Who is in charge of design at Microsoft?

Austin Carr, Co.Design:

“To the extent that we’ve found something that people like, it’s easy for us to jointly adopt it,” he explains. “To the extent that the Bing team does something really good on Xbox, I want it on my phone.” Belfiore cites the Windows Phone team’s use of avatars as another example of cross-pollination in design. “We didn’t invent the avatar,” he says. “The Xbox team built the [animated 3-D] avatar. They popularized it. They made it a part of what their service is about, and we came along and said, ‘That’s a good idea. People like it. We like it.’ And then we collaborate.”

Collaboration is good, but within a context. Experts in sensory experiences, material science, display engineering, battery technology, social anthropology, etc. collaborating based on a deep understanding of the overall user experience they will ultimately be delivering is good. The collaboration Belfiore is talking about is different. Incorporating paragraphs or chapters from other brilliant works will not result in another brilliant book. At the core I feel this is Microsoft’s approach. It isn’t surprising since copying is in the company’s DNA.

To hear Belfiore tell it, not even Metro, the tiled UI that’s being pushed across many Microsoft products, is being rolled out in any uniform way.

I was surprised to learn this. Steve Ballmer belching “Metro, Metro, Metro”, gave me the idea he is pushing Microsoft to embrace the Metro user interface and apply it to everything. I guess I was wrong.

But the question remains whether such a loose, bottom-up design approach will work for Microsoft, a company traditionally known for its engineering focus and disregard for aesthetic.

It’s not really engineering or aesthetic, but a historical blindspot or lack of curiosity about regular folks and how we want to use our tools. I don’t think stitching together good components from different groups within Microsoft will result in a finely honed experience for us regular folks. That being said I like Windows Phone 7. I like a lot of the smart ideas once you get past the front screen, which I don’t like. The tiles are constantly updated so when I look at it it is visually a mess; it’s tiring. Microsoft absolutely needs to better control the ‘live’ part of the tiles by making them less chaotic and more soothing.

At Apple, Steve Jobs was the design czar. At Microsoft, who’s in charge?

This reminds me of what John Gruber said regarding the auteur theory of design:

The quality of any collaborative creative endeavor tends to approach the level of taste of whoever is in charge.

And no one is in charge at Microsoft.