Good graphic design is incredibly important these days. As people turn more and more towards software to solve their problems, making sure that the software is accessible for everyone is very important. Good graphic design is easy to use, simple to understand, while still allowing for more complicated tasks for the more experienced users.
Easy to say, hard to implement.
Some companies (like Springbok mobile, #shamelessPlug) successfully achieve this balance and produce incredible products. And then, some just keep going. And going. And going. Soon enough, they overwork their product and upset the balance they originally worked out.
In my opinion, no company is more appropriate to this description than Microsoft.
Microsoft: The good, the bad, and the ugly
For a physics project that I was working on, we had to measure out the current and voltage of a set of batteries and track the outputs in a spreadsheet. Excel, naturally, was the spreadsheet I decided to use. I work on it for a bit, and then send the file home to myself to work on later. At my house, I open my file and realize that my home computer is installed with excel 2010 still.
Not a problem, I think to myself, I’m only creating an x/y graph.
I open the file and get to work, and discover that not only was it incredibly easy to create my graph, but the UI and the layout was far easier to navigate than the Excel 2019 version. How could that be? The software is nearly a decade older.
Good graphic design is good graphic design regardless of what year it was created. Microsoft has had this annoying ambition to eventually merge all of its software into one mega-version that can be used across all platforms. In order to make software like Excel smartphone-friendly, the user interface has to be capable of being navigated via touch controls.
Why anyone would want to work with software as complex as Excel from a handheld device is beyond my capicity to explain, but that’s what Microsoft is designing for.
This means that in the new UI, everything is hidden away behind layers and layers of menus, dropdown buttons, and section dividers. In order for me to add a trendline and equation to my graph in Excel 2019, I need to create the graph, click a (+) button in the left corner, which drops down a menu, and I need to hover over trendlines, which opens another dropdown of trendline types – then I need to click on “additional options”, navigate to section 3, and scroll all the way down to tick a specific, small box that will add an equation to my graph.
Compare that to Excel 2010, where all the graph options are outlined in green right at the top of the screen in the toolbar (called “the ribbon,” just to be fancy).
In one click, all the trendline options appear, and to add an equation, you just have to right-click for more options, and the equation option is right there, front and center.
So to summarize, Microsoft added ten steps to a three-step process. Why did they do this? To be more user-friendly. Ironic, isn’t it? In order to create a universal product, Microsoft adds loads of convoluted nuisance to an exemplary product. Talk about getting lighter to run the marathon by cutting off your own legs, amirite?
And this isn’t just with Excel. It’s their entire Windows product in general. Remember Windows 8?
Microsoft attempted to create its universal OS by basically removing every feature that made Windows 7 really good. And those that were used to the Windows 7’s feel, hated such a drastic change to the user interface, and the product flopped. Microsoft compromised later on by releasing Windows 10 – a kind of hybrid of Windows 7 and 8.
And it’s still pretty good, don’t get me wrong – I’m actually typing this on a Windows 10 machine right now. However, you can see the results of the bad user interface throughout all of its systems.
The Start menu can’t just be a way to navigate my folders and software. No, it’s a mess of block buttons for games I have no intention of ever playing and software I will never download. The System Settings are basically useless, and all the real settings are accessible only through the Control Panel. The login-screen can’t just be a list of users and some password inputs. No, now it’s an HD picture of far off scenery that gives factoids and tidbits, as well as the time of day and advertising for Microsoft products.
What’s next, shortcut icons that let you play minesweeper? Speaking of which, Minesweeper doesn’t come preinstalled to Windows anymore. Why’d they get rid of it? Probably to make room for more bloatware, if I were to guess.
To me, this indicates a cognitive dissonance between what Microsoft believes its customers want and what we customers actually want. By trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator, Microsoft is just dumbing down their product – which IT professionals officially call “Idiot Proofing.”
But like everything else, they’ve overdone it, and it just hurts the products and the customers that want to use it.
So the main takeaway is this: Keep it simple. Don’t overwork it. In other words – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.