Fixing Windows 8 – Enhancing Base App Experience for Improved discoverability

Windows 8’s user interface is still in a premature phase. One of the most obvious problems is discoverability. Apps have important functionality hidden away so that apps can get every pixel of the screen. Instead you have to right click to open the AppBar, or move your mouse to the right corners to open up the Charms. I’ve made some small changes to the fundamentals of how apps would work to make discoverability easier.

Goals:

  •         Make it easier to access system level features
  •          Don’t clutter or add unnecessary UI.
  •          Minimize mouse movement
  •          Stay in line with the base Metro principles.

As an example I’ve taken the Weather App, but my concept works for all Windows 8 apps.

How it is today:

How it is today
How it is today

App Launch

When an App start, or when the user switches Pages within an App, the Charm icons that are related to that page would light up briefly to notify the user “Hey, you can now Share something” or “There are Settings available here”.

How it should always be (Base App State)

ConceptOne_StartState
Concept Proposal

The Charm icons fade away with only the Windows logo transparently visible.

Having the Windows logo at the right of the screen has several important benefits. It’s transparent so when you’re working within the context of an app you wouldn’t even notice it (did you notice it at first in the above screenshot?). When the user looks for more he will still find the icon. It’s a certainty that there is something more, that the OS governs the app.

There are also 3 dots at the bottom of the screen to tell the user that there is more, specifically an AppBar that can be opened. (This is similar to what Windows Phone has)

I’ve redesigned Windows 8’s hideous scrollbar. It used to take up the whole width of the screen, and it even had arrows (no one uses the arrows, either you scroll with your mouse or you drag the bar [Facebook does this too]). I’ve made it much more compact, similar to what’s been found in the MetroTwit desktop client. There’s no need for arrows, only a small bar. This scrollbar also feels freer because it isn’t connected to any of the sides of the screen. When the user is within a 2-4 pixel radius the scrollbar becomes less transparent and you can drag the bar horizontally.

All of these changes didn’t take away any of the available pixels an app has (rather the contrary, an app has even more pixels to show itself).

The above is the base app state, how it will always be regardless of when or which app you’re using.

Now, let’s move on to when you hover over these small UI parts.

Edge, not corner. (Base Hover State)

ConceptOne_HoverState

“Hover over” isn’t really correct, the AppBar dots and Windows icon start to become less transparent once you move closer to any of their respective edges, again for visual feedback.

The big difference between how Windows 8 works today is the way how these controls get activated. Today you need to move your mouse to any of the right corners to activate the Charms. I propose to just use the screen’s edge, so the user would need to aim less. Just move your mouse to the right edge of the screen and only the Charms that can be used pop up (seriously, there is no need to show them all when they don’t do anything). I also would love to see the opened Charm Bar with a transparent black background. Now it’s just black, and it makes me feel sad.

The same thing counts for the AppBar, move your mouse down and when it touches the bottom edge the AppBar opens automatically (no right clicking). As an extra I’d love it that when you right click, your mouse automatically moves to the first AppBar control (and back to the original location when you close the AppBar by right clicking. This would greatly minimize mouse movement. When the AppBar loses focus it closes automatically. (Same as with the taskbar that’s set to automatically hide).

That’s my proposed concept, I admit the explanation is a bit long for something this simple, hope the Photoshopped image visualizes these new features correctly. I think they are minor changes that could have a major impact and go a long way to drastically improve the Metro experience. I really Microsoft implements a solution like this in the upcoming Windows Blue updated, rumored to arrive next Summer.

People like Paul Thurrott have begun writing articles on how to fix Windows 8. I recommended reading them: Fixing Windows 8.

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