Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Yet Another Entry in the Canon of Wishful Pieces About Microsoft’s Design Team

Tom Warren, the Verge:

These days, Microsoft is all about looking at the big picture — not just where one product needs to go, but how an entire ecosystem of products needs to ship, evolve, and work together over the coming years. While products in the past might have been developed in secret by separate teams, and ended up looking and feeling disparate because of it, Microsoft has scrapped that approach recently. It’s now adopted a philosophy called “open design” that’s about sharing ideas across the company, integrating products, and failing faster. The hope is that it will lead to a better combination of hardware and software that looks like it came from one company and is better for it, too.

Microsoft is a big fan of inviting journalists to chronicle their design team’s pursuit to unify the company’s notoriously disparate product lineups. Four years ago, Panos Panay made design consistency a big bullet point of the Surface strategy; two years ago, Microsoft gave a name to the design system that replaces the system formerly known as Metro. Metro itself, publicly branded Modern Design, was an attempt to unify Microsoft’s approach to design nearly ten years ago.

Yet, through all of these attempts at redesigning everything they make, Microsoft has somehow retained Settings panels in Windows 10 that, two levels deep, are basically the same as the panels in Windows 7; at three levels deep, they look exactly the same as the design language they used for Windows NT in the mid-to-late nineties. There seem to be few rules internally, and I think that reflects on third-party developers that seem to use whatever design language they feel like.

Every platform has cruft, and every redesign requires time to percolate — particularly when it’s applied across a software portfolio as gigantic as Microsoft’s. Articles like this one are a platform to show that the company’s teams are working, but it’s hard to believe that this time they’ll somehow make everything feel like it’s shipping from the same company. We’ve seen this movie before.