Why Microsoft focused the start button in Windows 11

The new Windows 11, which will arrive later this year, is quite similar to its predecessor Windows 10, which was very well received, good news for users who do not want to relearn the operating system from scratch, as they had to see with some previous incarnations.

But it will come with a significant and visible difference: the repositioning of the home button and the menu it opens. Previously consigned in the lower left corner of the screen (or in the lower right, if the system language is set to Arabic), the four squares of the Windows logo will now be located in the center of the taskbar, although the Users have the option of moving it to the previous position.

The change came after years of research and testing by a team of about 40 Microsoft designers.

Two members of that team, Senior Design Director Diego Baca and Senior Program Manager Eric Papamarcos, spoke to the Experience Report about how they designed the home interface. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WSJ: Before outlining any designs or building prototypes, how did you want Windows 11 to look and feel different from its predecessor?

Diego Baca, Microsoft’s Senior Design Director, worked with a team of about 40 people to create the look of Windows 11.



Mr. Baca: We released Windows 10 in 2015; In tech years, that was a long time ago. But especially in the last 18 months, we noticed that the PC has gone from being something more practical or functional to something more personal and emotional: before, you may have gone to your office and used your computer for a few hours, but then you had meetings, lunches, time to call your family … All of this is happening in front of a computer these days.

To find out about that change, we did 85 research studies, spoke to hundreds of people, and went through thousands of hours of test rounds. We talk to die-hard Windows fans, who sometimes know the system better than we do, and we talk to people who may not have used Windows before.

One of the biggest themes that came out of that was that users wanted quiet technology. They don’t want additional stress; it’s like my computer just needs to work. It depends on that ability to feel in control, to feel comfortable, to feel confident in what you are wearing.

WSJ: Can you tell me more about those user tests? What did it look like, especially in relation to the start button and menu?

Mr. Papamarcos: We do preference studies, where we basically ask people to choose between two layouts, and we do usability studies, where we ask people to perform a specific task, like searching for an app.

Eric Papamarcos, Senior Program Manager, is now reviewing feedback on the Windows 11 interface, provided by members of the Windows Insider Feedback Group.



One of the most memorable studies for me was what is called a co-creation study. We printed these pieces of paper that represented the building blocks, so it would be things like the search box, your main apps, websites, files, the weather, upcoming calendar appointments, we put them all on the table and asked them to organize them in their ideal launch space.

No two were exactly alike. But they all had a lot in common, and one of our biggest ideas was that they wanted the start menu to not only give them quick access to applications, but also documents and files. We were already thinking about doing that, so thanks to that study, we knew we were on the right track.

WSJ: So after all that, who was the first person to say, “Let’s put the home button in the middle!”

Mr. Baca: I don’t know if I can identify a specific person, but I remember that we wanted to make sure that the home button felt efficient, and we also noticed that Windows has become more flexible in terms of the devices it is used on: from small tablets to PCs to these giant 50-inch ultrawide monitors.

And when you have these giant monitors, the button is no longer on the periphery; you need to travel to interact with the button. So we wanted to put the menu in the center … not in a corner, where sometimes people could miss it.

Windows 11, due out later this year, is packed with new features, including a new Start menu that has been moved to the center and a Microsoft Store with Android apps. In an exclusive interview, WSJ’s Joanna Stern spoke with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella about the software, the influence of the pandemic, and her strategy to compete with Google and Apple. Photo illustration: Alex Kuzoian / EDL. An earlier version of the subtitles incorrectly transcribed Mr. Nadella’s name.

WSJ: Now that the Windows 11 design is complete, what is your team working on now? Windows 12?

Mr. Papamarcos: Windows 11 builds are out to Windows Insiders [members of Windows’ user feedback program], who are able to provide feedback… We are reading all the feedback and looking for topics and ways that we can tweak and optimize things, and address any issues.

It doesn’t stop just because we get it out the door.

Write to Katie Deighton in [email protected]

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