Did Tufte Get WP7 Exactly Wrong?

by on February 28, 2011

About this time last year, information design avatar Edward Tufte looked over the new Windows Phone 7 user interface and did not approve.

The layout and typography reminded him of posters, he said, wrong for a mobile format. Why were the home screen tiles arranged to leave black gutters top and right? (For one-handed use, it’s suggested, but I don’t think Tufte had ever picked up an actual WP7 phone.)

Tufte also lit into the core design principle: “The way to reduce clutter is not to thin down and sprawl out the content; instead fix the design,” he wrote, noting as an aside, “Of course Microsoft’s customers are already familiar with deep layerings and complex hierarchies.” (Was this before Apple added folders for app-kudzu? I think so.)

So it is amusing to read this sentence in Jonathan Golob’s WP7 thumbnail review on the Slog: “Metro is how Tufte would approach touch computing: Clean, crisp, without chrome, with the information itself providing the beauty.” Harumph! One difference is that Golob actually used WP7 on a phone. Where Tufte scoffed at the idea of an “interface for an interface,” saying it distanced users from what they wanted to do, Golob tried it out:


The UI implies the screen in your hand is a small subset of a larger plane you’re navigating through with swipe gestures. It works. It’s smooth. After a few days of using Metro, it’s unpleasant to go back to an iPhone.


Nor is this reaction limited to Golob. AnandTech says, “I found Microsoft’s start screen to be more useful than the default home screen on both Android or iOS.” Cnet’s review of the Samsung Focus calls the user interface (built around a start screen and six thematic “hubs,” populated by pinnable tiles) not just for taking a different tack, but for succeeding:

Now, some might complain that this type of navigation requires too much scrolling and can be overly complicated and admittedly, when compared to iOS and Android, this is true and certainly won’t be for everybody. On the flip side, we found it absolutely wonderful to be able to do so many things from one place, without having to launch several different apps… It’s interesting to note that several times throughout the review period, people commented on how they liked the user experience on Windows Phone 7 better than Android–both from a looks standpoint and user friendliness. The iPhone is still the one to beat in terms of ease of use, but in a competition for simplicity between Android and Windows Phone, we’d say the latter would win.

Microsoft could still blow it, of course. The most-praised installation of Windows Phone 7 so far has been on the Samsung models. When Microsoft pushed out its first update to the OS, it worked on 90 percent of phones–and hung up on Samsung: “Who on earth wants to schlep into a store to get a new handset just because Microsoft and Samsung screwed something up?” 

On the other hand, Microsoft also made news for changing its policy on staff moonlighting, realizing that they are playing catch-up: “Moonlighting Within Microsoft, in Pursuit of New Apps,” reported the New York Times

While some users haven’t fallen for Microsoft’s new direction, there’s good news in this simple customer statement in, of all things, a complaint thread: “I love my Focus.” Meanwhile, the old search standard of “[product name] sucks” doesn’t generate much outright antipathy. It’s not necessary to please everyone–or even Edward Tufte–so long as you can make your customers very happy. 

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3 thoughts on “Did Tufte Get WP7 Exactly Wrong?

  1. Tufte’s strength is understanding how to provide an information-rich, elegant display of information. He’s also quite good at pointing out the follies of others.

    That’s not the same as UI design of an interactive widget. Tufte always assumes his audience is intelligent and motivated – great for an audience for scientific material, not so much for a device for that masses.

    Until MSFT doesn’t require their users to be “familiar with deep layerings and complex hierarchies”, they’re screwed.

  2. I’d venture that Tufte is more likely to be correct about his own opinions than Jonathan Golob is at guessing what they’d be.

  3. Got a Samsung SGH-i917R with wp7 on it
    Did the first upload and it’s working like a charm .Absolutely love the thing.OK if you are downloading an opdate and you simply can’t stop watching your favorite porn-site on you-tube on a landline you might have a problem.BTW if you don’t get a GUI by now ,why not get a popcorn popper and go back watching T V