Don Norman on Windows 8

Don Norman is a well-respected consultant and author working in the field of product design and ergonomics. His classic “The Psychology of Everyday Things” (1988) – in his own words: part polemic, part science. Part serious, part fun – contains a critique of design and design principles that are still relevant today. And his later book “Turn Signals Are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles” (1992) carries that forward, with one chapter – the Teddy – being especially thought-provoking and prescient over how we seem to be developing a symbiotic/dependence relationship with our Smartphones.

So I was interested to read what Norman thinks about Windows 8. As I’ve written before, an awful lot of people seem to think it is a disaster (I’m not one of them). And it appears, like me, Donald Norman is a fan of Windows 8:

Windows 8 is brilliant, and its principles have been extended to phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop machines (and larger – for example, Surface), whether operated by gesture, mouse and keyboard, or stylus, but with appropriately changed interaction styles for the different sizes of devices and different input devices.

Of course, being the thorough observer that he is, he references some of the negative reviews of Windows 8 in his piece:

Here is a critical review by Troy Wolverton of Silicon Valley.com who used Windows 8 for awhile.  Nice dress, he says, but crappy fit. Multitasking is difficult or not even possible beyond two metro apps. Most work still requires the old (Windows 7) desktop, and switching between Metro and desktop is difficult. And he gives a simple example of quitting a Metro application that should send shivers down all of our backs

Perhaps, but I notice that Wolverton doesn’t exactly play fair. His example is not correctly reported. What he says is:

Take a simple example: closing programs. Since Windows 95, users have typically just clicked on the “x” in the upper right hand corner of the program’s window to close it. For those who prefer to use the menu bar, you can usually click on “File” and then “Exit.”

But with Metro-style apps, you won’t find a close-program “x.” You won’t even find a menu bar. Instead, to close a program you have to move your pointer to the top edge of the screen, click and hold until the app screen becomes a thumbnail and then drag that thumbnail image to the bottom of the screen. And you have to do all this without any clues: there’s nothing to “grab” at the top edge of the screen and the interface gives you no indication of what you should do with the thumbnail once you’ve grabbed it.

That’s merely one of many commands that are not only different but also hidden by the Metro interface.

Er, no, Mr Wolverton – you don’t need to “click and hold until the app screen becomes a thumbnail” – merely moving to the top of the screen turns the cursor into a thumbnail. At that point, there are two options open to the user. You can click and drag the cursor to the bottom of the screen to close the App; or you can click and drag it to the left or the right border of the screen to split the screen for multi-app working.

It’s true that the options are not spelled out. But on the other hand, neither are much of the workings of the current version of Windows. People learn about them over time. And, yes, some people never learn, despite good design. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Windows 8 is a radical rethinking. It has excellent design principles and it deserves a chance. What it does not deserve is lazy condemnation by people who don’t approach it with an open mind. 

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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One Response to Don Norman on Windows 8

  1. Pingback: Origami Computing | Geoff Coupe's Blog

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