Microsoft’s Frédéric François on UX Trends

Frédéric François, who works on User Experience in Microsoft’s Windows Server team, gave a presentation on UX Trends at UW Bothell tonight. It was an insightful review of modern UX trends from an unusual perspective: the perspective of a large, old company that still manages to sell software for a decent price, software that people use day in and day out to do their work.

He began with a walk-through of his computer experience since he was a teenager in the early 80s, writing BASIC code on machine’s with 1Mhz processors. He started his career as a programmer and evolved through being a designer, ending up in his current role leading a User Experience team. This career path was a very interesting reflection of the evolution of computing over the last twenty years, as it moved from a focus on the system to a focus on the users, “from the information age to the conceptual age”.

Paralleling his own career path, he covered the diversification of roles in creating user experience. It began with programmers a few decades ago and proliferated into graphic designers, usability researchers, interaction designers, and my favorite, the “devigner”. Apparently, Devigner=Developer+Designer. I’d like to consider myself a Devigner.

It was interesting to hear about UX from someone at Microsoft. There was the obligatory drive-by mention of “Natural User Interface”, in the form of Kinect and Surface. However, most of the technologies he talked about were Microsoft’s traditional business related tools like Office and Active Directory. After the talk I had a chance to ask him how UX trends in the software industry at large are being applied at Microsoft. It seems to me that many recent innovations/insights in UX and software development methodology have been driven by mobility and web, where free, quick-fix content rules the day. How do concepts like gamification and the paradox of choice relate to products where a user is spending many hours a day working on very sophisticated tasks? We didn’t have time to discuss this question fully, but he explained that the UX teams from various divisions (MSN, Xbox, Windows Phone, etc.) do share ideas frequently, and that there is a lot that Microsoft is learning from web and mobile UX.

One of François’ themes was that of the artist. He asked that everyone in the room who considered themselves an artist raise their hand, and only a few did. He pointed out that in a kindergarten classroom, almost everyone would raise their hand. Some adults seem convinced that artistry is not professional, not respectable. But UX is an art, and the future of computing will be driven by UX artists.

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