As a little boy, I used to love playing with Lego. Building houses, ships and cars with Lego was one of my favourite hobbies. And when the time came to move onto Technic, I did so gratefully. My young mind aching to be challenged in greater ways. But anybody who is familiar with Lego or Technic, or building anything for that matter will know that once you’ve reconstructed the same thing once or twice. You get better at it.
You find room for improvement, you find pieces that may be superfluous, think of better ways to build something and think of more elegant solutions. I remember being very firmly told by my friend Alexandre, a senior designer at Honda, who also happened to be a world-class trumpet player.
Before creating. Learn!
Learn from what exists. Learn what works. And learn what doesn’t.
Learn from the masters.
In essence, he told me to build on and respect existing practices and structures in car design before going off on a limb trying to reinvent the wheel with flights of fancy.
The difference between student and professional work and good advice.
I started to think of Alexandres advice recently when I seen the new Windows 8 Operating System. Boy is it radical. It’s fresh and a huge step forward for Microsoft. It has the impetuosity and care free abandon of youthful thinking.
But you see, building a computer operating system is like building anything. It’s only by building, testing, constructing, re-constructing, doing, ending and starting again that a great system evolves. You have to be able to dig deep into the detail first before proposing structural changes.
Trust me with an object as heavily used as an operating system, form is definitely a consequence of function. No matter how smart the interface is. Nothing will dull the novelty quicker than something that doesn’t work properly.
Apple have got this right brilliantly recently with the vast number of OS iterations that both work and function beautifully. The incremental and iterative process used by Apple means that their operating system just works and the fact that it works beautifully enhances the perception that it is beautiful.
I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to see Microsoft do something as Bold as Windows 8. This is a company that has thrown off the shackles of conservatism and embraced radicalism. One could even say it has ‘out-appled’ Apple. I love the strength of the concept, the fact that one Operating system can cross several platforms. And I do rather like the minimal graphic style. The strength of its boldness, has even begun to ask questions about Apple and their ‘skeumorphic’ approach. So much so that their top dog in design – Sir Jonathan Ive has been drafted in to oversee the development of their new OS.
Visually, I must say that Windows 8 is a huge step forward over 7. It is a sensible evolution of the Microsoft Vision 2019 with the breaking down of tasks/applications into mini modules, centred on the screen. This is obviously common throughout traditional desktops, tablets and mobile devices.
Despite the radical appearance, you are still reminded that this is Microsoft and not Apple. As a car designer, I remember Alfa Romeo investing a lot of time and effort to mimic the pleasant thud when you close a car door. Companies like Mercedes and Audi had become lauded for their quality and the door thud was symbolic of their success. Despite their best efforts, Alfa Romeo was never quite able to replicate the same feeling of quality. Kind of get the same impression here.
Microsoft should be praised for their boldness but their execution, in design, isn’t quite on the same level as Apple. The icons for example are a touch on the small side proportionally and more than that they lack that attention to detail that is required. Minimalism is a wonderful aesthetic direction, particularly when executed well. However, what many forget is that reducing an object (or part of an interface in this example) to its most core components means that every element has to have the right depth and attention to detail in its own right.
Microsoft and aesthetics is a bit like Alfa Romeo and quality. With the best will in the world, it’s never quite there. The new Microsoft logo is also testament to this. However, without being too harsh to Microsoft; this is the kind of Operating System Apple should be building and I believe that their rivals in Silicon Valley will be incredibly jealous that their clothes have been stolen by their competitors. Conceptually, it’s quite a bit ahead of the game.
However, before getting carried away with Windows 8. I must return to the original point and heed this warning. The beauty and conceptual integrity of the Microsoft interface will only work commercially if it performs and functions well. It’s what made Windows 95 so popular in the first place.
According to one of my great design heroes Richard Seymour…
“We don’t see beauty in objects as they are but as we are.”
Everything is beautiful to different people in different ways. The most beautiful objects in anybody’s eyes are those that work well, that enhance our lives. As many of you know I never shut up about how much I love my BlackBerry.
Because it allows me to type on the move; to blog, to send e-mails. All effortlessly so!
It’s why I hated the I-phone I had for three months. Because I just couldn’t do that.
You won’t find too many people in love with their operating systems but subconsciously people feel the exact same way.
If Microsoft 8’s cool new concept and layout allows users to interact with their word processors, e-mail, music, Facebook etc with greater ease, then boy do they have a product.
Otherwise, its novelty will quickly wear off and people will continue to flock to Apple.
Time will tell…