Johanna Rowe: Designing a Microsoft Surface 2.0 application

Our thanks and appreciation to Johanna Rowe, designer and Surface MVP, for sharing the following guest blog in French and English:

Over the last few years developers have started working with professionals from several new fields of activity. These include ergonomists, graphics professionals and much more recently, "design" specialists, coming from industrial environments.

Such design professionals are often specialists in human interactions and accordingly always place user experience at the top of the list of system requirements. This is easily understandable because, from the very outset of their educational courses, designers are trained to treat end-user experience as the most important factor of any new project.

Their creative and artistic spirits, coupled with a solid technical knowledge and an understanding of user needs and desires, make such designers invaluable, not only during the creative phase of a project but in all stages of the product development.

In successful industrial companies, end-user requirements, brand studies, content pertinence, navigation and basic functions, are always treated as highly critical elements. This philosophy is however relatively new to the field of computing and specifically for innovative user interfaces. Let us thus apply this philosophy to the following topic: Designing a Microsoft Surface 2.0 application.

We need to keep in mind four specific points when dealing with this application:

The first point is User Experience. A satisfying user experience is a very strong emotional event and will drive the customer to communicate favorably about the company, "I was really impressed with the new touchscreen application...” A successful user experience can often be summarized by a unexpectedly easy completion of the required action, or surprisingly rapid access to information needed.

The second point is the total respect of the Brand Image. When working on a new application for an industrial company or an association etc, it is of prime importance to respect the fundamental "image" and main corporate values. Key image marker notions "such as, "green," "young," "technical mastery," etc., must be carefully taken into account and should be reflected in the look and feel of the application.

The third point is the Microsoft Surface Design Principles. These principles share a commonality with the “Metro” design found in other Microsoft products, from the Xbox 360 dashboard to Windows Phone and Zune to future Windows 8 tablets. Each product has a specific way of using "metro." For the Microsoft Surface 2.0 interfaces this does not imply using rectangles, squares and palettes of the same color, but simply to using the overall philosophy. There are five Surface design principles: simple, organized, authentically digital, content oriented and lively. This is the basis of Surface application design and should be taken into account the interests of the end-user.

The fourth point is the application of a dedicated design phase. At the very outset of the project, this takes account of all the possible touch interactions, the user gestures, the components, the content and the intended physical aspect. All this should be clearly and visually transcribed in the form of an exhaustive application storyboard. A well prepared and highly visual storyboard, reduces the chance of misunderstanding between project participants. It allows for rapid and reliable validation by the technical managers at the very beginning of the project and above all, before the development phase and graphics design phase.

These four points are clearly critical to project success and must necessarily be taken into account very early in the project as they will have a critical impact on the overall application. However, it is clearly interesting to ask how this process takes place in the minds of designers. This line of thought is useful to pursue, because I frequently meet people who are very unhappy with the idea of not being able to explain logically and scientifically what a designer does, which enables them to produce innovative ideas. They want to understand how the designers brain functions to enable them to reproduce the process...

Well, here is one concrete example of how my industrial designer brain managed to generate ideas concerning interactions.

I challenge any one, to find a way of artificially triggering a similar chain reaction. A few days ago I was watching the cartoon film version of Snow White (in French). I was prompted to do this after a particularly wearing day, in order to find peace and beauty. To my surprise, after several desperately uncreative days, innovative ideas suddenly started to spring to life as I lay in bed, between waking and sleep. The simple innocence and magic of this film reminded me of the sparkling eyes of users, the first time they touched the Microsoft Surface 1.0.

The reaction of fascination and pleasant surprise, created by the beauty of this innocent and touching film, seemed thus to me, to be identical to that of people to whom I presented the Surface a few years ago. Thanks to Snow White, a new train of thought was triggered and instead of going to sleep, I got up and started sketching a series of new interaction ideas. Here are a few of the sketches from this "Snow White" Phase...

The design of Surface applications is above all about exchanging with end users and customers, about sketching, about cutting and pasting, about finding inspiration in everyday objects, materials, images and even in other interfaces.

It is thus armed simply with a pair of scissors a few sheets of paper and some sharpened pencils that some beautiful Surface applications are born, from the minds of Interactions Designers.

Many thanks to Franck Roth for the magnificent illustration which cost him a few weekends of his spare time.

Johanna Rowe
Surface MVP
Twitter : @johanna_rowe
Facebook page : Design in progress

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