Michael Gough, chief designer in Applications and Services group, talks about designing great apps

Laurent Giret

Since Satya Nadella became CEO of Microsoft in 2014, the new exec introduced a new mission statement for the company: “empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” As the Redmond giant is still one the biggest software developers in the world, you can feel that new ambition in different ways.

First, the company is employing many people with disabilities (such as Sharepoint developer Chris Schlechty) to use their skills to make Microsoft products better for people of all abilities. Furthermore, Windows 10 is also the first desktop operating system with a deeply integrated digital assistant, and more and more Windows developers are integrating their apps with Cortana to improve ease of use and accessibility. Additionally, if you’re followed our previous coverage about the upcoming Windows 10 Anniversary Update, you may be aware that the new operating system will bring several new improvements to assist users who require the use of accessibility features.

Michael Gough, Chief Design officer in Microsoft’s Applications and Services Group (ASG) recently gave an interview to Alphr where he explained why the company takes design and user interfaces very seriously. As the former Vice President of experience design at Adobe and also Nike’s Vice president of brand design, Gough decided to join Microsoft a year ago after becoming convinced that the company was one of the very few who could make breakthroughs in both UX and UI:

I saw the movie Her and I thought, “yes, that’s going to happen,” and I mean it – it is. So I started to scramble around thinking how do I get to play with THAT? How do I get to talk about when the computer starts to gain more and more attributes of a human, when agent technology really takes off? Well, there are only two or three companies you could go to, to participate in that revolution. This one seemed like the right one.

cortana email lead
Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana has become a core part of Windows 10.

In the lengthy interview, Gough explains that he “comes from a background where design is elitist.” However, he thinks that designers today have to embrace all users and their different capabilities, and that may well require them to leave the traditional graphical user interface behind:

Most user experiences are designed by relatively young people with incredible eyesight, quite technologically adept, so that some of the confusing things you have to do are just a slam dunk for them.

The graphical user interface is still doing well, but now there are tactile interfaces, there is touch, haptics are coming. There are spatial interfaces, gesture, there are audio interfaces and so suddenly there is an explosion of new interaction modes. It requires entirely broader ways of thinking. We have a lot of work to do because so much of it is so new.

According to the Chief Design Officer, inclusive design can allow developers to “hit more use cases” and ultimately create better products. “Once in a while something really magical happens because you create something that a much broader group of people can use,” he added before giving the example of high-contrast screens, a technology originally created for people with visual impairments but which is now being used to improved readability in bright sunlight.

Right now, Gough is helping the Office team to achieve their vision for the future of Office 365, but he is also working on “imagining the future of content.” He explained:

Imagine that that we were focused less on documents and more on ideas. We call this the modern unit of information. Documents were the older unit of information: I write a paper, send it to you and then you comment on it and send it on to a friend. What if we are just exchanging ideas and acting on them directly?

We invite you to read the full interview over here, and let us know in the comments what are your thoughts about the future of software development.