Wednesday, October 22, 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

Crime key topic again at Fairfield candidates night

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A1, 35 Comments | Gallery

 
Logue wins US Chamber of Commerce support

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A1, 1 Comment

 
Dixon corn maze breaks own world record

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A2, 2 Comments | Gallery

Tots can trick-or-treat at Solano Town Center

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

 
Car washes raising money to fight breast cancer

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

Fairfield Police Department promotes 2, honors 1

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3, 2 Comments | Gallery

 
Families Helping Families preps for holidays

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

 
Charity Tree Auction application deadline nears

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

 
2 new challenges part of 2014 Solano Turkey Trot

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
PAL center seeks volunteers

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
Solano names new First 5 director

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A6

 
$1.4M land sale by Fairfield gets OK

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

Action, thriller movies headed to box office

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A7

 
Fairfield police log: Oct. 20, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Fairfield police log: Oct. 19, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
Fairfield police log: Oct. 18, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: Oct. 20, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
Suisun City police log: Oct. 19, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: Oct. 18, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

IS fighters seize weapons cache meant for Kurds

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Assad pursues withering campaign against rebels

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 1 Comment | Gallery

FBI: Denver girls may have tried to join jihadis

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 1 Comment

 
7 arrested in Oakland raid on Black Muslim Temple

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Stinky seaweed piling up at upscale Laguna Beach

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
California man goes missing during road trip

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8, 2 Comments

2nd guilty plea in California tainted beef case

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

 
Golden Gate Bridge officials float sidewalk toll

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8, 1 Comment

5 Jonestown victims buried in California

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8 | Gallery

 
New rules adopted in hopes of spurring home loans

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee dies

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Pakistani Nobel laureate honored in Philadelphia

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Schools scoured in search for ambush suspect

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
AP-GfK Poll: Most expect GOP victory in November

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

Cadaver dog searches in suspected serial killings

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Freed Vietnamese dissident travels to US: official

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

North Korea frees US man; 2 more still detained

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
Brown meets with health care experts about Ebola

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

US expands Ebola checks; Rwanda to check Americans

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
WHO: Ebola vaccine trials in W. Africa in January

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

.

Opinion

Expect voter participation to drop

By Dan Walters | From Page: A11, 3 Comments

 

PUC chief: Likely 1st test for new Brown term

By Thomas Elias | From Page: A11

Editorial Cartoons: Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

 
Spering kept youth league going

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 12 Comments

Day, Blankenchip good for respective cities

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 4 Comments

 
‘Misleading’ mailer sent to residents

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 7 Comments

.

Living

Today in History: Oct. 22, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: Oct. 22, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

Horoscopes: Oct. 22, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B6

 
Is it OK for a business to use its contacts to raise money for a charity?

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B6

Roasted beets can brighten up any holiday table

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Hummus and chocolate together? Deliciously so!

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

Easy slow cooker chili that lives up to the hype

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
.

Entertainment

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A5

 
Argentina demands ‘Top Gear’ apology from BBC

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

‘S.H.I.E.L.D’ fans push for Coulson/May romance

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7 | Gallery

 
From Kors to DVF, fashion mourns de la Renta

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7 | Gallery

.

Sports

Local report: Vikings earn 3-0 SCAC volleyball win over Wolves

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B1

 
SJS releases season’s first wins list

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Bumgarner, Giants stop Royals 7-1 in Series opener

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Bruins hold off Sharks to win 5-3

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Shaw shoulders blame for Stanford’s slide

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Newman dodges penalty for Talladega inspection

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Logano: No worries about retaliation from Patrick

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Cowboys release Michael Sam from practice squad

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Fighters suing Mayweather over Vegas cable TV bout

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
49ers lose center Daniel Kilgore, needs surgery

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Raiders plagued by 3rd-down defensive woes

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
For a young Mexican golf star, seeing helps him believe

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

WS Game 2 starters Ventura, Peavy study in contrasts

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

 
Hats off! Royals get old-timey with tip o’ the hat

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

KC, San Fran mayors announce World Series wager

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Ezeli returns as Warriors beat Clippers 125-107

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Buster’s back: Posey tries to add 3rd Series ring

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

 
AP sources: Rice’s appeal hearing set for Nov. 5-6

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Kings GM: NHL should educate after Voynov’s arrest

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Broncos are still No. 1 in AP Pro32 rankings

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9 | Gallery

‘Blade Runner’ Pistorius gets 5 years in prison

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12 | Gallery

 
.

Business

5 problems McDonald’s is facing in the US

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

 
New efforts to ban tobacco farm child labor

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

Total CEO killed in Moscow runway crash

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
China economy grows at slowest pace in 5 years

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Google’s streaming music service adds mood to mix

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
.

Obituaries

Rufina Ferrer Levengood

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
.

Comics

Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Frank and Ernest

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

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Cryptoquote

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

 
Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6