This won’t really be anything you haven’t heard already, but I feel like I really need to voice these concerns.
I know I don’t speak for every UX designer out there, but there seem to be a lot of troubling aspects of the Metro UI that I’m having a hard time justifying. Notably, eyeflow. When tiles are laid out in a linear fashion, the eyeflow is simple. Left to right, top to bottom. That’s what we do in Western Civilization; it comes natural. But when you have small-sized icons, medium size, large size, double-wide, etc. as tiles, your brain can no longer read in a linear fashion. It sees the big one first. Then maybe the medium or doublewides. Then the small icons. What order do you see them in? Who knows. Maybe the colorful ones–but wait, they’re all colorful. Your brain will fight with your eyes over what should be seen first, which creates a stressful experience for the user.
So then the question becomes, what was Microsoft trying to accomplish in order to improve upon the system that was already in place? Good question… I’m still trying to figure that out. Some icons are big. Some are small. I can see that maybe you’d want the most used icons to be big, but does it really matter that much? Or at all? Does it make sense for one icon to take up the same real estate of 8 others? So then, the colors. Great, color coding. I assume that blue could mean web, orange could be productivity, green for games? Nope. It’s entirely random, apparently. So then what is the point of having candy colored buttons strewn all over the place in various shapes, sizes, and colors? I’m just not following it.
The other issue I have is with their obvious end goal, which is merging the user experience across phones, tablets, and desktops. It seems like it would be a worthy endeavor, and perhaps it can be done, but that doesn’t mean that Windows 8 is doing it right.
Let’s take my personal use cases. On my smartphone is Android 2.3. It has a desktop. With same-sized icons. It has a drag-down bar with a list of recent programs and notifications (the equivalent to a taskbar and icon tray). It has a button at the bottom that slides out a list of applications (you know, a “start menu”). I’m able to do everything I need to do, using this system. At home I have Windows 7. It has a desktop, same-sized icons, a taskbar, and a start menu. The experience is virtually identical, besides the lack of notification list and a different approach to multitasking–but that’s okay, it makes some sense that I would have different needs on a desktop versus smartphone. But in the case of Windows 8, it seems to want to force a unified “jack of all trades and master of none” experience across all devices. No device has just icons. No device has a start menu. All implementations are based on utilization of touch. On a desktop, this is especially silly. Who’s gonna sit there with their arms in the air to use Excel, Word, and Visual Studio? Who needs the calculator taking up their entire 22 inch monitor? And to top it all off, providing both a Metro mode and classic mode to create an utterly segregated, confusing mess of an experience.
It appears to me that Microsoft went the same route as iOS in the reimagining of Windows (the dreaded “let’s just do what Apple is doing and call it innovation” move in Silicon Valley). iOS also has merged the start menu into the desktop, for instance. I would imagine the reasoning behind this was for simplicity’s sake, and lack of screen real estate. For the record, I disagree with the decision. A desktop should be for human-organized shortcuts and unfiled folders and documents. A start menu should be your entirety of installed applications. It seems like Microsoft is trying to copy this idea, the idea being, why have both when you can merge the two? Because it creates a mess, that’s why.
I remember when Windows 1-3 was using windows of grouped icons (that’s why they called it “Windows”) on the desktop instead of filing them in a start menu or just having the commonly-used desktop icons. When I was a kid and Windows 95 came out, I was upset at first, but then I realized I didn’t use most of those icons, so they didn’t need to be taking up my desktop all the time. Apparently, Microsoft has done a complete 180 and decided to pile everything back on the desktop again, so what was 20 years old is new again. Now my beloved desktop experience is gone, and instead I’m being forced to use a tablet experience. Instead of a few icons on a clean desktop, I have every program I own and barely use, mixed with live gaming icons I don’t use, next to a web browser I don’t use, with social networking tiles that are completely useless, and other garbage I just plain don’t use. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that banking your flagship product on popular smartphone and tablet interfaces is going to turn out to be a huge mistake. The quicker Microsoft admits this, the quicker they can get back to selling Windows again.