Wednesday, December 17, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Microsoft makes design central to its future

By
July 23, 2014 |

REDMOND, Wash. — Before Ralf Groene helped devise the look and feel of Microsoft’s Surface tablet, he designed food — or “food concepts,” he says, for people on the go. Among them: dried noodles that come wrapped around a pair of chopsticks; a tubular meal that can be pulled with two fingers from a car cup holder base; and a fork that squeezes out sauce.

Though none of these ideas made it into production, the principles behind them can be applied to computing devices that fit into busy lives, says Groene, and they are just as varied as the ones Microsoft now uses to redesign all its software and devices.

“In a way, we’ve designed Surface with very similar principles,” Groene said on a recent tour of the Surface lab onMicrosoft’s sprawling campus in Redmond, Washington. “Surface is trying to dissolve into your day.”

Groene and his team designed the Surface to accompany its users everywhere. It can be used as a tablet-style news reader propped up on its kickstand while you eat your morning bowl of cereal, as a notepad to be scribbled on with a digital pen at a business meeting, and for watching a movie while sitting on your couch later in the day.

Microsoft is putting an emphasis on design excellence more than ever – to make its products more competitive with offerings from rivals Apple, Google, and Amazon and to prod its hardware making partners to dream up new, more innovative devices. In recent years, the software giant has put a priority on fashioning devices that work around people’s lives, help reduce information overload and become intimate, personal and knowledgeable about their users.

And yes, Microsoft is even trying to make devices attractive, cool and desirable, top executives say.

Over the last four years, Microsoft has doubled the number of designers it employs to some 1,400. They have backgrounds as varied as filmmaking, food and footwear. While that pales in comparison to the 64,000 engineers who make up over half the company’s workforce, designers are now shaping products, building user interfaces and mocking up devices with wood and 3-D printers.

“It used to be that engineers ruled the roost and engineers would bring in designers to make icons,” says Joe Belfiore, Microsoft’s corporate vice president overseeing personal computers, tablets and phones. “It’s changed now.”

Even as the company eliminates 18,000 jobs – most of them related to its purchase of Nokia’s devices unit – Microsoft is empowering people like Belfiore and Groene to challenge conventional notions of what Windows devices can do.

Microsoft’s new design ethos is a break from the past – a time, not long ago, when the company’s software was largely a workplace necessity housed in functional plastic that was crafted by other companies.

It’s no secret that Apple is the world’s most beloved technology company in part because its devices are sleek, comfortable, and easy to use. And Microsoft now wants to infuse its products with the same qualities.

Designers today are woven into the process, from the early stages of product development to the way products are marketed to consumers, Belfiore says.

Microsoft has also recently elevated designers to more prominent leadership roles.

Take Albert Shum. A former designer for Nike, Shum was part of the team that revolutionized the Windows Phone software design to feature the boxy, “live tiles” that are central to the Windows 8 touch-based interface. Shum now heads “interaction design” for PC operating systems, Xbox game consoles, and phones, all of which were previously managed separately.

Microsoft’s modern design philosophy draws upon the minimalist Bauhaus movement, which stresses function over ornamentation, while adding in clean typography and swooping motions. This common design language is key to making Microsoft’s offerings seem like a related family of products and services.

With minimal market share in both tablets and phones, Microsoft has its work cut out for it. Yet a focus on design over compatibility under new CEO Satya Nadella means Microsoft can make products and services for non-Windows platforms, such as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, and still retain the look, feel and functionality of the Microsoftbrand.

Steve Kaneko, a design manager who has been with Microsoft since 1991 and has worked on Office, Windows and other projects, said it’s important for the company to not only design its products to work well on other platforms, but to talk about what design means to Microsoft.

That’s become an easier conversation to have with top executives including Nadella, who took over as chief executive in February. It’s a dialogue the company wants to start with consumers, Kaneko says.

As part of one noteworthy design project, the company plans to make greater use of the tiles in an update to the Windows 8.1 operating system. Pressing Start while in desktop mode will soon bring up several boxy live tiles in the pop-up menu, from which users can launch touch-first apps in the traditional mouse-and-keyboard environment – a feature it previewed at its Build developer conference in April.

Groene’s Surface team already showed off design improvements with the Surface Pro 3, released in June. Clicking the device’s accompanying pen launches the OneNote note-taking app, so it’s as ready as a yellow legal pad for scribbling. And a new bar magnet on the keyboard cover and a kickstand with a wider range of motion helped created a sturdier foundation for typing on a lap.

Another problem the design team is working on: fixing the “hamburger” icon, says Shum.

The icon, featured in Windows Phone and the Xbox One, has three stacked lines resembling two buns and a patty. It mostly acts as a “junk drawer” for random menu items, so it’s not clear what you’ll get when you click on it, Shum says.

On the Xbox One controller for instance, a physical hamburger button represents “enter” on a virtual keyboard. In games like “Titanfall,” it brings up a menu of various in-game options. In Windows Phone’s Cortana app, though, a hamburger button will bring up options for interacting with the digital assistant.

Shum says his team wants to make the icon work similarly across devices. A hint: it will act like a signpost in a city with many neighborhoods. “It should always be this thing that allows you to go to different parts of the city,” he says.

The company is also working to expand the use of the Cortana digital assistant, which is active on some Windows Phone devices. The voice-activated persona is meant to offer help proactively – giving you a snapshot of traffic on the route from the office to your home when the workday ends, for instance.

Kat Holmes, a principal designer who helped design Cortana, is working on ways that it might work in otherMicrosoft devices, from PCs to the Xbox. The guiding principle, which adheres closely to Microsoft’s new philosophy, is to help the user in various ways depending on the situation.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 1 comment

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • JimboJuly 22, 2014 - 10:57 am

    Dear Microsoft, Not everyone is even interested in touching (and smearing up) their screens. The Xbox type motion control would be more practical than touching the screens.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

Solano News

 
Menorah on Main begins celebration of Hanukkah

By Glen Faison | From Page: A1, 2 Comments | Gallery

Haynes, Travis district part company

By Glen Faison | From Page: A1, 13 Comments

 
Optimist Club welcomes student essays

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

 
Police arrest 5 on DUI allegations

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3, 4 Comments

Free new home heater warms Solano family

By Glen Faison | From Page: A3, 3 Comments | Gallery

 
 
Crash blocks part of Air Base Parkway

By Glen Faison | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Police arrest 4 for suspected marijuana sales

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A5, 4 Comments

 
 
‘Hobbit’ story ends on big screen

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A7

 
Council delays decision on anti-smoking ordinance

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A8

Police arrest man caught driving stolen car

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A8

 
 
Suisun City police log: Dec. 12, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A12, 1 Comment

 
Fairfield police log: Dec. 14, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A12

 
Faifield police log: Dec. 12, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: Dec. 14, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

Quotes from around the world on Pakistan attack

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
A look at the Pakistani Taliban militant group

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Taliban assault on Pakistan school leaves 141 dead

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 2 Comments

 
State retiree health care gap reaches $72 billion

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9, 4 Comments

Robin Williams tops 2014 list of Google searches

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Ex-Marine wanted in 6 killings commits suicide

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13, 2 Comments

 
Gay vets can march in Boston St. Patrick’s parade

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13, 1 Comment

Cosby won’t be charged over molestation claim

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
End game: No immigration deal, just divisions

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

Jeb Bush to ‘actively explore’ run for president

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13, 3 Comments

 
Employees arrested for baby theft in Guatemala

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Israel arrests members of Jewish extremist group

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Ireland plans May vote on legalizing gay marriage

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Sydney siege victims lauded for courage, kindness

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Horror over deadly Sydney siege turns to anger

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Aussie leader: System failed to track siege gunman

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Islamic State recruits broadly, not just fighters

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Eight-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah begins

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Filipino mayor expresses support for Guam statue

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

.

Opinion

 
LA looks to election shift to boost turnout

By Dan Walters | From Page: A11

 
What is Hanukkah’s significance?

By The Rev. Dan Molyneux | From Page: A11, 10 Comments

.

Living

Today in History: Dec. 17, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: Dec. 17, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A2

Horoscopes: Dec. 17, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B6

 
My teenage daughter seems to be cutting me out of her life

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B6

A chocolatey rich coconut cream pie for Christmas

By Elizabeth Karmel | From Page: B7

 
Go Italian this Christmas with lobster manicotti

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Dressing up a simple hash for Christmas brunch

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
.

Entertainment

Letterman pulls curtain on holiday tradition

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A5

Green Day, Reed, Starr into rock hall

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Fixes planned for clinic that treated Joan Rivers

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

.

Sports

Some Raiders players want Sparano in 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Fairfield grad Bishop signs with 49ers

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1, 1 Comment | Gallery

Memphis stops Golden State’s 16-game win streak

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Chris Borland’s rookie 49ers season likely over

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Bills deliver Lions pizza, wings for hospitality

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
1998 World Cup winner Thierry Henry retires

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

USOC decides to bid for 2024; city still undecided

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
College football playoff participants stack AP All-America team

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Yankees GM Cashman: A-Rod now a full-time DH

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Sprint to end NASCAR sponsorship after 2016 season

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Raiders place LB Sio Moore on IR

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Patriots regain top spot in AP Pro32 rankings

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Rodriguez girls finally get win over Monte Vista

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B2

Panthers outlast Capitals in longest NHL shootout, 20 rounds

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
AP sources: NFL employees turn over phone, email records

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

.

Business

California home prices cool in November on sluggish sales

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
T-Mobile to let customers carry over unused data

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Apple wins class-action lawsuit over iPod prices

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Obama backs bill imposing new sanctions on Russia

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9, 5 Comments

Sony hackers reference 9/11 in new threats against theaters

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
Russian ruble sinks sharply despite bank rate hike

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

Apple stops sales in Russia, citing unstable ruble

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
.

Obituaries

James Nelson

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
Collie Joseph Blossom

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

Calvin B. Shin

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 3 Comments

 
.

Comics

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6