Windows 8: Microsoft's Manifesto
The Windows 8 Manifesto
In keeping with its art historical influences, Windows 8 needed its own manifesto. The specific wording has evolved along with the experience, but its core philosophy has remained consistent. Most recently, the Microsoft design philosophy has been expressed through its five design principles:
Microsoft Expresses Their Design Philosophy Through Five Design Principles
1. Show pride in craftsmanship
Devote time and energy to small things that are seen often by many of your users, and engineer the experience to be complete and polished at every stage.
2. Be fast and fluid
Let people interact directly with content, and respond to actions quickly with matching energy. Bring life to the experience by creating a sense of continuity and telling a story through meaningful use of motion.
3. Be authentically digital
Take full advantage of the digital medium. Remove physical boundaries to create experiences that are more efficient and effortless than reality. Being authentically digital means embracing the fact that apps are pixels on a screen and designing with colors and images that go beyond the limits of the real world.
4. Do more with less
You can do more with less by reducing your design to its essence, and solving for distractions, not discoverability. Create a clean and purposeful experience by leaving only the most relevant elements on screen so people can be immersed in the content.
5. Win as one
Work with other apps, devices, and the system to complete scenarios for people, like picking content from one app and sharing it with another. Take advantage of what people already know, like standard touch gestures and charms, to provide a sense of familiarity, control, and confidence.
It’s great to see companies using principles like these to guide designers and developers (Apple includes principles in its iOS guidelines and Android introduced a similar construct with the release of ICS). Design principles are a practice we rely on every day here at Punchcut, and they are invaluable in developing new experiences. They establish a foundational doctrine encapsulating the fundamental ideas that define a signature experience. You might think of these a bit like the constitutional law of the UI. Detailed UI guidelines and specifications are great, but they only speak to what already exists. When extending an experience with new functionality and new use cases, to new contexts and new devices, principles help direct design decisions while UI guidelines lag behind. Design principles enable experience continuity across diverse situations through common core values. Analyzing Windows 8’s design principles reveals the underlying philosophy of the platform.
The Windows 8 Manifesto
“Show pride in craftsmanship” might be summarized simply as “make good stuff” but also speaks to a deeper philosophy about the relationship between designer and developer. One of the primary ambitions of Windows 8’s Modernist influences was the fusion of art, craft and technology. The Bauhaus school, in particular, was interested in reuniting the artist and the artisan. Microsoft seems to have similar ambitions for the designer and the developer. The Windows 8 language empowers the developer (not to mention the interaction designer) with its flat colors and geometric shapes. It lends itself to vector-based tools and programmatically drawn shapes over graphical assets. Microsoft has invested in developer outreach, UX templates and guidelines, and tools like Visual Studio. At the same time, this principle reinforces the need for basic visual concepts like balance, symmetry and hierarchy. The last slide of Samuel Moreau’s 2011 Build presentation encourages developers to “use the principles”, “use the templates”, and “partner with a designer”.
“Be fast and fluid” emphasizes two aspects of the Windows 8 experiences—direct interaction, and motion design. Both of these points build upon Metro’s mobile and entertainment origins with its use of touch and gestural interaction, and its call for immersive storytelling through motion. Direct touch interaction, initially paired with mouse and keyboard options, is a key element of Microsoft’s push toward natural UI. The emphasis on dynamism, perhaps best illustrated in the live tiles of the Windows 8 Start screen, was also a central pillar of Modernist thinking, from early beginnings in Futurism to the Saul Bass film titles referenced by Moreau.
“Be authentically digital” is at the very core of the Windows 8 philosophy and echos the ideals of its art historical influences. It calls for a departure from the skeuomorphic UIs of Apple and its imitators, through flat geometric shapes, bright colors, bold typography, and dynamic motion, and embraces the technology of the time with an emphasis on social connectivity and cloud functionality. This rejection of metaphor is another fundamental shift in the move to natural UI.
Economy“Do more with less” captures Windows 8's reductionist and functionalist aims, putting content before chrome and functional focus over feature breadth. These are both core Modernist tenets, but also relate to another objective of natural UI—the invisible interface. This goal may be more aspirational than practical, and is more readily achieved in the content-heavy consumption-based experiences from which Metro sprung and for which Windows 8 seems best suited. The high density creation tools one expects from a Windows desktop experience may have a harder time achieving UI invisibility. This may be why they seem largely relegated to the retro desktop experience in Windows 8.
“Win as one” is really more of a meta-principle which might be read as “please use our guidelines”. It implores designers and developers to use the tools and systems Microsoft has provided to ensure consistency through things like aligning to the grid, working in the modern visual style, embracing the navigational model, and participating in global functions through charms and contracts. It advocates a balance between pluralism and cooperation that might be compared to certain aspects of Modernist thinking, but more than that, it speaks to a greater Microsoft product promise—the ecosystem.
“Windows 8 is the last piece in the Metro puzzle that now unites all four major consumer device touchpoints—mobile, tablet, PC, and TV.”
The Ecosystem Promise
Whether you believe in Microsoft’s vision for next generation computing or not, Windows 8 takes another important step forward for Microsoft’s consumer offering. Windows 8 is the last piece in the Metro puzzle that now unites all four major consumer device touchpoints—mobile, tablet, PC, and TV. This design consistency makes an unspoken promise to the user to expect an analogous continuity in their experiences across these disparate devices.
App developers will anticipate a similar level of economy and fluidity as they look to bring their experiences to Microsoft devices. The large market of existing Windows users will seem an exciting opportunity, as will Microsoft’s revenue sharing policies and flexible monetization models. Microsoft has also enabled week long free trials for Windows Store applications. The sampling behavior this will encourage is good for users and good for app developers.
Features like cloud storage and sync via SkyDrive and Xbox integration via Windows Live and SmartGlass point to a truly connected ecosystem. And we hope that Windows 8 is just the beginning, that the future holds even greater levels of interaction and cooperation across Microsoft’s consumer device ecosystem. We’ll have to wait and see, but for now, Windows 8 seems like a promising start.
Punchcut is a user interface design company with a unique specialization in multi-screen experiences for consumer devices — including handsets, tablets, ultrabooks, wearables and TV. We design experiences across major and emerging platforms: iOS, Android, and increasingly Windows 8. Our clients come to us not just to deploy apps on a new platform, but because we design user experience frameworks that help them create cohesion across platforms and devices.
Stay tuned for Part 5: Nuts & Bolts where we’ll offer a few design insights and considerations for those looking to bring their experiences to Windows 8.
Windows Needs a Restart
A Reaction Against Faux Realism
The Next Generation of UI
Principles & Philosophy
The Nuts & Bolts of Designing For Windows 8