24 January 2007

Microsoft and user experience

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Microsoft Expression
David Verba, director of technology at Adaptive Path, reflects – with some frustration – on how Microsoft interprets user experience.

According to Verba, “Microsoft still thinks more bells and whistles means richer experience and richer experience means better experience.”

“I attended Microsoft’s Expression Session yesterday, the launch event for their new Expression suite of products. I came away hopeful and frustrated in equal parts. Microsoft has jumped with both feet onto the User Experience bandwagon. It’s just not clear that they understand what User Experience means.

The first red flag was this quote: ‘Design is form + function + flair‘ followed up with the Mont Blanc Diamond pen as an example. Just picture a Mont Blanc pen literally encrusted with diamonds. Admittedly I’m not the target audience for such a thing but it does highlight the fact that ‘design’ is not equal to ‘good design’, nor is it something that is lathered onto a product.

More telling was this snippet. After stating ‘the experience is the product‘ (I heard that exact phrase several times), they stated ‘platform+tools+craft = UX‘. As with the design quote, they conflated user experience with good user experience. Craft was defined as ‘that thing that designers do’, which wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t combined with ‘designers work in Photoshop and produce tiffs’. There was no sense of design strategy, or even design on a deeper level than visual design. There is also something that seems disconnected about discussing user experience and user centered design by discussing tools and platform rather than talking about the user and their interactions with your product.

And finally, there was a graphic at the end that showed a spectrum from web applications to desktops applications, with the former labeled ‘basic user experience‘ and the latter labeled ‘best user experience‘. Microsoft still thinks more bells and whistles means richer experience and richer experience means better experience. Good user experiences can be affected by visual design or richer interfaces but its foundation needs to be the appropriate interface to what the user is trying to accomplish.”

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(See also this post by Antoine Valot and a first Microsoft reaction by Chris Bernard.)

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