Craig Grannell, commenting on the Outlook 2013 user interface:

Acres of white space lead the eye to flick all over the design, making it hard to focus on the content (which is the smallish box on the right, with “This is an inline reply” in it). It’s unclear which components are buttons and which are content areas. Worse, there’s no sense of warmth at all. This feels like an email client designed to appeal to people bereft of emotion. In short, it’s every bit as horrible as Apple’s worst UI design, just in a very different way.

With Microsoft previewing Office 2013, they showed that they don’t seem to have a Creative Director at the company who bothers to make final design decisions.

The bigger issue though, is that Microsoft continues to do what they’ve always done: they keep the same core underlying functionality while just dropping a new skin on top. It happened with Vista and it’s happening with Metro. Nothing really changes, except the colors.

The Office 2013 interface is amateur. Microsoft seems to have done what most new designers do: copy other designers. But great design is about the intention behind what you did.

Minimalism is used for a reason: to focus on what’s important. Microsoft never sat down for an hour and decided on a hierarchy of what’s more important and less important. If they had, the whitespace could have been used with contrasting elements to focus the user on what’s important.

Here’s the trick: squint your eyes and look at a design1 – do you know what to do? If the answer is no, there isn’t enough of a visual hierarchy in your design.

  1. I also like to open an interface up in Photoshop and apply a Gaussian Blur of about 5-8 to help illustrate this in presentations. []