For the majority of Windows users, the way the operating system elements are displayed on a screen hover just below “didn’t notice” and right above “don’t care.”
That is not to say Windows users don’t consciously or subconsciously acknowledge the evolving differences between each operating system upgrade (as evidenced by the backlash of Windows 8) but on the meter of relevance and importance, UI changes that don’t directly affect productivity seem to rate fairly low.
For better or for worse, Windows as an operating system has hitched its wagon to productivity above all else and left the mindshare of visual delight and elegance to other operating systems such as macOS.
Despite years of a well-established mindset for Windows users, the Windows team is looking to inject some refinement in the way content and information are displayed in the latest OS offering by iterating on its controversial Modern Design with its 2.0 version labeled Fluent Design.
From an outside perspective, Fluent Design looks to liven up the stagnant design language left by Windows 8 and introduce several new user flow and user interface elements to the forefront of the Windows 10 experience.
Microsoft made its argument for Fluent Design back during its developer conference in May of this year and following its third largest OS update to Windows 10, the Windows team has finally placed all its ducks in order to start injecting some visual flourishes to the operating system that will ultimately manifest themselves in the next big update to Windows 10.
However, the question remains, what do all of these new Fluent Design elements mean for Windows users and ultimately, does any of it matter?
The former is perhaps easier to answer as the latter must explore a world of diminishing returns on the desktop landscape. What does Fluent Design mean for a Windows user? Simple, a slightly more enjoyable experience. There are elements of macOS that keep its users locked to its ecosystem and in an age of increasing web-based productivity, the application and program wars aren’t the driving force of fandom they used to be. It’s items such as Spotlight, the way apps open and close, the animations between program switches, the consistent UI elements across applications and a whole host of other small niceities that Apple users enjoy that keep them using macOS.
Windows 10’s Fluent Design is looking to bring similar UI elements to the operating system that consolidate the concepts of what Microsoft believes a modern OS should look and feel like. From hover-highlights to Acrylic blur effects, the Windows team is establishing a long-awaited consistency to the way Windows looks and operates in this new evolving compute landscape. As a user, this means you should be able to consistently praise or denigrate UI elements across all of Windows (finally) which is a bit of cohesion users haven’t had since arguably Windows 7 or XP.
As for the ensuing relevance of all this hard work, that’s a much harder prediction to peg as the slow shrinking of the PC market outlines a story with perhaps offers a less than happy ending for Windows. Much of the new UI tweaks coming to Windows are happening for a subset of users on the perceived aging platform. How does adding Acrylic blur to the Windows GUI keep people from performing the lion share of their tasks on more convenient mobile devices? The truth of the matter is, it doesn’t.
However, adding consistent UI elements across the board should keep the current crop of 500 million and counting users to stick to their mobility-evolving devices (i.e. 2-in-1’s) and perhaps seek out similar elements on their next computing platform beyond the smartphone. Microsoft’s Fluent Design is not only a play for the current envisioning of the desktop but a pitch for AR/VR or its coined term, Mixed Reality platform that it and others believe will be the next computing battleground.
Fluent Design is a hedge on how people will want to interact with computer-generated elements that live in our 3D world. The Acrylic blur effect and lighting effects arguably make way more sense in AR where its used against constantly changing foreground and background elements.
Again, Fluent Design may be all for not depending on how the winds of user behavior change, but for now it’s a nice and much-needed step in the right direction for Windows 10 in my opinion. We’re expecting to see a lot more of its implementation in the next build release for the Insider program (now delayed again until next week) and that should help us form a better judgment of just how the Windows team plans to visually delight its users while also aligning itself for its Mixed Reality future.