On Visual Studio 11's redesign awkwardness

Submitted by Arktronic on 9 May 2012 - 11:31am

Most people by now are aware of the design changes from Visual Studio 2010 to VS11 Beta, and from Beta to RC. There were quite a few complaints about the Beta design, not the least of which included the lack of colors and the ALL CAPS tool window title bars and tabs. Now with the RC, the biggest complaint is that the ALL CAPS weren't removed completely, but were instead moved to the menus. So why is all of this going on? Why is Microsoft seemingly blind to what users are saying?

I believe that the root cause of the redesign awkwardness that Visual Studio is experiencing is the Metro style. Don't get me wrong - I love Metro. It's crisp, clean, and beautiful. Unfortunately, at least to my knowledge, it has never been applied to something as complex as an IDE before. Most Metro-style apps I've seen are, by comparison, extremely simple. They have nice, large buttons and lots of white space. They look great. And they tend to be information-centric (remember - "content, not chrome"). But they are not Visual Studio. Visual Studio is a large beast. More than that, it's got a wide range of functionality that needs to be exposed to its users, us developers, in order to be as useful as possible. It has an MDI, and lots of toolbars, status bars, tabs, and menus. That clashes with the simplicity of Metro. So what's Microsoft to do? On one hand, there are probably orders from above to make everything look Metro-style for consistency's sake. Makes sense. But on the other hand, Visual Studio must be good at its primary job - offering an awesome development experience - which means that complexity must be surfaced because, frankly, developers need it.

So Microsoft ends up making strange design decisions to satisfy both requirements. Metro relies heavily on ALL CAPS? Let's throw them in somewhere. Metro focuses more on monochrome iconography than multi-colored images? Make everything black and white. What's the answer then? Should Metro be abandoned for a complex app like an IDE? Should designers take a hard look at both Visual Studio and the Metro guidelines and come up with a better vision for unifying them - a complete UX overhaul, perhaps? I don't know the answer. I just know that Metro should not be applied haphazardly.