Microsoft incurs much criticism for lacking the elegance and customer-centricity of Apple. A good portion of that criticism is justified. Even as a relatively technology-savvy sort, I’ve been baffled too many times to count trying to figure out how to do what should be a simple task using various Microsoft programs.
As others have assessed, it is not that Microsoft purposefully designs to frustrate. Rather, its engineering-driven culture frequently leads to designing too many options with too many contingencies and subsequent paths rather than aiming for simplicity.
But the launch of Metro, Office 365, Xbox + Kinect, and the latest Windows Mobile operating system all point to a real shift taking place in Redmond and Bellevue. Microsoft is starting to not only recognize–but to embrace–the value of customer-centric elegance.
Today’s preview of Surface further points to Microsoft’s design evolution. Microsoft smartly capitalized on the iPad’s weakness–the exasperation incurred when typing more than cursory bits of data–by developing what looks to be an elegant tactical keyboard. That’s the kind of forward-thinking customer centricity that would even impress Steve Jobs.
NOTE: Disclosure here… I worked on the Microsoft account at Wunderman for five-and-a-half years, leading the agency’s global strategy and account planning activities. As a result, I can be a bit more defensiveness about Microsoft and its potential than others might be. Hopefully, I balance out that bias with the fact that I own and enjoy many Apple products. Ultimately, I’m a champion of simple, elegant design that delights the customer.