Hardware & other projects
I guess it’s long been a desire of many of our designers to work more and more in the hardware space. What’s cool is that recently we’ve been / are designing software for at least three different kinds of hardware devices. One in health, one in sports and one in, let’s say, “construction”. All in various stages of their product cycle. One is a subculture thing currently, one is an existing mainstream product, and one currently exists only as blinking lights in a prototype box. I think it’s great that we get to work so far outside the scope of the standard screen sphere. Some of these projects are quite fancy & big, some quite surprising. Let’s see if we can tell you more about them one day.
There’s also promising chances for projects coming up in the medical and financial sphere. These are huge. Especially the medical thing is just the right thing to do, as it’s enabling so much for the normal people. Good stuff coming, just few more confirmations and they should start. Thumbs up.
We’re also quite deep in designing for various tablet platforms currently. One project is related to the projects mentioned on top, and one shall remain unmentioned. In any case, since the last weeknote, we’ve now moved into post-summer state where we all have our hands very full of projects. I heard from a client that other agencies in Helsinki claim the same. That’s great news. There’s work to be done, no matter how much the politicians and markets try to ruin things for everybody.
Windows 8′s New Explorer
A big design topic of recent has been the upcoming Windows 8 file Explorer. It seems that every blogger and designer in the internet were laughing at Microsoft’s new design on this. [pictured above, credit Techcrunch]
But what’s going on?
This actually ties somewhat into an internal discussion we’ve been having in the company recently — the importance and application of user research. Every now and then there’s provocative blog posts saying that user research doesn’t help in innovation (at least), stating something like Apple and Ikea as examples of very successful companies that don’t do user research.
One could easily agree with that, or argue the complete opposite in some cases. While our multifaceted views on this topic might create a blog post of their own, let’s see what Microsoft did in this case.
According to Devin Coldeway at Techcrunch, “Microsoft found that more than 85% of users perform the most common actions (cut, paste, rename) with the context menu and keyboard shortcuts. Only around 10% used the command bar, and hardly any used the top menus.”
To you this, and further data in the article, might suggest that people are actually quite efficient in using hot keys and context menus, and simply don’t need the application’s command bar. Clearly people are more of a power users than you’d think. Perhaps you could stop there, or improve things for these power users.
Microsoft, instead, took this as a sign that there’s something wrong with the command bar, and started adding more and more stuff to it. The end result has some 21 arrows pointing into various directions, not to mention the multitude of buttons and icons. This is what the designers are laughing about / crying for. This is clearly a violation of common design wisdom:
“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I’m not going to duplicate the discussion on the overflowing Explorer design here, just read the Techcrunch articles to get the basics.
Now that we agree on the point that Explorer has probably too much going on for its own good, consider this on a higher level.
Our friend Duncan crystallized that higher level nicely in a random cafe meeting today:
“Designers can rant all they want about the excess amount of buttons in the Explorer UI and stuff, but that’s not the point. The point is that Microsoft shouldn’t be designing the Explorer at all at this point. The whole concept of file management is going away in the next five years. They should be designing for that.”
This point is well proven in Mac OS X Lion, where Apple is already moving to this future. First they minimized everything in Finder, the Explorer counterpart in OS X, by taking out scrollbars, few arrows and even colors (yes, it’s grey). But there’s more — they are taking concepts from the iPad where you simply can’t see the file structure at all. The apps themselves control access to files that can be manipulated with them. There’s auto save and automatic file versioning and all sorts of Star Trek stuff. Perhaps the implementation is not perfect yet and the application support is not fully there, but this really is the next path to take.
What brings this all back to user research is that both of these design paths could have been justified with the same research data. Microsoft chose to add more stuff to the thing, while Apple decided to remove more stuff from the thing, and is then moving on to removing the thing altogether! It seems that it’s not the user research data as such that counts, but what decisions based on that data you make.
Here you see a common event in design: one player is just adding buttons and features to an existing design, up to a point when it becomes laughable — while the second player is taking chances, leaving stuff out, sometimes failing, but also innovating a future and claiming it first.
The first player has massively larger user base, but the second one has massively larger total profit and has recently become the biggest company in the world.
Which one you want your company to be? If the latter, you should perhaps consult a designer.
Until next week.