Windows 8 In Hindsight

on February 20, 2014
Reading Time: 6 minutes

On September 13, 2011, Zach Epstein, explained to us us why Windows 8 was the dawning of a new age. And on February 9, 2014, Paul Thurrott explained to us why the sun was prematurely setting on that age.

[pullquote]Calling Windows 8 a “software design” is like calling bald a hair color.[/pullquote]

Between those two dates, a flood of virtual ink was spilled arguing both for and against the existence of Windows 8. But in the end it all comes down to this: Windows 8 was a failure of design.

Good Design Is Less Design

    Zach Epstein:

    PCs are not going away. They will continue to be the primary means of computing for business and consumers alike. Tablets are not going away, either. They will continue to provide a much more intuitive way to interact with a consumer electronics device. Microsoft’s vision, however, unifies these devices.

    One platform to rule them all. The technology exists to enable users to carry a single device that is as portable and usable as a tablet, but also as powerful and capable as a PC.

LESSON #1: Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

Nerds tend to focus on what they CAN do and often forget what they SHOULD be doing. More is not always more. And in design, less is always more.

[A]s designers and engineers in general, we’re guilty of designing for ourselves too often. ~ Bill Moggridge

If nerds (and I am one) were in charge of the ballet, they wold note that all the ballerinas were always on their toes and they would “solve” that problem by hiring taller ballerinas.

If nerds were in charge of a Japanese Restaurant, they would offer the option of ordering Sushi medium and well-done.

You think I’m exaggerating , right? But Microsoft’s has both a trackpad and a touch screen. A nerd doesn’t see that as a problem. And that’s the problem.

I think a nerd is a person who uses the telephone to talk to other people about telephones. And a computer nerd therefore is somebody who uses a computer in order to use a computer. ~ Douglas Adams

Good Design Solves Problems

    Zach Epstein

    Apple paved the way but Microsoft will get there first with Windows 8. A tablet that can be as fluid and user friendly as the iPad but as capable as a Windows laptop. A tablet that can boot in under 10 seconds and fire up a full-scale version of Adobe Dreamweaver a few moments later. A tablet that can be slipped into a dock to instantly become a fully capable touch-enabled laptop computer. This is Microsoft’s vision with Windows 8, and this is what it will deliver.

LESSON #2: Windows 8 Is A Solution Looking For A Problem.

Mark Wilson of Fastcode is spot on in his criticism of Windows 8:

    Metro solves the problem of, “How do you map the same interface to disparate devices?” Okay. But is that a real problem for consumers? I don’t think so.

    [pullquote]A phone interface matching a laptop interface is about as important as socks matching underwear.[/pullquote]

    The consumer design problem is, “How do I make this device as intuitive as possible?” or “How can I streamline the process of getting someone the file he wants?” People care about speed, efficiency, clarity, and delight. But a phone interface matching a laptop interface is about as important as socks matching underwear.

Good Design Is Not Easy Or Intuitive

    Paul Thurrott:

    When critics described Windows 8.1 as a step backwards, I disagreed: Responding to customer complaints is never wrong, I argued….

LESSON #3: The Customer Is Not Qualified To Be The Designer.

Non-designers routinely argue that the customer is best-positioned to select the features which should be included in a product design. That’s ridiculous. The customer knows where he wants to go but asking him to design the vehicle that gets him there is as stupid as asking astronauts to design the space shuttle. They’re not qualified and it is not their job.

When I was growing up, a guy across the street had a Volkswagen Bug. He really wanted to make it into a Porsche. He spent all his spare money and time accessorizing this VW, making it look and sound loud. By the time he was done, he did not have a Porsche. He had a loud, ugly VW. ~ Steve Jobs

The product should not be defined by the customer, is should be defined by the designer from the point of view of the customer. That’s a subtle but oh-so-crucial distinction.

Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page. ~ Steve Jobs

Good Design Is True To Itself

    Paul Thurott:

    [pullquote]If you can find something everyone agrees on, it’s wrong. ~ Mo Udall[/pullquote]

    Microsoft has simply fallen into an all-too-familiar trap of trying to please everyone, and creating a product that is ultimately not ideal for anyone.

About one-fifth of the people are against everything all the time. ~ Robert F. Kennedy

LESSON #4: When You Try To Please Everyone, You Please No One.

Please all, and you will please none. ~ Aesop, “The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey”

Design Means Making Hard Choices

    Paul Thurott:

    If you look back over the decades at the many high-level complaints that have been leveled at Windows, one in particular sticks out: Unlike Mac OS, in particular, Windows has always attempted to satisfy every possible customer need, and as such it often provides multiple ways to accomplish the same thing.

LESSON #5: Offering Multiple Options Is The Opposite Of Good Design.

[pullquote]When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice. ~ William James[/pullquote]

Nerds want options. Normals want solutions.

“When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can oftentimes arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there.” ~ Steve Jobs

Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away…. ~ Antoine De Saint-exupery

When designing an interface, remember that the user of that interface has spent orders of magnitude less time thinking about it than you. ~ Steve Holt! (@steve_holt)

Design Matters

    Paul Thurrott:

    The reason this happened is that while Sinofsky had the maniacal power and force of will of a Steve Jobs, he lacked Jobs’ best gift: An innate understanding of good design. Windows 8 is not well-designed. It’s a mess.

It’s easy (and fun!) to lay the blame for Window 8 at Sinofky’s feet. Try this one on for size:

Sinofsky had the Midas touch. Everything he touched turned into a muffler.

Funny? Yes. Fair? Absolutely not.

Sinofsky — like everyone who worked at Microsoft — was handicapped because he had to start the design of Windows 8 with Windows in mind. That’s exactly the wrong way to do it.

Good design starts anew and that was never going to happen at Microsoft. Sinofsky and whoever was tasked with creating Windows 8 was going to start their design from the existing foundation of Windows and trying to integrate a mouse input operating system with a touch driven operating system was doomed from the start.

LESSON #6: Design Is Where You Start, Not Where You End.

The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world. ~ Malcolm Gladwell

Compare where Sinofsky was starting with this quote from Jonny Ive:

    When we’re designing a new product, we not only need to start with a blank slate, but we also need to start with the client’s perspective and work our way backwards. What does the client want. More importantly, what does the client need?

Design makes what is complex feel simpler, and makes what is simpler feel richer. ~ johnmaeda (@johnmaeda)

Conclusion

    Paul Thurrott:

    God knows, Microsoft tries. It’s a wonderful observer and follower.

Say what now?

LESSON #6: Windows 8 Was Both Late And Not Great.

With Windows 8, Microsoft was the very opposite of a wonderful observer and follower. They were late to the party and they came to a formal wearing a clown outfit, including bells and whistles.

Apple SHOWED Microsoft how modern phones were done. Apple SHOWED Microsoft how modern tablets were done. If you want to look at a fast follower, look at Google. If you want to look at a good copier, look at Samsung.

The wise learn many things from their enemies. ~ Aristophanes

If you want to look at someone who arrived late and still got it all wrong, look at Windows 8.

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so. ~ Douglas Adams