With more than 100,000 apps on its Windows Store, Microsoft now has evidence that the Windows 8 design language, previously known as Metro, is getting traction with its developer partners.
But with developer partners still getting their heads around Windows 8, it's safe to say that some of these apps aren't as well-designed as Microsoft would like. And Microsoft really needs killer apps to get customers (and other developers) excited about Windows 8.
To show developers the right path, Microsoft is planning to launch a new "User Experience Design Competency" program next January for members of the Microsoft Partner Network.
Microsoft will be providing training and certifications for the new competency, and partners that get it will be able to recruit top-notch developers, Tami Reller, CFO and CMO of Windows, said Monday in a keynote at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference.
"User experience and design is going to be an important differentiator for Microsoft," Reller said.
Other than that, Microsoft isn't giving any more details about the User Experience Design Competency. But it's sure to reflect the design principles Microsoft has been emphasizing with Windows 8.
Microsoft wants developers to "use balance, symmetry, and hierarchy" and to "align your app layout to the grid, the new layout for apps," according to a webpage outlining its Windows 8 design guidelines.
Partners that design apps say the new competency is a promising move for a company that has traditionally focused more on coding skills than design expertise.
"It's about time Microsoft recognized the partners that have staff dedicated to more than just programming," Scott Stanfield, CEO of Vertigo Software, a Richmond, Calif.-based Microsoft partner, told CRN.
The big question partners have is how Microsoft will handle testing and certification for the User Experience Design Competency. Microsoft has established guidelines for testing partners' skills with enterprise software like SQL Server, Exchange and SharePoint, but app design is an entirely different type of skill.
"Most of our designers have four-year degrees in fine arts or graphic design or interaction design. So much of what they do will be difficult to test," Stanfield said. If Microsoft's testing focuses on minimum pixel sizes for touch buttons, or design gestures specific to Windows 8, "that won't go over well," he added.
Designers don't think alike; in any group of these creative types, you're likely to see a variety of approaches to a particular design task. Microsoft's new competency will have to reflect this, otherwise, developers might feel like the company is cramping their style.
"While there may be core design principles that Microsoft will recommend, or ‘require,’ to get through the Windows 8 and other testing programs to get apps into the store, those same design principles may lead to more cookie-cutter apps, which should not be the goal," Emelie Hersh, CEO of InterKnowlogy, a Microsoft partner in Carlsbad, Calif., told CRN.
"Designers are not easily thrown into groups; they are all very different people, with different imaginations, leading to build up their own signature styles," Hersh added.
Microsoft is hoping the new competency will yield more apps like Great British Chefs, which includes more than 300 recipes from culinary superstars like Marcus Wareing, Tom Aikens and Nathan Outlaw, as well as high-definition photos and video.
PUBLISHED JULY 12, 2013