Usability expert: 'Confusing' Windows 8 is a 'cognitive burden'

Usability expert: 'Confusing' Windows 8 is a 'cognitive burden'

Summary: The claim that the Windows 8 learning curve "is going to be steep" should set off alarm bells in the heads of anyone thinking of deploying Microsoft's new OS in an enterprise environment.


Windows 8 may be fast, and it might turn that old PC of yours into "Greased Lightning", but according to a usability expert that new user interface gets in the way of users actually being able to use the new operating system.

Raluca Budiu, a user experience specialist with Nielsen Norman Group, claims that the new user interface -- previous called Metro but now renamed Modern UI by Microsoft -- is "confusing" and imposes "a cognitive burden" on users.

In other words, people have to think too much.

Speaking to Laptop Magazine, Budiu claims that Windows 8 is "confusing" because the user has to remember which apps are running on the desktop rather than just being able to switch to them directly with a single click, as with previous versions of Windows. Windows 8 doesn't give users a way to see which desktop apps are running when in the Metro Start Screen.

Budiu also highlights a number of problems relating to using Windows 8 with a mouse. Microsoft's decision to hide menus not only slows the user down, but also makes the menus themselves less likely to be used.

"The fact that the menus are hidden is primarily what slows users down," says Budiu. "Remember that what's out of sight is out of mind. In our studies with mobile devices we found that whenever a menu was not in plain view, even users who knew about the existence of that menu didn't use it as much or took a longer time to think to use it than if the menu options were all visible. So it's not only the hovering that slows users down -- it's the lack of visibility that makes these menus less available".

There's also criticism in Microsoft's decision to take what it thinks works on mobile platforms, to then apply this to desktop systems with larger screens.

"The idea of hiding the controls to give priority to content may make sense on mobile, where screen space is so limited, but it doesn’t make that much sense on a large screen, especially if users have to work harder to access hidden features".

Budiu lambasts Microsoft's move to shoe-horn together two user interfaces into a single operating system. This, she claims, will cause "a cognitive burden" for users as they have to remember how each user interface works and "is likely to confuse at least some of the users".

Enterprise users who are thinking of deploying Windows 8 should take note of the fact that Budiu goes on to say that the Windows 8 learning curve "is going to be steep".

This claim alone should act as a warning to anyone thinking of putting Windows 8 in the hands of thousands of users in an environment where you expect people to get work done. Training costs could eclipse the costs of deploying Windows 8, and offset any savings that the new operating system might offer.

Back in June, I called Windows 8 a "design disaster." As much as I like the speed and performance gains that the new operating system brings, and despite being rock-solid, snappy and responsive, as a platform to do real-world work on Windows 8 feels utterly unusable. There's too much mystery meat navigation and the last thing I want is for my PC to force me into playing "hunt the app" every time I want to get something done.

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Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems

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  • I use windows 8

    As my main PC in a domain and at home... and i don't have a problem with it, i think it has sped up my productivity....

    Maybe he just has a memory like a goldfish?
    • Bully for you!

      But my purchasing decisions are not based on your experiences.

      And let's assume for a moment that he does have "a memory like a goldfish." What if we all have memories like fishes? Shouldn't MS take that into account when designing a product? Or should they only design sophisticated products for illuminated users like yourself?

      The reason people are having problems is not as important as the fact that they are. If lots of people are having negative experiences, then the product should be modified. That's a basic business principle.
      • You do know that you'll also based on someone else opinion

        by following that "UX Expert" right?

        I believe the basic business principle is to let some of your users sign up for a pilot program and see the result before making any purchasing decision. Before that anybody's opinion is irrelevent and that includes AKH, That Usability expert, danjames2012, and possibly even yourself.
        • wo wo wo wo...

          My opinion is always relevant!
          • Of course you are special!

            ...just like everyone else! Don't let the mean ol' man make you feel bad.

            Movie reference:

            Citizen: I DON'T KNOW, Lately I just don't feel like there's anything special about me.

            Computer: YOU ARE AN incredibly sensitive man, who inspires joy-joy feelings in all those around you.

          • Demolition Man for the win!

        • My point was...

          ...that one person's opinion doesn't negate everyone else's. I'm glad danjames is having a positive experience. I wish I did. But that doesn't mean everyone is.

          A company should listen to the negative reviews as much as the positive. If there are lots of negative experiences, something needs to be improved during the process.

          For example: if you give a test, and 5% of the class gets question #1 wrong, then they probably didn't learn the material. But if 30-40-50% of the class gets the question wrong, then either question is worded poorly or the material was not taught correctly. Either way, it's not necessarily the fault of the students and some adjustments need to be made internally.

          The same thing goes here. If 10% of the public doesn't like Win8, then those users probably don't like change and the company should proceed. But if upwards of 50%** of the users don't like Win8, then something is wrong with the product. It's more than just resistance to change...the user experience is messed up.

          Now throw in tech writers and industry experts who also say the same thing...and you've got a real problem.

          And it's not just one expert we're listening to. Lots of them are saying the same thing. This isn't an isolated event.

          ** Based on survey results from ZDNet, Neowin, Makeuseof, and CNET.

          (By the way, an expert is called that for a reason. Their "opinion" if that's what you want to call it, carries more weight than the average user. If you choose to ignore them, that's your prerogative. But I am going to listen.)
          • I would

            Personally trust Microsoft a bit more then a usability expert from whichever company or background. It is pretty simple really, Microsoft is a company that for over 20 years is leading in both the os space and in their office productivity suite. There are 1.2 billion Windows users, a small percentage of these have consented to deliver MS usability data. Most of the decisions Microsoft had taken, are based on that data. Of course by making the wrong choices, it will be MS that feels the burden.

            In any case, some of what she says does bot make sense or is simply an oversight. The taskbar for instance does show at a glance what is running, just as it does for over 20 years. Hidden menus are nowadays the norm, we see them in Ios, we see them in Unity and we see them in Windows (where in fact they have always existed !).
          • My 20 years of experience with MS and UI changes have not....

            built a lot of trust. I remember looking forward to upgrades from 3.11 to Win95 and then Win98. Each time things seemed to get better. In the last few years, many of the changes to the Windows UI have been a challenge. I've had similar experience in Office. Many of their UI changes made things more difficult for someone that doesn't have or want to spend hours re-learning.

            Having said that, YMMV. Everyone has their own unique experience to guide them.
          • Yiu do realize

            (By the way, an expert is called that for a reason. Their "opinion" if that's what you want to call it, carries more weight than the average user. If you choose to ignore them, that's your prerogative. But I am going to listen.)"

            You do realize that an expert is the equivalent to a has been drip. Look at all that has been drips that keep stupid patent suits going. I can find a has been drip that will rebut everything your has ben drip says and I am sure visa versa.

            I remember hundreds of has been drips say that Apple was dead and just needed to be buried. So much for those has been drips.
          • An expert, as you call them, also doesn't carry the same

            PERSPECTIVE as the average user, and are therefore biased towards their own expert usage of the system, and not the "average user's" use.

            To really make a fair speculative test of how the public will feel about the OS, it's necessary to conduct a test with such users. NOT experts. And no, the Win8 previewers don't count either because most of us are experts (by virtue of the fact that we have the wherewithal to download, install, and play around with a beta OS before market release).

            So the jury is still out on how Win8 will be received by the average user population.
            Scratch that.
            The jury hasn't even been assembled yet.
        • My opinion is not based

          on anyone else or their opinion. I downloaded W8. I used W8. I installed Office 2010 on W8. I installed other major applications on W8. I tried to like W8.

          I don't like W8.

          I won't buy W8.

          That is my, and solely my, opinion. Your opinion or that of any expert will not change that. It's dumb idea. It slows down my workflow and it's not happening on any computing platform that I buy. Ever.
          • It slows your workflow?

            Can you elaborate on this please? I don't wanna call shenanigans here but when you say "It slows your workflow" I have to wonder how. I'm at my job right now on a computer I have Windows 8 installed on (I also have it installed on 4 of my own computers). I mostly use Adobe Illustrator and sometimes CorelDraw as my software tools of choice. Now that being said, besides the computer being "peppier", a person standing behind me watching me work wouldn't even know I wasn't using Win7. So I must ask: In what way does it interfere with your workflow? I'm truly curious....
          • Re: It slows your workflow?

            The article explains how the hybridized OS affects workflow-- hidden windows, wasteful hunting for thins. I'd add annoyance at having to look at it when I don't have an app open.
          • I'm at my job right now on a computer...

            If you are at your job right now, what are you doing reading ZDnet blogs and typing comments... shouldn't you be working?
          • RE: Can you elaborate on this please?

            No. Now go away and take your asinine OS with you.
          • Same here

            I share your opinion.

            I don't support Metro jumping on my path every time.
          • Correction - since that was a statement on your own opinion

            and nobody elses, changing:
            "It's dumb idea" to "It's a dumb idea for myself"


            Also, on the subject of slowing down your workflow. That's to be expected because it's a new system that's radically different from what you're used to.
            The point is that you can choose to stay in your comfort zone so you that you don't have to change or learn new technology, or you can work with the new interface until your workflow becomes more efficient (and likely finds new efficiencies never imagined before).

            The opponents of this argument will say of course that they shouldn't HAVE to learn a new way. They want the old way and that's that.
            Not saying they're wrong.
            They have that right. (i.e. stay with W7).

            But sooner or later you'll have to catch up.
            So do you want a gradual and surmountable steady gradient that levels off after some effort?
            Or do you want to climb a steep treacherous hill and stumble and fall with desperation?
          • Well said 007

            I would also add that if you work in some IT Support capacity, learn how to use it before your users start asking you how.
            You don't have to like it but you may have to support it.
      • How about the mountains of usability tests MS did with real

        users of every skill level that shows that they all grok it quickly and are more productive with it than any other existing ux from MS or any other company in a very short time?
        Johnny Vegas