Five Reasons The Windows 8 UI Might Not Suck

Leaving aside the fact we're not supposed to call it 'Metro' anymore, the radical user interface shift in Windows 8 has been praised and censured in equal measure. In a presentation at TechEd 2012 on the Windows 8 design language, designer Shane Morris offered up some reasons why you might want to give it a second chance.

It's no secret that I'm not a massive fan of everything in the Windows 8 UI, and it still seems evident that it treats everything that's not a touch-screen as a second-class citizen. However, Morris — a former Microsoft staffer and now a UI design professional at Automatic Studio — did a solid job of highlighting some of its benefits, as well as describing its roots in the Bauhaus school of design and noting how it reflects changes that begun in projects such as Encarta and Windows Media Center. Here are five potential benefits he picked out.

1. Words are easier to understand than pictures

Metro requires text for actions rather than icons. "There is not an icon for everything," Morris said. "They say a picture tells a thousand words, but you'll notice we don't communicate with pictures."

I'm on board with this. As we've noted before, icons are arbitrary. If the links you click on are text, it's much easier to explain what their function is. (The one challenge? People need to learn to spell, but I'm in favour of that too.)

2. People already tap on everything

The touch-centric interface can seem weird if you're in mouse/keyboard mode, but for a generation raised on touchscreen phones, tapping and swiping is what everyone does. "Today's users are much more confident to just tap stuff," Morris said. "Digital natives don't need a metaphor — people will tap. We don't have to spend so much time pre-communicating how to do this thing. Today's users will just drag stuff and try stuff out."

3. You don't need to learn a new interface every time

To interact with Windows apps, you'll often use the App Bar and Charms (side and top of the screen), rather than elements in the app itself. In consistency terms, that's a good idea. "By having a consistent user interface and a persistent place for people to look for those standard features, our users don't have to learn a new user interface for every application," Morris noted. There's a penalty: "The price we pay of course is discoverability." But to be fair, most interfaces require learning arbitrary sequences for many tasks. There's something mildly intuitive about pinching to zoom, but any touch gesture involving multiple fingers or tapping a particular unmarked area of the screen is something you will have to learn, whatever the OS.

4. The interface isn't all-encompassing

OK, that's not entirely true; on tablets running Windows RT, Windows 8 interface apps are the only choice. But on computers (which is still the main Windows market), we'll keep running desktop apps — and in many cases, the newer versions of those apps will be better off sticking to their existing approach than changing. "The desktop UI and the ribbon and all those elements are not dead," Morris said. "It's really about finding the level between content consumption and content creation."

5. Developers aren't designers

Windows 8 demands that apps, for the most part, look similar; the easiest way to differentiate yourself is with large and glossy photographs. Morris suggested that this was a "deliberately rational and limited" approach which reflects the fact that development skills and design smarts don't always go hand-in hand. "[Microsoft has] got a strong ecosystem of developers, not as strong an ecosystem of designers." A fixed set of guidelines might make it hard to stand out, but it also means you won't waste time on the world's ugliest app.

Again, there's a potential trade-off. "The price you pay for such a minimalist design language is that any one element you place on the page gets attention," Morris said. "It will be easier for people to detect when something is a little bit off." But there's a solid logic in saying that an interface with fixed elements everyone uses makes sense: that's the way graphical interfaces have worked for a long time. Changing the elements used doesn't change the usefulness of the rule.

That's Morris' take, and I cans see some good logic there. What do you think?

Visit Lifehacker's TechEd 2012 Newsroom for all the news from the show.

Disclosure: Angus Kidman is attending TechEd 2012 as a guest of Microsoft.


Comments

    The UI is atrociously inefficient and awful when you are using a desktop PC.

      Thanks for your input, now everyone understands.!
      Personally, I've been using 8 since it was first available and I'm currently using the Enterprise Evaluation Trial and I thoroughly enjoy the experience. I really don't understand Why MS is alienating it's main PC user base, we've been using the regular desktop from the start, we don't want to be forced to use something that was designed for a touch screen! I loaded up Stardock's "Start 8" straight away and problem solved. It would be nice though if I didn't have to use it.

        True, but I think MS is playing the long game here.

        That is why Windows PC sales are shrinking fast.
        Last year they shrunk 4% whilst during the same time the mac out grew the whole market by almost 30%.
        Every year the amount of switchers to the mac doubles.

        Microsoft is becoming like IBM in fact probably worse. Because of the over confident metro interface I wouldn't even hazard to say that.
        Unfortunately for Microsoft this is what happens when The company called apple who has Way smarter and more creative and innovative people are at the helm.
        At microsoft PR doesn't really work any more. You notice how at the announcement of the Surface tablet which was purely a Microsoft event every single computer in the audience was a Mac.
        This is what is going to happen every where.
        Infact many Employees at microsoft actually use macs and Steve Balmer hates this!!

        I don't but the reality of it all is people have come to realise the potential and power of computers through apples biggest hit which is the iPhone and they have then trusted Apple to make the upgrade to a Mac.

        I don't know what OS you prefer but give it just under another decade or even less and the Windows PC will be Alien to almost everybody or even unheard of in the Federal Archives or something.
        Hope my words cover the point.

          Newer PC's are quite powerful and don't need to be replaced as often, also people are buying tablets as companions to their PCs & Macs which accounts more for that 30% than actual Mac Desktop/Laptops. Considering that OSX has been out for just over a decade and they still have not gotten at least 10% of the worlds PC market pretty much sums up that Windows is not going anywhere, they will still dominate in a decade. Over 80% of Apples profits comes from their mobile devices, my guess is that in a decade that will be much higher and it will be their desktops and laptops that will suffer because of it.

        It's something for adaptation. At first we will all hate it, but then love it, even on a desktop.

        Classic Start Menu. Free and good.

      I find it quite responsive. It loads up I just start typing the name of the application I want to run and done, that is much faster than using a mouse.

      One problem I found is that the shut down and sleep options took me ages to find. That 'Charms' menu is not very obvious.

      You've obviously not given Win8 an honest go for day-to-day computing. Maybe you don't have a spare PC, so that's fair enough :D. I have, and I spend 99% of my time in Desktop mode using it exactly the same as my Win7 PC, but faster and more efficiently thanks to certain UI features.

      The Start screen is not something I use a lot. But Metro Snap, Notifications, certain fullscreen apps and Charms, I do use and they improve the overall experience.

      UI aside, Win8 is just noticeably faster than Win7. Startup and shutdown in particular.

        I find that "metro" gets in the way and ends up being redundant. I'm not much of a Mac OS X fan but I think Apple has it right in terms of how much they have integrated the UI of their tablets/ phones to the desktop. Even Gnome/ KDE are doing it right just not Microsoft.

        Seems that the every second OS is crap rule is continuing .

      You can hit the windows key and type in the name of the application, the same as on windows 7, and launch your programs that way.
      I mean, you don't need to worry about scrolling across every time you want to launch a program, if that's what you think is inefficient.

      I've always had a problem with the traditional menu system, where I would need to go to Start/All Programs/Adobe/Photoshop/Photoshop.lnk, forcing me to remember the name of the developer for every program.
      I think the Metro may help make it easier to find programs, if they use a tile that actually represents the program, as opposed to filing it away under the developers name.

      Love the new Windows 8 UI (and Windows Phone)! I switched my home machine (a desktop with a 24" LCD) and my work machine (a desktop with two 17" LCDs) over to Windows 8 the day the Release Preview came out and have found the improvements have actually made me more efficient than when I was on Windows 7! I have upgraded both machines to the RTM release now and everything is still great. Looking forward to pickup up a Windows 8 tablet (or two). The only question is Lenovo or Microsoft Surface?

    " its roots in the Bauhaus school of design"

    OK. Now I'm totally sold on it.

    Desktop mode still exists in WinRT. AFAIK you can't (officially) install non-Metro apps, but it's there along with bundled desktop apps. :D

    Well, all I have to say, is I am a gamer, and I have been using windows 8 since first available, and I have no problems with it, and find Metro to be much better/quicker then the old start menu and such. hit the windows button, and there is every single one of your apps that you want on the page basically, no having to type in to the start menu or search through the programs list etc, everything is there tiled ready for you to click on :D

    I like the move away from icons.

    Surely I'm not the only one who can't stand icons and pictures in general.

    A picture might tell a thousand words, but that means that there 999 too many bits of information I have to do away with when trying to decipher what an icon means.

    I blame designers. Designers are people who respond well to pictures - that's why they ended up in their line of work. I am not that sort of person. I respond well to numbers and words - properly spelled, PROPERLY CASED words!

    as a graphic designer i'm not so sure this would work for me. the thought of having to touch my screen & smudge it up annoys the hell out of me.. Oh well.. perhaps microsoft will come back to earth for win9.

    Why can't they just let people disable Metro UI (or whatever it's called). It's a pain for desktops and laptops.

      i have to agree metro is crap that i don't need, i wish they would have just left good ole start menu alone and just improved the OS and left metro where it belongs, on a tablet or smartphone.

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