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Former Windows user experience chief has issues with the Windows 11 Start menu

The designer who helped shape Windows 8 Start tiles takes a swipe at the design of Windows 11's Start menu.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer on
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Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jensen Harris, the former director of user experience (UX) at Microsoft, has taken issue with the design of Windows 11's Start menu – the flagship of Microsoft's UX. 

Harris, who played a key role in the design of the Windows 8 Start menu with touch-friendly tiles, reckons the Windows 11 Start menu has confusing elements and distractions and even makes it look like his PC is "infected by a virus."

The designer aired his criticisms in a series of tweets explaining the importance of the Start menu and pointing out some weaknesses in the design.   

"The Start menu is Microsoft's flagship user experience. It should represent the very best UI design the company is capable of," wrote Harris

"Today I searched for 'chrome' in Windows and was shocked by the user experience."

Harris thinks Microsoft's ad in the Start menu promoting the "Bing Wallpaper app" looks like it was teleported from the Web 1.0 Geocities era. "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 tweeted. 

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Beyond that, the ad's left corner is rounded – in line with Microsoft's redesign of Windows 11 app windows – but has a sharp corner on the right, while the bottom left is a hybrid of the two and looks like "someone sat on a squircle".

For years, Microsoft has used ads in the Start menu to promote first- and third-party apps from the Microsoft Store. Many users didn't like them. More recently, it "accidentally" put ads in the top of File Explorer windows.   

Harris is not a fan of ads in the Start menu.

"The bigger issue here though: why are there banner ads in the Start menu? Is the amount of $ made by this wallpaper app worth cheapening the experience people have in this very high-touch piece of UI? It erodes trust—I wasn't even searching for 'wallpaper.'"

He's very critical of Microsoft using the Start menu to promote the Chromium-based Microsoft Edge browser. As Harris notes, Microsoft gave that ad the largest space in the Start menu and notes "it's designed specifically to distract me away from achieving my intended task." Microsoft is aggressively promoting the new Edge browser to Windows 11 users in the hope of weaning them off Google Chrome.  

Then there's the "design-challenged toolbar" containing a "salmon-colored Band-Aid" button with a Bing icon to "Open results in browser" that covers two other buttons. The buttons are also inconsistently rounded and square.

For Windows 11, Microsoft opted to center-align the Start button on the taskbar rather than the left where it's traditionally been. Harris thinks the center-aligned Start button was a mistake that doesn't capture the value of users' familiarity with its left position.  

"I think moving the Start button to the middle of the taskbar wasn't 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 writes. 

Fortunately it seems that designers at Microsoft are still paying attention to their former colleague. Harris noted that Microsoft has "many brilliant designers who care deeply about the work they do".  

Within 24 hours of his criticism, Microsoft removed the Bing Wallpaper ad and made some design improvements.

Harris's parting words on the Windows 11 Start menu UX was that it is possible to strike a balance between UX and monetization of the desktop space.  

"Remember: design is not the enemy of monetization. It can be tricky to work out the tradeoffs, but great user experience actually complements great marketing and monetization. Experience design is the friend of business success, because it leads to products people love using," he wrote.

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