Winning Software App Design Principles

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Upcoming Software App Design PrinciplesThings are changing in the design of software applications and it’s led by the recent surge in mobile applications.

What’s surprising to a lot of people is that Microsoft is helping lead this design change but if you’ve been doing software development for as long as I have you know that nobody supports development and developers like Microsoft does.

Here’s a quick look at the new design principles…

Microsoft has defined these general design principles:

  1. Take Pride in Craftsmanship: don’t ignore or give short shrift to the small things that are seen often and engineer the user experience to be complete and polished
  2. Do More with Less: let people be immersed in what they love and they will explore the rest of your application and create a clean, purposeful user experience by leaving only the most relevant elements on screen.
  3. Be Fast and Fluid: let people interact directly with content and respond to actions quickly and bring life to the experience, create a sense of continuity and tell a story through meaningful use of motion.
  4. Be Authentically Digital: take full advantage of the digital medium. Remove physical boundaries to create experiences that are more efficient and effortless than reality. Design with bold, vibrant and crisp colors and images that go beyond the limits of real world material.
  5. Create an Ecosystem that Works with Other Apps, Devices, and Systems: leverage the ecosystem and work together with other apps, devices and the system to complete scenarios for people. Fit into the UI model to reduce redundancy and take advantage of what people already know to provide a sense of familiarity, control, and confidence.

There are a number of aspects that make up those principles, here are some of the key ones…

Be Responsive

This means software should be intuitive and each step should be clear in what the user needs to do.

Of course, this shouldn’t be a “new” aspect in designing and building software. After all, why would software ever be designed differently but the usability and user experience fields wouldn’t be so big if they hadn’t been 🙂

Microsoft is now pushing this in a big way, as is Apple.

Note: this isn’t the same thing as what’s called “responsive design” which is building software that changes and adapts to fit different screen/browser sizes; this is also driven by making sites look good on mobile devices or tablets without having to create a separate mobile site but it also impacts the size of the browser window on any display. This is an aspect of new design but a separate one from Being Responsive.

Use a Consistent User Interface

Again, this shouldn’t be a new aspect but so much software doesn’t do this and while Apple’s Macintosh to a great extent and Microsoft’s Windows to a wider extent pushed this along there were still “design experts” who kept deciding they knew better so consistency for the user of the software was sacrificed to their detriment.

To help force this for a better user experience Apple and Microsoft (and to a lesser extent Google) will reject applications in their App Stores if their UI guidelines aren’t followed.

iPad, Software Designed for TouchDesigned for Touch

Software should be applications that use touch screens to make it easy for user to use the software.

Of course, while software applications should make good use of touch screens they can, and frequently should, also provide other interaction methods (like keyboard and mouse but it could also be voice, etc.)

Reduce Redundancy

What does that mean? Well, one of the things that has been popular in software is providing multiple ways of doing specific tasks.

This isn’t as necessary, and can be confusing, in a touch based mobile application; plus, the smaller screen sizes with no keyboard or mouse make it problematic to have redundant ways.

This is also starting to show up in desktop applications, particularly ones that are touch enabled and is one aspect of the new design principles.

Not sure I agree with this but, of course, since providing lots of options can’t easily or intuitively be done in many devices nowadays maybe this is one of those things that I change my beliefs as the world changes.

Play Nice with Others


Software applications should be able to interact, exchange data, not conflict with, and support standard methods to provide a better user experience while giving control to the users to mix and match applications that are best for their needs.

Be and Feel ConnectedBe and Feel Connected

Being connected creates a more seamless and complete experience to the users of the software.

Whereas feeling connected is software that doesn’t just provide a passive experience but provides an active experience.

For example, Facebook feels connected because it’s always updating it’s screen with activity related to you — it’s a more active experience, sometimes too active 🙂

You’ll be seeing the 5 design principles and the 6 aspects (plus others I didn’t mention) more and more in software as we make another transition into the next generation of software.

Click here if you want to read more on Microsoft’s principles and software traits.


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