Sunday, February 1, 2015
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

 
Fire Department honors top firefighters

By Bill Hicks | From Page: A1, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
 
4th annual Health and Wellness Fair a big success

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
 
 
Banish dry skin this winter

By Sarah Porkka | From Page: C4, 1 Comment

Chocolate: A long journey to deliciousness

By Karen Metz | From Page: C4

 
County board to consider DA reorganization plan

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A5

Eurozone offers lesson in debt

By Mark Sievers | From Page: B7

 
Rodriguez graduate completes basic training

By Nick DeCicco | From Page: B10

 
Fairfield police log: Jan. 30, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: Jan. 30, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

From ocean to ocean, through the Panama Canal

By The Associated Press | From Page: C1

 
NASA launches Earth-observing satellite

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
‘Rolled Sleeves Bandit’ tied to 7 bank robberies in custody

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Bay Area agency accuses former official of embezzling $1.3M

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Los Angeles female-only mosque may be first in US

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

California health care contract fight resolved

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Man arrested after body parts found in suitcase

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Scientist considered father of birth control pill dies

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Letter with suspicious powder received at Samaritan’s Purse

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Snails slither into spa scene in Thailand and around world

By The Associated Press | From Page: C6

 
 
Hatfields, McCoys make moonshine legally in southern W.Va.

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Airport authorities: Traveler beats homeless man with chair

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Kerry: ‘Enormous interest in new relationship with Cuba

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Drivers: Return to your dealers for a 2nd air bag recall fix

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Vatican investigates 2 cases of child porn possession

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Islamic State fighters admit defeat in Syrian town of Kobani

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

From car lots to city budgets, cheap oil means change

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
Africa agrees to send 7,500 troops to fight Boko Haram

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
5 given preliminary charges over jihadi network in France

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Fire devastates major Russian library, threatens rare texts

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Swiss police: 4 dead after avalanche hits group of skiers

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Fire at Bangladesh plastics factory kills at least 13

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Civilians flee east Ukraine town as fighting intensifies

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

British actress Geraldine McEwan dies at age 82

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Greek leader tamps down rhetoric, vows to pay off debts

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Iraqi libraries ransacked by Islamic State group in Mosul

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

 
.

Opinion

 
Sound off for Feb. 1, 2015

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8

 
Good old days weren’t as good as we remember

By Megan Mcardle | From Page: A8

Editorial Cartoon: Feb. 1, 2015

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
.

Living

Community Calendar: Feb. 1, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: Feb. 1, 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Prayer, commonly misunderstood

By The Rev. Rick L. Stonestreet | From Page: C3, 3 Comments

 
Sundance doc pulls back curtain on Scientology

By The Associated Press | From Page: C3

 
Horoscopes: Feb. 1, 2015

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: C4

Volunteer or visit because February is National Salute to Veteran Patients

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: C4

 
.

Entertainment

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST-SELLERS

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

 
Review: ‘First Bad Man’ is Miranda July’s debut novel

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

 
Lorrie Moore nominated for short story prize

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

New book to feature unpublished Hemingway conversations

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

 
TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B11

.

Sports

Mustangs win the whole Encalada

By Marcus Lomtong | From Page: B1, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Super Bowl the final act of the NFL’s worst season

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Lowest prices on last-minute Super Bowl tickets near $9,000

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Seau, Bettis, Brown, Haley, Shields voted into Hall of Fame

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Rodgers wins MVP, Watt unanimous top AP defensive player

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Lydia Ko takes No. 1 spot at 17, Na Yeon Choi wins opener

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Laird takes a 3-shot lead in Phoenix Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

.

Business

On the money: Low gas prices, incentives change math for electric cars

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Small talk: NFL players find second careers as entrepreneurs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

Recalls this week: space heaters, orbital sanders

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Sumptuous seaside hotel sells for record-shattering $360M

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Review: Open e-book format comes with headaches

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
.

Obituaries

Garry A. Britton

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Anthony Neal Hunley

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Frank Z. Perez

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Joe Lambert Robinson

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

Flora Mae Brooks

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Otilia (Tela) Quinn

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

Lester Singer

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
WillIiam “Bill” Hunter

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics