Immutability in Product Design

June 02, 2012

One of the single most important patterns in software development is that for building complex systems, immutability is the key to keep the complexity somewhat contained.

And today, I’ve taken a look at the new Windows 8 Release Preview.

After taking a look at the previous release, the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, I’ve accepted that there is a whole new user interface put on top which calls itself Metro. Metro takes over the start menu of the Desktop and changed the related patterns to interact with it.

Albeit some scepticism, it’s a new, fresh portal to use Windows.

Win802Now with the latest Windows 8 Release Preview, Microsoft changed the style of every user interface control on the Desktop. Probably for the only reason to match their Metro style.

After the first preview I’ve given up on the start menu and decided that I’ll give Windows 8 a chance, but now that they have changed all Desktop feeling to an edged, cold, metro design which lacks the “warmer” colored tiles and reintroduces hard, black borders around every button, I am totally offended by this Windows 2 reincarnation and feel a strong emotional rejection against it.

First I was thinking that this is just about a small change that I am able to get over it with it soon, but then I remembered that an edged design usually emits warning signals, and that is presumably why using Metro and this new Desktop makes me feel bad.

Win801Different, or bad, or what I’d now call it: “anti-design” is a path that Microsoft may follow, but there is another rule violated which I think can be applied to product design:

I am pretty sure that humans can adapt to use new stuff a lot easier than getting along with old stuff that changes.

And here we close the loop to the immutability I mentioned in the first paragraph.

Immutability is a property that simplifies the perception of … anything.

By prefering immutability over change: Metro is fresh because it’s entirely new. Taking over the start menu is probably acceptable, because it completely replaces the old one. But changing the basic design of a years old Desktop operating system may be profoundly wrong.

Wrong even without considering that the new desktop design may be a huge step backwards.

Win803

Well, on the other side, Windows wouldn’t have changed since Windows 1 then. So I guess nothing can be said against slow, incremental change that happens over the decades, but introducing Metro and resetting the Desktop style to the year 1987 is probably a bit too much.