“You’ve got a whole screen as a start button” – this is Steve Ballmer’s response when asked about Windows 8 start button disappearance. Made publicly available this October, Windows 8’s user interface received a lot of user criticism due to absence of the familiar start button. Complaints range from technical to end users. For instance, IT employees mainly utilise the start button, command prompt and search box to quickly jump to programs. With the start button gone, they feel lessened in productivity. For some end-users, the start button became a sort of familiarity and its absence made them feel immobilised. For instance, upon Windows 8’s first access, some customers spent as much as an hour finding the start button – some early testers even identified it as an alpha or beta glitch.
The Design Foundations of Windows 8 UX
As much criticism as there is about Windows 8, the fact is the start button will never come back. The overall design architecture of Windows 8 is founded on the “Modern” (formerly known as “Metro)” User Interface (UI) design or a “typography-based” design language developed by Microsoft that was originally used for Windows Phone 7. The Modern UI focuses more on the content of the applications rather than on graphics, hence dubbed “content before chrome”. Unknown to many, the design logic of Windows 8 was inspired way back in 1995 through Microsoft Encarta and MSN 2.0.
The user interface design of Windows 8 has far more serious backbone – it is also inspired by Swiss Style, a graphic design of Switzerland which originated in the 1950s and put value on cleanliness, readability and objectivity. It uses asymmetric layout such as grid, sans-serif typefaces, flush left and ragged right text. Over-all the Modern UI design aims to have a sleek, quick, modern and refreshed user interface that consolidates groups of common tasks to improve the speed of use. Windows 8, through its streamlined designed, removed superfluous graphics and instead focuses more on the actual content and functions of the main UI. This design principle was translated to Windows 8’s large “tiled” desktop, hence favouring larger boxes over smaller buttons which demand a lot of scrolling canvases.
The Start Button is Never Gone
Windows 8 user interface design follows a well thought-of design principle. The absence of the start button in the desktop mode serves a higher purpose – to achieve design fidelity to Modern, and it makes sense. The start button is part of the traditional image-based design of the older Windows OS versions, and it must go for Windows 8 to achieve a clean, readable and objective look.
However, for users who would want a transition, the start button can still be used through Windows keyboard shortcut key; while the search box from the start menu enables users to quickly search applications. Contrary to what critics presume that the start button absence will confuse users, the Modern design will actually transition consumers to more intelligent technology adopters. Windows 8 makes everything straight forward and quick, just like more the popular Apple and Android operating system UIs available in the market today. The fact that certain facets of Modern had been embedded in Microsoft products since 1995, the transition to this new user experience (UX) is not as abrupt or as well thought out as some tech journalists may have you believe. In fact, this has been the case since Windows Vista, and experience dictates that navigation in Windows 8 is faster than using the start button.
There are several add-ons available around the web that hack through the UX of Windows 8 to bring back the start button. Although familiarity is convenient, this workaround distorts Modern’s design principle. Technology evolves and so must user experience – over time using the Modern will be like second nature and user will find that they didn’t actually miss the start button in Windows 8 at all.