User Experience, designer focus… at Microsoft?

You may have heard on the grapevine that Microsoft is getting serious about user experience of both traditional products and web applications as well as the designer market space in general. Just let that slowly sink in for a minute…

“Hang on a minute is this the same Microsoft that has always been about developers, developers, developers”, admit it, you we’re thinking something along those lines, well it is the same (quickly evolving) Microsoft.

So just how serious is serious?

Well in terms of enabling people to build great experiences three products have been announced to date under the Expression banner: Expression Web, Expression Interactive Designer and Expression Graphic Designer.

They can be downloaded as technical previews from here:


Ok. So Microsoft is launching some products. That’s nice… but products are just products – sure they can be good or bad but releasing three products doesn’t necessarily show any intent that Microsoft wants to, or is going to be a serious playing in this market.

I’ll look at the products in detail over the coming weeks. Back to topic – that whole User Experience thing – that doesn’t really sound very Microsoft.

Well things change quickly nowadays… if you’ve been following the Vista and Office road to launch you may have noticed that a lot of the buzz around them is centred around the user experience. Vista is in fact a huge leap forward from the Fisher Price vision that was Windows XP, and to be honest, probably for the first time I personally have enjoyed using any version of Windows, which is relevation for me as a lifelong Mac user. I don’t think I could say that I ever ‘enjoyed’ using XP.  

Office 12. I can’t remember the last time a major company took it’s market leading product and totally changed the UI from the previous 10 versions, I mean literally rip it up and through it away. Office 12 is a totally different beast from all previous versions. The first few hours/days/weeks (depending on how much you use the product) may be a frustrating experience as you struggle to come to terms with the new way of working. But go through that change and once it starts to fall into place you start to realise how much more productive you are with the new version. It’s great feeling productive and even better not having to search for features buried in menus 4 clicks deep. So two major products both centred around experience.

The User Experience Evangelist role (UXE) is a brand new role in all the major geographies which is essentially looking to drive a couple of agendas.

The first area the UXE role involves is reaching out to the designer community with the new Expression products. The scope is broad and takes in everything from Web 2.0 applications (Still not sure about the term Web 2.0 – marketing strikes again), their usability, and just as importantly making the right technology choices, all the way through to a brand new prospect – designers being able to build richer Windows applications using Interactive Designer and utilising Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) on both XP and Vista. I can’t wait until we can show some of applications that are cooking for the Vista launch 🙂

The second area, which of course is tightly coupled with the first is the user experience itself. How can an improved user experience positively impact businesses online. Is it just about richness of content or simply how people interact with that content. What different elements have to be present or considered to be able to build an improved user experience.

This is all totally new ground for Microsoft which for so long has been focused on the technology stack and helping developers leverage that stack.

I think what’s interesting is the range of people that are being employed into the roles. My background is tradional design, I trained as a graphic designer, before working at Macromedia for over six years, 4 years working with the traditional Macromedia web products, and the last 2 years concentrating around Flash on mobile. Other UXEs around the globe range from people who have been running their own companies with backgrounds in interactive design through to thought leaders that have been running user experience teams within Blue Chip corporates. The diversity of people is wide and is leading to great internal discussions!

In many ways it reminds me of the buzz we had internally at Macromedia back in the day 🙂

It’s very early days, but this is looks like it’s going to be one exciting ride.

Welcome aboard.


5 Responses to “User Experience, designer focus… at Microsoft?”

  1. November 29, 2006 at 11:50 pm

    I can only speak for expression web ( i would love to have the time to look at the graphics lark) but EW is probably the best wysiwyg editor in thee market place – yes even in its beta version.
    I have never seen a programme that does what it set out to do. EW does and exceeds all expectaions. (lets hope MS keep the momentum going)
    Sure its beta but, as the beta proceeds, it knocks out all the so called excess code and actually does what it say’s….
    It makes valid and accessible web sites.
    Maybe this is a first?

  2. December 7, 2006 at 5:09 pm

    We were recently at Flash on the Beach and the general feedback there was the same Jim. Expression Web simply produces the best, cleanest code of all the visual editors. Momentum wise you’ll be pleased to know everything is is full swing and looking good from the inside 🙂

  3. December 14, 2006 at 11:57 am

    Flash on the beach – Brighton right?
    Good bash?

  4. December 15, 2006 at 8:38 pm

    Yes that’s right in Brighton 4-6th Dec.

    Great bash. John Davey did a fantastic job of pulling together one of the best Flash centric events I’ve attended (there were a lot of other topics as well, Ajax, Accessibility, Expression etc but obviously the nature of the event mainly Flash focused.

    Great speakers, great venue etc. The whole event had a really nice vibe to it.

    A little bit chilly in Brighton in Dec 🙂 but apart from that highly recommended.

  5. December 18, 2006 at 10:31 am

    I am sorry that i missed it!
    I used to live just up the road in sunny eastbourne! But now i am adrift in Cornwall, we are always the last to hear. Flash is not my thing but it would have been great to just mingle ith some of the movers and shakers!

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