Monday, March 5, 2012

Schindler's Editor

It's finally here. With the recent release of Visual Studio 11 Beta, my quest for perfecting the Most Depressing Desktop Ever is finally complete:

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Let me first start off by giving some positive feedback. I love what they've done with scoping solutions in VS 11 Beta, and I love that they've finally tamed the Search dialog box and made it minimal, fast, and have put it in its proper place.

But as for the colors and icons, what were they thinking? Let me hazard a guess here. They were trying to emulate, in a small way, the Metro design language, with its simple, pared down iconography. They were also trying to keep the chrome of the editor from competing with colors of visual assets such as images and 3D models. An interesting first attempt. Try again.

Why Does Metro "Work"?

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Metro "works" because in a world of fat fingers and smaller screens, less options and simple icons stand out, and bring immediate relevance to the most common things you care about. This is especially effective for touch-based applications, and I must admit that for the tablet at least, Metro puts all other interfaces to shame. Blocks and simple icons cut through the clutter instantly.

However, when you strip color and detail from 16x16 icons, you remove almost all visual cues as to their meaning. Let's look at some of the new icons introduced in Visual Studio 11 Beta:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic A man's dress shirt A manila folder A Visual Studio Solution

Image and video hosting by TinyPic The Torah The Talmud Some kind of script?

Image and video hosting by TinyPic A C# File C# Settings A C# Project

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Wrenches Tools References?

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Somebody please shoot me

What's worse is that these new, meaningless icons are strewn all about the interface. A few, simple icons work well. But 50-75 very small, simple icons turn to clutter very quickly. I'm not insinuating that the old iconography was perfect, but we've learned to live with its imperfections over the past ten or twenty years as it's evolved, and we can get to work with it instantly. The contrasting colors cut through the clutter and bring some sort of order beyond the icon shapes themselves which make the interface easy to use.

When Does Gray "Work"?

A gray color scheme is the right choice for graphic designers and people who work with color all day. Our perception of color is relative, and colorful chrome around a graphic editor can throw off the artist's perception of color and affect the work. I get it. Those five people probably need their own color and icon scheme. But most of us who use Visual Studio use it to *code*, not to edit artwork. And injury is added to insult when we must strain our eyes to read the dark gray on gray color scheme of the Solution Explorer.

I've read the VS Team's blog about how their focus group really liked this interface. That focus group is wrong. Your customers hate it. Please stop it.

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Does this make anyone else think of that little girl in the red jacket from Schindler's List?