graphic scheme will be applied to it. This all ensures each device to be unique and individual, just like the person using it.




4. Authentically digital

When touch screen interfaces were first released, designers felt they should use physical metaphors to explain how to use them. Touch gestures were new, and not very intuitive. Windows 8 arrived to an audience fully acquainted with the whole touch notion. This enabled Microsoft to use a purely digital language with no need for the physical world’s mediation. Windows 8 aspires to a truly digital interface using flat graphics and touch gestures.




5. More with less


Simple interfaces are always easier for users to use. This principle is demonstrated throughout the Windows 8 interface by cleaning out elements from the screen as much as possible. A good example of this is the actions bar. Relevant actions for each screen are placed at the bottom of it. This decision is great because it clears out more space for content on the screen and creates a consistency.


Although the action bar is a strict UI rule, it enables a certain amount of flexibility, according to the use case. For example: some screens encourage the users to perform actions and present an open actions bar by default. Others might be mainly “read only” use cases who don’t really need to call the user to act and would prefer to present the screen with a closed bar.




6. Animation

The behavior and movement of an interface is very important for creating a positive user experience. Windows 8 demonstrates a live and engaging experience by subtle animations, helping the user understand the interface better and give him a sense of control and satisfaction. We can see an example of this in the behavior of the “Messages” tile. Normally the icon on the tile is smiling, but when there are four or more unread messages, the smile turns into a gasp. As if telling the user: “Man, your message box is about to explode”... Another example is on the “People” tile presenting nine photos at a time, with an animation rotation between them. This gives all contacts the chance to appear on the front page tile.




7. The “Hub”


We were trained to think smartphones need a unique UI approach because of their limited real estate. This is why smartphone interfaces usually consist of many screens, the user needs to drill-down to with multiple clicks. Windows 8 presents a UI structure that manages to remove real estate constraints, by creating wide smartphone screens called “Hubs”. These put a lot of content in one wide screen and users can view it chunk-by-chunk by panning right. This exposes the user to more content on the same screen, without making them drill deep inside the app. Windows defined a convention in which scrolling vertically reveals more info inside each section, and panning right switches between them.



8. Semantic interface

The pleasure of using a digital product can be achieved by getting the feeling that it is “smart” or “magical”. Windows 8 has an aggregating mechanism that presents the idea of a smart interface that understands objects, no matter where the user views them. For example, entering a specific contact’s hub, the user can view info about it and perform actions from different apps.


From the individual hub, you can write on a contact’s wall, send mail etc. This gives the user a sense that the interface actually knows who the contact is. It removes the different app boundaries and enables the user to reach relevant content and actions outside a specific app.




These examples demonstrated in this post, are just a few of Windows 8’s ideas and principles.

It is still far from perfect, but will definitely serve as an important waypoint in the mobile device history and set the grounds for new and interesting development in this field.





About the writer


Natalie is a Sr. User Experience architect at HPA. She has seven years of hands-on experience, leading the UX in a variety of projects for Smartphone, Tablet and Desktop. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design from Shenkar college and a Master's Degree in Integrated Design from HIT institute. Natalie is also a Lecturer on Interactive Design and UX at the Interactive Media Department, Shenkar college



















About the Author


A User Experience executive who has been introducing UX innovation, strategy and methodology into organizations for the past 15 years. Currently, successfully leading the global User Experience turnaround for HP Software positioning it as a leader in enterprise UX, by incorporating a structured design thinking culture and methodology that in turn has reshaped the internal UX organization as well as impacted the company’s portfolio.

Dennis Handly
on ‎04-14-2013 01:32 PM

And what have we learned about Windows 8 for PCs?  They are partially blaming it for the big drop in sales of PCs and laptops.

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