June 20, 2013

Microsoft’s new design ethos

Microsoft Corporation was one of my earliest clients for the Extreme Presentation workshop, and continues to be one of my largest; I continue to teach the workshop in Redmond three or four times per year, including most recently on Tuesday of this week.

I have been delighted to observe at Microsoft a growing concern with design, the recent history of which is described in Modern Design at Microsoft, an excellent article by Steve Clayton.  Clayton notes that he

“…started from the very place I bet you are right now — disbelief that Microsoft is leading the way on design”

and he goes on to describe the journey he has observed, and participated in, towards a leading edge design focus at Microsoft.  One of the external design influences on Microsoft is the Bauhaus movement.

 

“At
the heart of the Bauhaus philosophy is stripping away superfluous
decorations to focus on the essence of the functional. There are many
parallels in today’s computing world. The practice of mimicking
real-world materials such as glass, brushed metal or leather, and
effects such as drop shadows, reflections and lens flares, are an
attempt to adorn experiences without being functional. When Sam Moreau,
design director for Windows, says, ‘The content is the interface,’ he’s
channeling his inner Bauhaus.”

To my mind, the essence of the idea is this:

“A Microsoft designer’s focus is on making every element have a clear
and useful purpose. No more, no less. It helps communicate what is most
important so a person can focus on the task at hand.”

I am of course delighted, because I have been pushing this approach in presentation design for several years, at Microsoft and elsewhere, not always to a friendly audience (including at Microsoft).  There’s a brief clip from my workshop on the third video on this post (or go directly to the video here) where I argue for stripping out everything on a slide that isn’t directly communicating or reinforcing your message.

The idea is part of the Conference Room presentations style, which I argue is highly effective for persuading small groups of people, and is highlighted in points 3 (no chartjunk) and 9 (show all the relevant details and only the relevant details) in the Anatomy of a Conference Room Style Presentation.


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