How can you change an industry? Teach them a new way to think. Easy /s
As the sole designer working on this project at Microsoft, the challenge was to think big, yet simultaneously simply, and to maintain a willingness to start over often in order to synthesize the implicit needs of an evolving corporation.
Gorilla on the Move
Microsoft of 2012 to the casual outsider looked identical to Microsoft of years prior. However, inside the company, radical change boiled - Windows 8, the most drastic (and controversial) redesign of Microsoft's operating system was about to be released and the Surface line of tablet computers caught the hardware industry off guard. It appeared that the 500lb gorilla was starting to make a move.
Windows 8 launch video.
Microsoft Surface launch video.
The company began to rethink the end-to-end experience of how software and hardware can seamlessly work together.
Designing a New Attitude
Design at Microsoft was undergoing a renaissance. The company began to rethink not only the aesthetics of the operating system, but also the end-to-end experience - how software and hardware can seamlessly work together. For years, Microsoft relied on OEM manufacturers to showcase its product. It was a business model that had served well for the company, until the race to the bottom created cheap and sub-standard computers that mired the Microsoft brand with a less than desirable reputation. The future success of the Windows software laid in its physical shell, therefore great industrial design was paramount. The Surface announcement clearly indicated that Microsoft was taking matters into its own hands. It was a message to its hardware partners to step up their game and produce great products which people wanted.
If the computers were too frustrating to use then the experience of Windows 8 would make no difference.
Working as a summer UX intern in 2012 with Sam Moreau, Principal Director of Windows Design, he had a vision: one where people wanted to use Microsoft products. However, he pointed out that if the Windows hardware was too frustrating to use, then the intended experience of the Windows 8 software would make no difference. Sam made it clear, he wanted the pride and effort Microsoft had put into the “Metro Design” user experience to be evident in the industrial design of Windows 8 hardware. As an intern for Microsoft, that's what I had to figure out.
In 2012, Microsoft was comprised of 5 separate businesses.
Understanding the Scale of Impact
To better understand my task, I had to understand the company structure and how Microsoft’s bigger vision was communicated within the corporation. In 2012, Microsoft was comprised of 5 separate businesses: Microsoft Business Solutions, Xbox, Windows and Windows Live, Online Services, and Server and Tools. With 90,000 employees spread among these businesses around the world, internal communication, especially during this time of change, was and still is a constant challenge.
Addressing the Problem
Developing a way of thinking would thereby influence the design of OEM hardware and finally impact the overall user experience.
Sam, as a result, tasked me with creating a framework for evaluating Windows 8 industrial design as well as educating the rest of XDR on what is “great” Windows industrial design. It was more than just taking the 12 Metro principles and re-jiggering them to industrial design principles. I had to develop a way of thinking to analyze a product to evaluate it in order to form a justifiable and articulate opinion. I had to allow people to confidently say “this is a great piece of Windows hardware for these reasons…”. This was an attempt to empower employees inside Microsoft to help define what makes great Windows industrial design. If I could do that, I could change the expectations for hardware, which would in turn influence OEM’s hardware design and finally impact the end user experience. Talk about the big picture.
Over the course of my project, I talked to multiple designers and researchers in XDR (including a sound designer), project managers in the OEM hardware team as well as industrial designers, and the Creative Director of the just announced Surface team. With so many stakeholders, balancing perspectives and needs proved extremely difficult. Though I was responsible for representing XDR’s perspective on industrial design, I knew I had to listen to the stakeholders that would be the most influential. I wanted to know how the very thing I was developing could make the greatest impact.
However helpful these methods were, they unfortunately began to constrict the way I thought.
The Dangers of Tools
To do so, I utilized current Microsoft design methods: Useful, Usable, Desirable, Principled, (UUDP), marketing user profiles and the confidence dashboard. However helpful these methods were, they unfortunately began to constrict the way I thought. The resulting framework resulted in a thick 3 part 16 page workbook, though well thought out, I could tell no one wanted to use it. Making the framework too prescriptive would limit its effectiveness.
The risk of becoming too prescriptive was very real. Unfortunately, the first framework was very much that.
Rethinking the framework required starting from scratch. Discarding the Microsoft methods I settled on a simpler approach: gut reactions. When a consumer walks into an Apple store, their perception of products is immediately visceral - it strikes them as beautiful, simple, and well crafted and colors their decision to purchase the product or not.
When a consumer walks into an Apple store, their perception of products is immediately visceral - it strikes them as beautiful, simple, and well crafted and colors their decision to purchase the product or not.
Great industrial design hardware has the ability (in theory) to connect emotionally with the consumer while anything less would not. By taking this reaction and pairing it with the company wide Metro Principles, the framework could effectively evaluate Windows hardware while using an already understood language to communicate such subjective analysis.
The structure of the framework guided the evaluator's visceral gut reaction into a thought journal. It first captured the immediate reactions towards the product as a black or white assessment. Its goal was to unravel and deconstruct the reviewer's reaction according to the Metro principles.