Former Microsoft design bigwig roasts Windows 11 Start Menu

A former senior Microsoft design lead has heavily criticised the Start Menu in Windows 11.

In a lengthy Twitter rant on Tuesday, Jensen Harris pointed out several glaring problems in the menu, ranging from inconsistent corners and misaligned text to bad colour options and distracting content.

Harris previously served as Microsoft director of user experience and Microsoft Office group programme manager.

Among his roles was leading the team responsible for redesigning the software user experience of Surface and Windows between 2008 and 2014.

It was during this period that the much-loved Windows 7 was released.

Before that, he headed the redesign of the Microsoft Office user interface between 1998 and 2008, with a noteworthy addition during his time being the Ribbon.

In his critique of the Start Menu, Harris explained he was shocked at the experience after trying to search for “chrome” in the Start Menu’s search bar.

Harris said the left side of the results looked like a designer created it. However, the right side had substantial design problems.

“The right side looks like my Internet Explorer toolbars did in 2008,” Harris said.

“Let’s start at the top. What is going on with the Web 1.0 Geocities-era banner ad for a ‘Bing Wallpaper app’? Honestly, it looks like I was infected by a virus.”

“The text is misaligned and it’s sitting on top of a Windows Vista-era background,” he added.

In addition, Harris pointed out glaring inconsistencies with the corners of the banner, with the top-left, right-side, and bottom-left corners each curved differently.

But he said the bigger problem was the banner ad being in the Start Menu in the first place.

“Is the amount of money made by this wallpaper app worth cheapening the experience people have in this very high-touch piece of UI [user interface]?” he asked. “It erodes trust—I wasn’t even searching for ‘wallpaper’.”

Harris said a great UI should help people achieve a task with minimum friction.

But the section below the banner — which promotes Microsoft’s Edge browser — was seemingly explicitly designed to distract away from achieving your intended task.

He also described the layout of the buttons at the bottom as “design-challenged”.

“It has four buttons, but a salmon-coloured band-aid that says ‘Open results in browser’ is mostly covering the middle two buttons, so I can’t even see what they do,” Harris said.

“Not only is this ‘Open results in browser’ button misaligned, but it’s also shorter than the surrounding buttons, uses a smaller font size, and touches the Download button but not the Web Store button.”

“The Web Store button, not to be outdone, has its right side clipped off.”

Harris said design and details mattered in something as iconic as the Windows Start Menu.

“I remember the team creating a special ligature in the Segoe UI font (used in Windows) to make “S” and “t” align beautifully for the word “Start”. That’s how important Start was to Microsoft.”

“Microsoft has many brilliant designers who care deeply about the work they do — I worked with many who are still there,”

“It just comes down to a question of what you prioritise. User experience needs to be architected with as much intensity as you architect your tech investments.”

Harris also said the decision to relocate the Start button to the middle of the taskbar was not a good move.

“Corner location not only had decades of muscle memory but also took perfect advantage of Fitts’ Law to make it ideally easy to target. Worse for mouse, worse for touch,” he said.

Fitts’s law predicts that the time required to move rapidly to a target area depends on the ratio between the distance to the target and its width. Closer and wider targets are easier to hit.

This law is incorporated in the design of elements like the space bar, backspace, and Enter keys on a keyboard, as well as elements in operating systems and software.

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Former Microsoft design bigwig roasts Windows 11 Start Menu