Windows 10: The Rules Of The User Interface.

An Annoying Autobiographical Pause. I would like to talk a little bit about myself before I go over the opinion I have about Windows and Microsoft. I was around fifteen years old and the household got a family computer. A Compaq Presario, MS Paint and the Incredible Machine. They were a lot of fun. I could play Doom on it. I tried to download the shareware of Quake several times, but I did not have a floating point processor. I found a utility that could let me modify Doom. I made an Evil Dead mod. A couple of years later, a friend helped me build my first computer. Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 Arena were a lot of fun. It had three drive bays. I called it Frankenstein. I took it with me to college in Florida, but left it when I went to New York. It was broken when I got back. I got one of the first laptops with a graphics card on it from Dell. It could barely run Doom 3. I am not a very wealthy person, it is difficult for me to save up for a computer. It is one of the few things I very much value. I have spent most of the free time I have growing up drawing and learning about computers. I’ve had a Windows computer, since Windows 3.1. I enjoyed XP. I loved Windows 7. (I made a mod of that too. Link.) When Windows 10 came out I thought it was a great idea at first. The Xbox app seemed like a step in the right direction with the breakpoint app design, but lately Microsoft seems less concerned with providing people with utility and more consumed with proving they are more stylish than Apple. So I would like to talk about the UWP apps and some of the less than ideal design choices that have come out of Microsoft lately.

Proper Blocking. Any student of any art form will tell you that you need to know what goes where if you are going to relate anything to the user. The biggest problem the UWP apps have is the empty space within the app. Another problem I think is the vertical toolbar. This is supposed to be the foundation for a mobile/desktop platform and that leaves me with two questions: Why was a vertical toolbar the UI element Microsoft choose when smartphones have a menu layout presented with a row of buttons usually on the top or bottom? And… Why are all the actionable buttons intermingled withe the menu buttons? There is no structure in this form. Having the buttons organized is a fundamental of app design. Not only that, but there should be a hierarchy of which button should be presented first in the button row. Sidebar.

1px Border. There is a group of people (It’s a terrible idea, Zac Bowden.) that think removing the 1px border on each application would make the interface “cleaner.” This choice would make the interface cleaner that is true, but it also leaves the user wondering which area belongs to the other with overlapping windows. Here is an example:

This concept provided by Microsoft.

Color Scheme. I’d like to quote someone else on this topic. This is a quote from 3DXYZ on Reddit:

I just left windows feedback on the dark theme since it asked me what I thought about it. I’ll echo some of my comments here. As a 3d artist, all of our production software uses a dark grey instead of a black background for a reason. It allows you to contrast black elements on the dark grey background of the ui. Autodesk, Adobe, Pixologic, The Foundry, Pixar, ILM and others all make their production software using a dark grey theme, rather than a pure black theme for this reason. A pure black theme gives a false sense of contrast, just like a full white background can hurt your perception of contrast. A dark grey such as the “Ask me Anything” Cortana box is exactly the color that should be used as a background. If you view thumbnails on a black background ui, you’re tonal perception of those images changes. If you view them on a dark grey background, now you’re seeing a more balanced view. Black on Black looks bad, for example thumbnails with a lot of black tones against a full black ui background looks strange since the thumbnails blend into the black gui background. A dark grey background does not have this problem and it also puts your perception of tonality in a better area than the extreme ends of the color gradient (pure black or pure white). I propose they make a third theme called “Production Theme” along side the Light, and Dark themes. I like the Dark theme, it should be an option… but I think a lot of people doing visual work would like a more dark grey ui with black accents, rather than a black ui with dark grey accents. Take a hint from Autodesk, Adobe, Pixologic, the Foundry. The explorer would look far better with a dark grey background than a black one. It should still have black elements to it but I think if they tried to understand why how a dark theme is used in other programs for visual work, it would help them realize they need a “Production” Theme. I like the the dark theme (it still needs lots of work though) but a third option may be best for production work, be it visual arts, coding etc, where color perception and less eye strain is important. Even visual studio uses a dark grey scheme.

One of the oddest things about this is the Xbox app seems to follow the dark grey theme, but the other apps don’t.

Accent Color. I like the accent color option in Windows 10, but one of my concerns is making too many things reliant on it. Which elements should be and accent color and which ones shouldn’t. This seems like a grey area that doesn’t make it worth it. The taskbar being a highlighted color that seems reasonable, but putting it everywhere makes it look brash.

Blur/Drop Shadows. Since Microsoft ushered in one good design idea (Flat, via Metro) they have kind of started to change their minds. Some of the classic elements of Windows have been coming back to the forefront. With the “New” Fluent Design Language, Microsoft has decided to put the blur in every app. Even as Apple has slowly regressed from the design idea, Microsoft seems to want to double down on this particular element.

Skype Rebrand. This is another problem from Microsoft. It always comes back to the same problem giving people something they want to sell them as opposed to giving consumers something they can use. This is simply a poor attempt to incorporate anything SnapChat like into the the Skype app, when the interest in SnapChat seems to be fading out in the first place. So maybe if they would provide function and a proper user interface, instead of, copying what ever is trending currently they would have a better product.

Keyboard. The keyboard pictured below is the one I’ve used for six and a half years. It has never given me a single problem. Below that is a picture of the Surface keyboard. The keyboard I own was fifteen dollars. The Surface keyboard is a hundred and thirty dollars. This is clearly Microsoft trying to push themselves as a premium brand. Having said that, with a reasonable price, illuminated keys (like the ones found of the Surface Book), and an optional USB wired connection I would be happy to have a new keyboard.

Some other things I’m still getting around to writing up. Dark Patterns. Highlighting Symbols. Animated GIF Desktop Backgrounds. Drag And Drop. Auto-Correct. Poorly Thought Out Features (Timeline And My People.)