SXSW: Designers from Mac OS X and Windows Vista teams compare the process (really raw notes)

Designers from Mac OS X and Windows Vista teams compare the process (really raw notes): What follows is not a transcript of a presentation, nor is it very good notes. And it’s not edited or formatted. However, there are a few folks out there who may find some of this interesting and don’t mind that some of it makes no sense. Very soon, an audio file of the session should be posted, so please go there for the “official version”:

Panel description: http://2006.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060013

KEY:In the following notes,
T= Tom Merritt Editor, CNET.com
R=Cordell Ratzlaff Creative Dir, Frog Design Inc (formerly of Apple)
L=Mark Ligameri Creative Dir, Frog Design Inc (formerely of Microsft)

R: (Joking) We’re going in order of who shipped first. Spent nine years at OS 8 – OS X. The original goal was to not change the interface – but to take the next step technology w/ the existing mac os interface. ended up realizing that we could only get about 90% of the way. We liked the underlying technology. Thought how cool it would be to start from scratch. We then kicked it off as a real project that the company got behind. Had a two-day off site scheduled. At the last minute, I was asked to come present what I’d been working on at that “off-site.” (This was before OS X was started.) Had aggressive paramaters: 12 mos. dev. and had to run ini 32 mes of RAM. Didn’t know how we were going to get this to work. I was the last speaker at the end of the second day. Showed animation on desktop and said all of the requirements that was far beyond the capabilities of the parameters.Steve Jobs “admin” called and said he’d like to meet with me. He wasn’t officially an employee at the time. “Do I need to prepare anything?” No, just bring some of your designers. He said, “you guys are a bunch of amateurs and it went down from there. Said he hated Mac OS and everything was wrong with it. I thought, well, if he was going to fire us, he already would. By the end of the meeting, it turned out okay when we started white-boarding things. He said go off and work on some prototypes. We did for three weeks non-stop. Steve was blown away. Spent the afternoon with him and came up with about a thousand other ideas. That kicked off a year and a half of weekly meetings with him. The things he liked made it in and what he didn’t like didn’t. At the times Jobs didn’t even had an Apple badge that would let him between buildings. “I’d have to go get him (to get through security).

L: I joined the company to work on a project called NetTune, at the time a whole new user interface of Windows. Imagine Windows as a big website. That was the version we were persuing. This was before Windows 98. The devs finally said, “We can’t actually do this — that’s where the Windows XP project started. L went to work on MSN project. XP ships so we start on a plan what Longhorn would be. We were the team that was working on services (MSN) so we came back to Longhorn project to focus on services. It was going to be a shortterm project. Longhorn was going to be out in 18 months. We were going to build on XP (this was about 2002). The team was under the radar. We were making great process. Around 2002, there were issues around security. The entire company stopped and started focusing on security. That security issue became a 2-3 year project. That’s a big window for user interface designers. Then the whole theme of virtual storage came up. Then the issue of rendering things on the screen came up. (Called Avalon ? at the time.) So coming out of that period, we saw things happening.We still thought Longhorn was going to be a shortterm release on XP. There was a whole new graphics requirements. Flooding requirements on our visual guys. About 2002, designers began studying “visual” study. We had “no executive interaction.” It was designer led.

Question: When did you hear from Bill?

L: The executives don’t consider themselves as UI experts. Their feedback comes in a more structured way. There is a structured review. They are not a part of the daily grind. Visual design: There was a lot of ideas. Within about two or three months, there was a direction. We had a big event in about 2003 and had an event to show some of our early, cool stuff. Included start bar and side menus. Search built in. Personally, I think we showed it too early. Things looked “done” in 2003. And then, a year later, people were saying, “Where is that?” The focus then was on “storage.” In interface team was focused on graphics. The Windows LIve team was focused on services.

(Question: Difference in approaches)

R: We were designing non-computer users. Simplfying the UI. Alot of “junk” had accumulated in the interface over the years. We put a lot of that mechanism in the Dock. People who had learned how to use all of these elements in the old interface were very critical. All of Mac OSX was designed in intense secrecy. The reason for that — paranoia — (Mark being able to copy.) It was shown publicly for the first time at Macworld 2002. Apple doesn’t show something until it’s available to buy.

L: Attention to detail is a good thing. Goodlooking icons are just a good thing. We’re going make them real. We had a lot of worry about being perceived as “blatantly” (copying the Mac OS). We were working on things that before Mac OS X came out, that we’re natural progressions of things that were happening…. (I’m not direct quoting) There are some distinct Windows thing and then there are “right things to do” — like good layout, that can be perceived as “a rip off.”

R: Apple does a good job on focusing on things that people want to do. There are other things you can do, but they may be hidden. You have to be clear who you’re designing for. Need to know how your audience is going to be using the product.

L: Windows screen is definitely more wordy on the screen. We saw that as a benefit. When people bump into the screen, it’s spelled out what to do. The designers at MS thought, “Mac OS” is good if you want to do a few things and Windows lets you do everything from the front. Merritt: Let’s talk about the “windowing” metaphor. That’s what we’ve been working with for years and years. How are we moving away from that.

R. The original graphical user interface (at Xerox PARC) was focused on computer as a creative device. Now it’s more focused on “consuming” content. As we get more to single-use computer devices, the interface will be simpler and focused on that device (again — not a direct quote)….

L: Going back to an interface that is simpler: series of buttons.

M: The top menu bar says “file” and “edit” but they have functions that aren’t filing are editing.

R: Those are vestigages of an eariler time. Question from the audience: Have you done studies of whether or not people read all those words in the dialog boxes? Do people read the menus?

L: Yes, a lot of studies. Some of those things come from things being badly designed a long time ago. Done by some engineer. We tried to get to the focus on the issue – whether or not to say yes or no. If they’re better designed, people will read them.

R: People don’t read. They scan. You can capture their attention in other ways. What drove the decision to put the dock in the middle on the bottom?

R: At the time, we were trying to make it consistent with the hardware. The iMac was coming out. We were trying to mimic something. The Apple menu was centered at the time. The whole interface was designed to be more symetrical.

Question: The desingers both work at Frog. Why did they leave? What do

L: I wanted to move closere to family. I miss being “on a team” and I knew every reason everything was in place. And you own and feel responsible for something. I can’t do that so much now. We work for people and sometimes I don’t know why things are removed. …. One thing we did wrong: “We showed too much early on (joking) and Apple was able to steal stuff (laughter).”

R: I worked at Apple a long time. Working at Apple was great. Frog’s a really cool place to work too and I get to work on a lot of cool first-generation products. And we’re hiring.

Question: I love OS X but every once in while (like Google Earth early on) something comes along that won’t work. How difficult is it to get Apps to run on your system?

L: (Laughing) That’s not really hard with Windows.

R: Our strategy was, let’s get three vendors: Microsoft, Adobe and . It was a great opportunity for smaller companies.

L: At Microsoft, the biggest competitior for Vista will be XP.Question: About colors in the operating system…

L: Colors and visual richness has been in apps. Pushing its way into the operating system. In terms of dark colors, what I’ve seen of dark colors, there’s reading stuff in light areas.

R: It’s a “fashion” issue. Early days, we wanted to do the opposite of some of things going on then that were “dark.”Question: Did legal issues dictate any operating system design?

R: Not really. We were looking at what we could patent ourselves, but in the day-to-day design, we didn’t think about it.

L: We did the design first and gave it to the lawyers.Question: Did design drive apps or apps drive design.L: Both. Some new product would come along that would enable a new feature.

R: For us, it was definitely driven by design. We prototyped everything. I felt sorry for our engineers. They’d say, “Don’t show that to Steve.” We had two computers- one running the prototype and the other running the code. Steve would compare pixle-to-pixle the two and say, ” If Macromedia can get it to work, why can’t you.”

Inaudable Question about secrecy effecting final product in a bad way:

R: There were things we would have caught had we not been so secret.

Question about criticism of Dock:

R: We did allow m ovement of Dock – that was feedback to cricisms. But we took a lot of functionality and put that on the Dock. We got a lot of criticism for Mac power users for taking away functionality.

Question: How do you balance power user and novice user needs?

R: We were focusing on novice user. However, we have unix under the hood which appealed to certain technical users.

Question about the drive of open source during the time they were at the companies.

L: I haven’t seen a lot of open source influencing design.

R: Open source is great for development, but not great for design. Great design comes from dictators, not democracy.

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  • Tim Germer

    Very interesting, thanks!