December 19, 2012
New Microsoft Dynamics CRM UI Chooses Simplicity Over Symbols
Using a word like skeuomorphism is risky because it can make you sound smart or like a overly confident know-it-all. It just depends on context and audience. It’s a word used by design wonks that, in short, refers to the use of dated, unnecessary elements in metaphoric design.
Think about the rolodex card icon used to represent contact records in most CRM systems, or the faux wood paneling on your old family truckster (right), or even the universal ‘Save’ icon that is represented by a floppy disc. The fact that your car didn't actually have wood on it, or that you don’t use floppy discs, or own a rolodex makes these things skeuomorphic. Overuse of these elements drives the wonks nuts.
It has popped up in digital design conversations lately because of the increasingly dated look of Apple UI and the impending departure Apple’s skeumorphism champ Scott Forstall. Forbes took notice of this change recently; calling Apple’s design philosophy their ‘real problem. Fast Company asked “Will Apple’s Tacky Software-Design Philosophy Cause A Revolt?”. In the enterprise space, Salesforce.com is still designing like it’s 1989 (see the opportunity dashboard to the right – it’s a dashboard, get it?).
Microsoft is going in the other direction. Windows 8 is getting kudos for it’s clean design. Fast Company wondered if the visual simplicity of Windows 8 was going to be part of a design revolution: “Team Microsoft believes consumers have developed a fluency for digital interfaces and no longer need those kitschy translations”. Gone from Windows 8 are unnecessary icons and elements that lead to clutter. What’s left is what Fast Company’s Austin Carr told NPR was a “flattened user interface that’s based on color, on motion, on typography…They don’t have these unnecessary flourishes”.
So what does this new approach mean for Microsoft CRM. Well, simply, things are going to get simpler. MSDN this summer published the following guidelines for Office apps:
Take full advantage of the digital medium. Remove physical boundaries to create experiences that are more efficient and effortless than reality. Being authentically digital means embracing the fact that apps are pixels on a screen and designing with colors and images that go beyond the limits of the real world.
So the next release of CRM (codenamed Polaris, due January 2013) embraces these design principles but is not radical. This release appears to be a tweaking towards a simpler UI; not a re-imagined experience.
A Cleaner UI
A lot of little changes add up to a lot less clutter:
- The color scheme has changed from blue and gray to white. Gone are the gradient colors.
- Font color has changed. The size of the fonts has changed, and some tab and header information is all caps.
- Icons have been removed from the Site Map. They are also gone from the inline grids unless there are multiple icons possible in a view (think Activities).
- The Site Map is reorganized to provide a more focused, role-based experience.
- Sales, Service and Marketing areas will now have sub-groups.
- Resource Center is removed from Site Map.
- Contextual ribbons are (slowly) being replaced with the contextual Command Bar. The buttons that are available are contextual to the users security privileges and entity. Notice the differences in the ribbon (old, above) and the Command Bar (new, below)
It’s exciting to see Microsoft’s design philosophy getting kudos and seeing these tenants work their way into the Dynamics space. A cleaner UI is going to do great things for user adoption and differentiate Microsoft CRM from our less progressive, skeuomorphic competition.
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