Monday, May 4, 2015

Ex-Microsoft Designer Explains the Move Away From Metro

Paul Thurrott:

Windows Phone fans pining for the days of Metro panoramas and integrated experiences have had a tough couple of years, with Microsoft steadily removing many of the platform’s user experience differentiators. But as I’ve argued, there’s reason behind this madness. And now an ex-Microsoft design lead who actually worked on Windows Phone has gone public and agreed with this assessment. You may have loved Windows Phone and Metro, but it had to change.


Now, you can see a more internal view of what happened. And you can read the entire discussion—and some occasionally silly responses to it—in a Reddit AMA called I designed the new version of Office for Windows Phone, AMA.


You don’t use the hamburger very often … You have to design for the 80% case, no matter how much that annoys the other (vocal) 20% :) … Here’s the distinction. Holding with your right hand in the average way makes it super easy to tap the bottom left but actually a bit of a context switch to hit the bottom right. So you put super common things on the bottom left, and important but less common things on the bottom right … Reach isn’t actually the biggest problem though. The issue is ‘why the hell is your app so complicated you need a junk drawer to stuff everything into?’ That’s why Apple doesn’t like it, and I agree. But you try designing Office for Mobile, supporting every feature, without a junk drawer :) It’s hard!”


“The interaction patterns in Android and iOS are better designed (at least compared to [Windows Phone] 7). Get into the labs and watch people use all three platforms. There’s data here that not everyone is privy to, but that doesn’t make it less true. There are some real weaknesses in the old Metro patterns … Maybe iOS and Android forced everyone to two handed use with shitty design … [But] big screens exploded in popularity. You’re going two handed.”

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Affordances are hugely important. I think Apple's unfortunately moved too far away from them starting with iOS7. I've not used Metro beyond the occasional use in Parallels - but normally I'm just trying to access the desktop. Sounds like though the original Metro had bad affordances. I know I could never remember the gestures those few times I was in Metro and there were no visual clues of what to do.

All that said, I really bemoan the move away from one handed use by everyone. Honestly it started with Apple with the iPhone 5. In many apps including maps there were controls on top and bottom rendering one handed use impossible. I kept hoping this would change but it really seems like one handed use has become discounted by far too many developers. With visual affordances to clue people in also disappearing. It's rather sad as it makes using seldom accessed apps difficult.

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