The “touch comfort” science behind Windows 8

In one of the first sessions of BUILD 2011 after an intense keynote of Windows 8 announcements, Jensen Harris of the Windows User Experience team took the opportunity in a “Big Picture Session” to elaborate on more details of Metro on Windows 8.

Among many interesting insights, Jensen explained some interesting usability research conducted for the design of the touch behavior and user experience.

The thinking behind the research was the belief that everyone uses touch computing slightly differently. To gather data on this, their research analyzed a sample of people on how they used existing touch product in the home, work and in their dedicated research labs.

One of the conclusions of the research revealed that people use many different postures when working with touch devices. They include but are not limited to on the knee, on tables and two hands on the side which they found surprising as the most common posture regardless how light a device may be.

Following this, they asked participants to fingerpaint on a piece of paper placed infront of the screen. Each user would then paint one area they can reach comfortably and another color for areas that’s harder to reach.

The result of these research is prominently visible in at least two areas of the Windows 8 user experience. The first is the application bar where icons are not evenly spaced across the entire span of the bar, instead, grouped onto the left and right within reasonable distance from the edge. The other is the split keyboard layout which hugs the sides of the device, within comfortable reaches of the thumb.

As we also witnessed during a press briefing of Windows 8, user experience research played and still plays a big part of the evolution of Windows and this is just one of the latest examples of how it is impacting the design of Windows.

5 insightful thoughts

  1. I love how Microsoft is always so open about things like this. Really connects the user to product. Wish more companies would do things like this.

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