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A Look at UI design Fails in the History of Microsoft

Despite being an innovator in many fields, Microsoft UI has not been up to mark. In its history of building some of the most successful software products, they have also had some of the biggest design fails in user interface design. It has had a long track record of inconsistency, fluctuating from one design trend to another. And while they have innovated in some areas, they have also suffered from some very dated graphical interface technology.

These range from incorrectly worded error messages, false choices and graphical features that have only complicated things for users. These aren’t complete failures, but rather bad design choices that have unfiltered their way into some very good products

Here is a look at some of the biggest user interface design fails in the history of Microsoft.

1. Unnecessarily stylish or overly glitzy window chrome

Window chrome is the software supplied styling around every window and includes the title bar and frame. It should be pretty evident that this styling needs to be purely functional and just be clean and consistent. Users need to be able to focus on what’s happening inside the window and not get distracted by what’s happening on the outside. If the details around the window are overly glitzy, it can distract users from the main purpose of the window. 

Despite this being seemingly obvious, Microsoft has fluctuated between clean and usable window chrome design and overly fancy window chrome one too many times. 

One of the worst examples of this design is the design that was introduced as a part of the Windows XP Luna Theme. It had candy coloured buttons and bulging borders that was also called Fisher Price Windows due to its striking resemblance to children’s colourful toys.

These heavy colour gradients were already looking dated in the early 2000’s, and thus this design update seemed extremely out of place. It also led to very unsightly looking screen captures as this style had rounded corners that allowed the background to show through. However the standard screenshot command still grabbed an exact rectangle that did not accommodate for the curved edges.

A later update that came with Windows Vista, introduced the Aero Glass effect which let blurred content show through the edges of the window frames. There was no discernible reason for this. Aero Glass too was soon abandoned like Luna.

The main flaw of these hastily designed updates is that while harmless, the inconsistency can irk users. Some apps follow one standard, while others follow another. This all results in a very unfinished design that does not look polished.

2. The Office Ribbon

Microsoft introduced the Office ribbon in Office 2010, which was a big change especially since Office was a key pillar of Microsoft’s business dominance. The ribbon dramatically changed the experience for users and was actually a great improvement. However it had some major flaws. One issue was that the ribbon had a very poor layout which took up a lot of space. Another issue was the way that the ribbon altered its layout every time users resized their window. Every time the ribbon would shrink, it would rearrange all the items. For casual users, this meant having to learn a new layout every time they switch to a different screen or device. This isn’t the best or most convenient UI and can actually be quite frustrating. Users come to expect consistency in their user experience, and such UI changes violate their trust and break the consistency they come to expect.

3. Non-resizable windows

Windows

Windows 3.1 mainly had two types of window borders. The resizable borders allowed users to expand windows so that they could see as much content as the screen allowed. In comparison, fixed borders were locked in place. These were easier to design for programmers but less flexible. 

A few decades later, windows has stuck with fixed borders. These are quite inconvenient because they don’t allow users to see all the information they’d like to be able to see. An example was the import media wizard in Windows, which lets you quickly transfer pictures and videos from digital cameras.  The box showing the destination would be extremely tiny every time which could be really difficult for users.

Since user experience is all about the tiny details, these tiny annoying fixed windows could be quite problematic for users. Especially when combined with newer design elements.

4. Long click trails

The long click trail is a simple task that unnecessarily require many more steps than it should. Users need to click their way through a series of modal dialogue boxes that stack up on top of each other until they finally get to a sub-sub window that has the option that they want. Since this is such a familiar part of the Windows ecosystem, most users just accept it. Examples of long click trails abound in Windows extremely conservative design. Windows has feared making even small changes to their UI because these changes can have unforeseen ripple effects. This often leads to UI paralysis and design that just doesn’t work anymore.

5. Gimmicky design changes with no visible benefits

Over the years Windows has also introduced several gimmicky design updates that seem to have no obvious benefits such as Active desktop, and a 3D fishbowl screensaver. These UI frills have no major benefits and thus are quite pointless. In fact Active desktop also crashed a lot of computers which made it the worst kind of design update.

Conclusion

Windows has had plenty of excellent design changes as well, however some of these UI fails are quite memorable and have gone down in history as some of the worst UI fails by Microsoft. From these it is quite evident that user interface design can go horribly wrong if not thought through.

Published by Anjini Khanna

UX Designer

Anjini

Anjini Khanna UX Designer