The brave new world of Windows 8

By Elaine McVicar

Microsoft has been putting a lot of effort into shaking their Bill Gates geeky image. Mainly by reinventing their products, and promoting them, as stylish, modern and innovative. Something that Apple has historically excelled at.

They have created a few campaigns to bolster this new image. The most interesting is the Random Adventures of Brandon Generator used to promote IE9 and support their ‘more beautiful web’ principles.  Written and directed by Edgar Wright and narrated by Julian Barratt, it’s a quirky interactive comic adventure about a writer struck by writer’s block. You can get involved by generating the content that develops the story. It’s an HTML5-powered experience with the aim to highlight powerful features of IE9, such as eliminating plug-ins, better battery consumption and full hardware acceleration.

Now, Microsoft has taken a step back to completely rethink the Windows 8 operating system, and a large part of this is the new Metro style apps (although legal issues mean this is going to be renamed). These take full advantage of the operating systems features to create seamless and rich experiences. I recently attended a Windows 8 UX workshop at Microsoft’s Victoria Street office to get a better idea of what that means.

One operating system to rule them all

The workshop was presented by Andrew Spooner, a Creative Technologist working at Microsoft. One of the first things that he shared with us was that Windows 7 has an incredibly big piece of the operating system pie. Mainly due to Windows being used across businesses worldwide, but this definitely means it can’t be ignored.

The biggest change in Windows 8 is that this is now one operating system for all devices, meaning that every ‘Metro’ style app you develop can run on all devices. Yes, for desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile! That’s a very powerful proposition for businesses that are currently struggling to introduce iPad devices and applications to their workflow.

The design principles

Andrew Spooner is obviously passionate about how these apps are created, and as a designer I understand. Whatever we create we want the final execution to be as beautiful as it is in our minds. So, understandably, Microsoft has developed some design principles to help designers create these apps with a consistent style and functionality. These define the keys concepts you should keep in mind throughout the app design process.

UX Booth has a comprehensive article on designing using these Windows 8 design princples, alongside an interesting case study too.

Create your own

The workshop gave us the opportunity to try out these design principles first hand, by creating our own Windows 8 news app. It was a good challenge to help us understand how to implement the design princples as well as the navigational patterns.

Microsoft want to help support and encourage designers and developers creating Windows 8 apps, possibly hoping to create some strong advocates for it. This means there is help out there for anyone wanting to create an app. Here are some useful resources to start you off:


I’ve always sat on the fence of the PC vs. Mac argument. I’ve swayed towards the style and feel of Apple products, but the affordability and customisability of Microsoft products. I’m also not completely convinced by the ‘Metro’ style. The rectangular tiles feel slightly out-dated to me. I do think it has been implemented well though and I look forward to exploring how you could push the functionality and features of the operating system and app guidelines to create something really innovative.

What do you think?