Friday, 6 January 2012


Muddled design

wp7-save.pngDo you recognise the rightmost thing in this picture? Yes, it's a mobile phone. Top marks if you identified it as the Nokia Lumia 800 running Microsoft's Windows Phone 7. Now how about the thing on the left? Maybe you know it's a floppy disk, but how many people under the age of twenty have ever seen or used one?

I had to undertake some serious attic archeology to find the floppy. I think I last used one in about 1995. The BBC wrote an obituary for floppies almost ten years ago, and Sony (who invented the technology) stopped manufacturing them last year.

So why is there a picture of a floppy on the mobile phone screen? Why does Microsoft think that a depiction of this antiquated media is a suitable mnemonic for "Save" in their 21st century mobile phone operating system? They chose an X for cancel; would a tick mark for "OK" have been too obvious? It isn't the case of one app doing something odd; the floppy disk is in Microsoft's recommended guidelines.

This is just one example of the muddled design of Windows Phone 7. Here's another.

wp7-search.pngEach Windows Phone has a dedicated Search button decorated with a looking glass picture. This always takes the user directly to the Bing search engine online. Microsoft recommend an identical picture for any application-specific search feature, so users end up seeing two looking glasses, each performing a different action. There's also no way to search across all apps in the phone. Don't press that search button in the hope to find a friend's phone number. You need to pick the People app first.

After using it for a month, my opinion is that Windows Phone 7 is a beautiful operating system. There are a few touches that make Apple's iOS look a little dated. But it's in need of a critical, uniform design review if it is to stay at the front of the pack. It needs to shake off the feel of a system designed by programmers who've read up on typography.

Posted by pab at 09:37 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!