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Microsoft's new design ethos is a break from the past -- a time, not long ago, when the company's software was largely a workplace necessity housed in functional plastic that was crafted by other companies.
It's no secret that Apple is the world's most beloved technology company in part because its devices are sleek, comfortable, and easy to use. And Microsoft now wants to infuse its products with the same qualities.
Designers today are woven into the process, from the early stages of product development to the way products are marketed to consumers, Belfiore says.
Microsoft has also recently elevated designers to more prominent leadership roles.
Take Albert Shum. A former designer for Nike, Shum was part of the team that revolutionized the Windows Phone software design to feature the boxy, "live tiles" that are central to the Windows 8 touch-based interface. Shum now heads "interaction design" for PC operating systems, Xbox game consoles, and phones, all of which were previously managed separately.
Microsoft's modern design philosophy draws upon the minimalist Bauhaus movement, which stresses function over ornamentation, while adding in clean typography and swooping motions. This common design language is key to making Microsoft's offerings seem like a related family of products and services.
With minimal market share in both tablets and phones, Microsoft has its work cut out for it. Yet a focus on design over compatibility under new CEO Satya Nadella means Microsoft can make products and services for non-Windows platforms, such as Apple's iOS and Google's Android, and still retain the look, feel and functionality of the Microsoft brand.
Steve Kaneko, a design manager who has been with Microsoft since 1991 and has worked on Office, Windows and other projects, said it's important for the company to not only design its products to work well on other platforms, but to talk about what design means to Microsoft.
That's become an easier conversation to have with top executives including Nadella, who took over as chief executive in February. It's a dialogue the company wants to start with consumers, Kaneko says.
As part of one noteworthy design project, the company plans to make greater use of the tiles in an update to the Windows 8.1 operating system. Pressing Start while in desktop mode will soon bring up several boxy live tiles in the pop-up menu, from which users can launch touch-first apps in the traditional mouse-and-keyboard environment -- a feature it previewed at its Build developer conference in April. (continued...)
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