(This wound up a bit long.)
For this assignment I drew on both the Tufte reading and the presentation in class on Tuesday. The former made an interesting if common critique of PowerPoint, arguing that it “elevates format over content”, while the latter dealt in part with judging ‘good’ and ‘bad’ design by its functionality and intuitiveness. Both of those ideas played in my head on Friday night while I interacted with the upcoming Windows 8 for the first time.
For those of you who have yet to experience Microsoft’s newest mistake, this is a screenshot I took of the new home interface for Windows, which subsumes the Start menu. This style of interface is becoming more common, essentially an attempt to ape OS X (see also the Unity interface native to Ubuntu since 11.04), embodying many of the sort of design failures we talked about this past week.
Doubtless, the aesthetic here is sleek and, at a glance, even appealing. The issue is that this is a ‘shotgun’ approach to design; this interface is meant to work with tablets, desktops, and smartphones. As a result, its design is too broad to work well for any of the three.
Clearly this design emphasizes the format in which information is presented, at the cost of both usability and the conhesion of the design’s rhetoric. It lacks an attention to the way the user actually experiences the interface; while this style of menu has great communicative value on a tablet (where people interact with the device in a more tactile, natural way) on a desktop it feels clumsy, and places new barriers between the content, its function, and the user. The result is that where the design is not outright confusing, it is still clumsy and roundabout.
You might analogize Tufte’s admonishment that a presentation should at least “do no harm” to this situation, and how software presents itself to users. While the goal should be a clean, intuitive, appealing aesthetic, at the very least avoid confusing the user with mismatched messages. Design to purpose, and do not expect one design rhetoric to be applicable for a 23″ monitor through mouse and keyboard, an 8.9″ screen navigated by touch, and a 4.8″ display flicked through with a thumb.