Is Windows 8 dysfunctional?

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December 14, 2012
Is Windows 8 dysfunctional?.

ThumbIn a recently published article Jakob Nielsen thoroughly trashes Windows 8.

This is not your typical Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux argument. There are no attacks on the security flaws, stability or even cost of the operating system. This assault is directed at the area for which Nielsen is famous: usability.

Windows 8, he states, is full of, “hidden features, reduced discoverability, cognitive overhead from dual environments, and reduced power from a single-window UI and low information density”. The changes in the OS have been so drastic that 12 experienced Windows users that Nielsen asked to review the UI had trouble navigating the software to perform even seemingly simple tasks.

And the reason for such a drastic shift in how Windows looks? "Resting on familiar is the way to mediocrity," said Jensen Harris, director of program management for the Windows User Experience Team.

In my opinion, Microsoft went overboard on trying to be cool. Coolness was the de facto marketing push for Apple products. The Mac UI was cool, the iPhone was a big hit because it was much cooler than the Blackberry and the iPad brought techno-cool to a whole new level. People like cool and it showed because in the mobile marketplace, Apple dominates and Microsoft is struggling to keep up. So instead of working on their mobile line, they made changes to the one thing where they do dominate.

Cool vs. Usable

Those of you who are familiar with Mr. Nielsen know that he favors design that makes something easy to use, over and above everything else. Check out his website to see what I mean:

Jacob Nielsen

While this site might take you back to a time when flannel shirts and grunge were in style, you can’t argue the fact that this site is easy to navigate. There is nothing to distract a visitor from finding exactly what he or she is looking for.

But is this really what users want? Absolutely not; users want to be engaged and drawn in, and the UI is what does that.

There is no doubt that Windows 8 looks great. It captures your interest, but it's weak in two important areas:

  • Lack of consistency
  • Lack of simplicity

If people can’t easily find what they are looking for and they can’t find it each time they are looking, they are going to look somewhere else.

When it comes to design, these two principles are important. You see, Windows 8 users are locked into their product. Most of them won’t opt for something else due to cost, comfort or compliance restrictions.

Visitors to a web site, that’s a different story. They will quickly hit the back button if they can’t find what they need. It doesn’t matter if the site raises their coolness factor by 100% and gets them a guest spot on the Jersey Shore. If they can’t achieve what they came to the site for, they will leave.

Does this mean everything you design has to look like it was hand-coded back in the Nineties? Absolutely not; in fact Nielsen’s own business website offers a bit more flair, maybe not fifteen pieces but enough to engage potential clients:

Nielsen Norman Group

Is Jakob Nielsen right about Windows 8 or is he full of hot air? How do you create a balance between catchy design and usability in your work? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image/thumbnail, uses broken window image via Shutterstock.

Jeff Orloff

Jeff is the content developer for a security company. He also writes about apps, security and just about anything else web related. You can see more from him at or follow him on twitter @jeorl.

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