More Design Principles at Microsoft

by Luke Wroblewski March 30, 2010

Design principles are the guiding light for any software application. They define and communicate the key characteristics of the product to a wide variety of stakeholders including clients, colleagues, and team members. Design principles articulate the fundamental goals that all decisions can be measured against and thereby keep the pieces of a project moving toward an integrated whole.

While Microsoft itself admits to design challenges, the company is adopting design principles across many of their new products releases with quite good results. In particular: Windows Phone, Bing, Windows 7 Desktop, Office 2007, and Microsoft Surface.

Albert Shum and Michael Smuga discussed the principles behind the Windows Phone design.

  1. Clean, Light, Open, & Fast
  2. Celebrate Typography
  3. Alive in Motion
  4. Content, not Chrome
  5. Authentically Digital

Paul Ray talked about the design process behind Microsoft's new search engine, Bing, including how the team uses design principles to make decisions.

  1. Design for explorers
  2. Delight and surprise our users
  3. Earn Trust
  4. Be the brand
  5. Make money
  6. Showcase our best
  7. Organize the page by relevance
  8. Respect the need for speed
  9. Give just enough and offer more
  10. Present a seamless experience

For the Windows 7 desktop design, Stephan Hoefnagel showed the following principles in action:

  1. Reduce concepts to increase confidence
  2. Small things matter, good and bad
  3. Solve distractions, not discoverability
  4. Time matters, build for people on the go
  5. Value the full lifecycle of the experience
  6. Be great at “look” and “do”

For the Microsoft Office 2007 redesign, Jensen Harris illustrated how these “design tenants” helped the team make effective decisions:

  1. A person’s focus should be on their content, not on the UI. Help people work without interference.
  2. Reduce the number of choices presented at any given time.
  3. Increase efficiency.
  4. Embrace consistency, but not homogeneity.
  5. Give features a permanent home. Prefer consistent-location UI over “smart” UI.
  6. Straightforward is better than clever.

For Microsoft Surface, Joseph Fletcher mentioned how a set of principles for Natural User Interfaces (NUIs) and “super principles” for Microsoft Surface helped the team design. Microsoft Surface should be:

  1. Social: multiple simultaneous users
  2. Seamless: digital & physical combined
  3. Spatial: kinesiology