Experience Design for Windows 95

This is a story of my first project around the time of Windows 95 launch. If you are looking for sexy design story with a big product at huge Microsoft campus, you would be disappointed. If you are interested in the role of UX designer and Service Designer outside of traditional context, then this story might give you some insights. I believe what I went through as a junior “designer” during the period is still valid today in modern product-as-a-service era. What is the experience for the product? How has ultimate responsibility? What design practices are effective for product and people?

It was 1995. The term “Experience Design” did not exist at that time. Maybe it did, but I did not know the term. My title was “Business Analyst” in Product Support Service division in Japan. My job was to reduce the cost and increase revenue in Product Support Service (PSS).

UX Design for Product, Service Design for Technical Support

Product people make product and responsible for UX. When the user have problem, technical support needs to handle. It is responsibility of support team to take good care of the user with problem and they use Service Design to improve the experience. Product team is interested in understanding user problem to make the product better, but not interested in experience of troubled user in technical support. This was the general conception in 1995 and this is still true now.

We use UX techniques to understand how people interact with product. We use service design techniques to streamline the process to better serve the users. To prepare for the tidal wave of support call after launch of Windows 95, we focused on doing this right. In another word, there were so many people working on these traditional area of UX and Service Design. We implemented new IVR system, started outsourcing support, improve CRM system and conducted massive engineer trainings and etc. No room for newbies like me to make big impact.

Customer Journey Map for Windows 95

So I focus on something different starting with this question.

“Why people call Microsoft?”

What do they do before calling Microsoft for technical support? If we understand the process, we can reduce the number of calls. After all, I was business analyst by profession. I started user research. In hindsight, it was my first design research. There were no such term like “Persona” and “Customer Journey Map”, but that was what I did.

The chart below illustrate my finding. I have good sample of home users, small business users and large corporate users. The persona were different but journey they took to technical solution was surprisingly the same.

The users try so many things before calling to Microsoft

When people have problem with PC, they try to solve it by themselves. They try to find information like manual and books like “Windows for Dummies”. Again, it was 1995. No Google. Not many people even had access to internet.

After several attempts to help themselves in vain, they try to find someone who can help them. Usually someone near to you. If you work for a company and the company has help desk, they call the company help desk. After all these attempts, then they call Microsoft.

The user went through emotional roller coaster before calling Microsoft. No wonder why they are so upset when the engineer pick up the phone.

Experience with product can be improved by UX. Experience with call center can be improved by Service Design. There were large area between product and call center where users were left underserved. There are ecosystem of product and services around Microsoft products and these are equally important to make or break in user experience.

Bad thing for user was that no one was in charge of the underserved area. Good thing for me though was that I can take my own initiative in the area. I did not stop only with design research. I had an opportunity to use design methods to iterate actual implementation of the new design.

Improving Self Service Experience

Self service is People and Product interaction where UX can help us improve the experience. Microsoft understood the importance of self help. They published many support information called “Knowledge Base”. Knowledge Base, aka KB, is information support engineers used to solve user problem and over 90% of KB were public to the user.

The problem was not the amount of KB. It was discoverability of right KB article that can solve user’s problem. User need to use fax to print the list of KB. The list has title and reference number. The user needed to figure out the content of KB by the title. Once they know what KB they want to print, use fax again with the reference number.

We also published KB in books format like dictionaries. User can lead the list with page numbers.

Microsoft also had TechNet CD. This was the only media in which user can search. I need to remind you again. This was 1995. No Google. The problem was that TechNet did not support non English contents. I was responsible to Japan market.

The first job I did was localizing TechNet CD. I literally localized it with my own build machine and content management system.

Community as Experience

Internet was something only limited people had access in 1995. But we need a community platform. No Facebook, no Quara and No LinkedIn. They did not exist at that time. So we used newsgroup for the experiment.

I needed to validate the riskiest assumption “People are willing to help other people”

It was quite surprising that Microsoft already recognized people who help others as MVP — The Most Valuable Professional. The ownership of the MVP program at that time was not very clear even from inside. But I thought it was a great idea that resonate well with my design research findings. I need to validate we can find MVPs in our newsgroup.

I deleted all SPAM posts but I did not facilitate anything. I did not even post. Just observed. The hypothesis needed to be validated in no controlled environment.

Newsgroup was a success in developer tools like Visual Basic and C++. People post questions. I think participants were waiting for Microsoft to reply. But they soon realized that Microsoft just gave them place to communicate. They started to help each other. Few people really stood out as key contributors.


Experience is a very big word to fall into one practice such as UX and service design. It was in 1995 and it is even bigger today. Many people think their job is “A” but experience starts from A to Z. Understanding how your user get to “Z” will leads you to deeper insights. There is no single answer to this question.

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