Thursday, December 9, 2010

Caleb Khazoyan’s Post

For this post I've chosen to look at Microsoft's new phone operating system – Windows Phone 7 (WP7). Now I realize, this isn't standard print design. I'm not looking at their advertising or their packaging in this post. Instead, I'd like to look at the design behind these devices through two different lenses. The first is from a purely aesthetic standpoint. Second I'd like to analyze them from the perspective of content delivery. After all, the end goal of design is less to look artistic than it is to simply get the information across in the best way possible.

Aesthetically I find it's a mixed bag, though with more pros than cons. Android's interface(s) are a convoluted mess (remind me how of Windows was 10 years ago) and the iPhone is simply old, slow, and not aging particularly gracefully. This is something new, different, and uncharacteristic of stereotypical Microsoft design. Is it perfect? I wouldn't say that. Is it excellent? That I'd agree to. I really love the simplicity of it all: the use of a single color, simple boxes, and very clear type. I'm not entirely convinced that I like how it mixes in some much busier icons (namely those with photos pulled from your phone on them, which may or may not look good). At the same time, I don't really see a way around it, as a wall of 20 blue squares would be far more annoying to me. The other interesting choice that unfortunately isn't captured in a still image is how everything is subtly changing all the time based on the updates the phone is receiving.

Of course, artistic flair is only one piece of design. Its core purpose is to deliver information. I won't delve deep into the new UI paradigm Microsoft is working off of (simply put the idea is to distill the usual system of needing a single app for every task by merging the more common tasks into a larger hub). Instead, I want to look at subtitles like how their use of typographic hierarchy and layout change how users perceive the information they're being given.

As with any smartphone, WP7 uses a large amount of vertical structure to organize data. As opposed to the use of color bars and gradients as with iOS, these phones use only type, and even then rely almost entirely on positioning and point size to sort information. This was mildly confusing for me at first glance, as it keeps things much more fluid than the average iPhone interface, which is much more rigid and compartmentalized. With WP7 boundaries are much less solid. They still clearly exist, but a solid box or block of color is unnecessary to maintain clarity.

Building off of the idea of fluidity and breaking out of boxes, the entire system adds a unique twist to the tabbed interfaces we're all used to. Rather than having an unending chain of arrows in the top of the screen as per iOS, the new Windows phones use the far right edge of the screen to hint when more information is to be found. This combined with a horizontal text menu (again with typographic tweaks to clarify where you are) is a much more efficient system for organizing information as it shows the user where he/she is and everywhere they could be. Such a design choice allows all of the information to flow beyond the small confines of the screen and feel less isolated from every other element.

Simply put, I really do like the path Microsoft has taken. It's different, it's clean, and it gets the point across just as well while breaking the confines of older, more mature systems. Is it perfect? Of course not, but I feel it's a step in the right direction.


  1. I like your review, but a one problem when looking at any interface, especially a Microsoft interface is the actual implementation of “apps” and software by third party developers. Hopefully this interface succeeds, and provides a stable standardized platform that will work across a multitude of interface and end the rein of confusing proprietary interfaces that in many cases are different on every phone and manufacturer. You said: ”...the iPhone is simply old, slow, and not aging particularly gracefully”, but it is still one of the most user-friendly and the standard by which all other smart-phone interfaces are judged. My one hope is that this phone OS supports flash.

  2. Yeah, third party support will be the thing to watch. Admittedly it's stronger than other platforms had at launch, but Microsoft is still coming into the game 2 years late. Is that an, maybe, maybe not. Historically they're excellent at burning a few billion for a few years until they hit the top (note their success with the Xbox). Not the most elegant solution, but it works for them I guess.

    Oh and most certainly the iPhone is still the device to beat in terms of user experience. It's no longer the most advanced phone in the market, but it still sets the bar. Is the UI old? I still have to say yes. Is the UI one of the better implementations on a smartphone, also still yes.

    And thought I'd heard it'd get Flash, would have to check the rumor mills again though.