Great point.
Elizabeth Nicholas

I agree with Jenny’s point. While I commend you for digging deep and trying to rationalize aspects of Microsoft BOB, as critical thought is sorely missing from UX discourse overall, you have to imagine that your rationale is not necessarily shared by that of the original designers and their design intent. You can posit whatever reasoning you like, however it will be an opinion based on your interpretation/perception of Microsoft BOB, informed by your upbringing and life experiences. The tone you used came off as if your opinions were facts, which is why I took the time to point this out. I enjoyed your analysis, just wish you backed it up with some citations for credibility.

“I think that the comfort you mention feeling when you customize your own space is a comfort in knowing these preferences are yours and not someone else’s. Everyone wants to feel like their unique, but we can only know for sure if we can see the preferences and visual identities of others.”

I don’t agree with this rationalization for the design intent of Microsoft BOB, as I interpreted the customizability of Microsoft BOB as a clever way of empowering users to optimize the layout of their virtual space—along the lines of Nielsens heuristic of recognition rather than recall [1]. Who knows if that was actually the designer’s intent…? We will never really know without speaking to them. That was my point in the first paragraph of this response.

[1] Minimize the user’s memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.