A Microsoft UX designer talks about why we need the Start Screen in Windows 8.
Jacob Miller, a UX designer for Microsoft, recently took to Reddit to explain why Microsoft chose to use the "Metro" Modern UI-based Start screen in Windows 8. He says that the Start screen is a "content consumption" space meant for casual users to check Facebook, view photos, or get caught up on the latest episodes of Supernatural.
"It's designed for your computer illiterate little sister, for grandpas who don't know how to use that computer dofangle thingy, and for mom who just wants to look up apple pie recipes. It's simple, clear, and does one thing (and only one thing) relatively easily," Miller writes.
He said the Metro interface is the antithesis of a power user, who is a content creator who may have more than one monitor displaying more than one open application. Prior to Windows 8, both the casual consumer and pro user shared the same space. Windows 7 and earlier wasn't even tailored to one group or the other.
"Whatever feature we wanted to add into Windows, it had to be something that was simple enough for casual users to not get confused with, but also not dumbed down enough to be useless to power users. Many, MANY features got cut because of this," he writes.
Previously, Microsoft wanted to please the power user by providing multiple desktops, but each time the company tried to implement this feature, user tests showed that the casual customers became confused. So the company decided to make two "playgrounds" for the Casual and Power groups. The Casual group would have Metro apps, and the Power group would have the desktop.
Yet why did Microsoft make the Start screen the default? And why didn't Microsoft provide a boot-to-desktop option in the original Windows 8 release? His short answer is that casual users don't go exploring. If the platform loaded straight into the desktop and offered the Start menu, then they would have never experienced the Metro side of Windows 8.
"They would still occupy the desktop just as they always had, and we would have been stuck in square one. So we forced it upon them. We drove them to it with goads in their sides. In 8.1, we softened the points on the goads by giving users an option to boot directly to desktop," he writes.
Now that the casual group is aware of the Start screen, Microsoft can now start tailoring. Unfortunately for the power users, it may be a while before they start to see benefits.
"Right now we still have a lot of work to do on making Metro seem tasty for those casual users, and that's going to divert our attention for a while. But once it's purring along smoothly, we'll start making the desktop more advanced. We'll add things that we couldn't before. Things will be faster, more advanced, and craftier than they have in the past - and that's why Metro is good for power users," he concludes.
Later on, Miller talks about how familiarity will always trump good design. The Windows 7 Start Menu is better than Windows 8's Start Screen because it's familiar; Microsoft used the same design for the last 20 years. He acknowledges that Metro will take some getting used to, but it's not going to go away, as it's part of Microsoft's long-term strategy.
"We knew full well casual users wouldn't like it initially. Hopefully in 5 years we'll look back and see we made the right decision," he writes.