Windows 8 user interface ripped apart by Nielsen Norman Group

By on November 20, 2012, 8:30 AM

Windows 8 has once again come under fire over its questionable user interface. This time, it’s Jakob Nielsen from the Nielsen Norman Group voicing an opinion based on a recent case study conducted by the company. Simply put, Nielsen’s words aren’t very flattering.

The group invited 12 experienced PC users to try out Windows 8 on the new Surface RT tablet as well as a traditional computer. Sure the sample group was small but regardless, he was able to draw some pretty telling conclusions based on the users’ feedback.

Starting with the user interface, Nielsen likens Windows 8 to the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – referring of course to the PC-oriented desktop environment alongside the tablet-minded (Metro) interface.

Specifically, he said Windows 8 on mobile devices and tablets is like a tortured soul hoping for redemption and that on a regular PC, it’s like a monster that terrorizes poor office workers and strangles their productivity.

Having two environments on one device can lead to a number of problems, including having to remember where to go for which features. He also points out that switching between two environments will increase the interaction cost of using multiple features and because the two environments work differently, it will make for an inconsistent user experience.

In summary, Nielsen says Windows 8 has several hidden features, reduced discoverability, has cognitive overhead from dual environments and has reduced power from a single-window user interface and low information density. Perhaps these are some of the reasons that Windows 8 sales are below Microsoft’s projections at this point.




User Comments: 76

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Matt12345170 Matt12345170 said:

Yes - it does kind of feel like there are "dual environments" but having used it for a while now..I can actually see the desktop being eliminated in the future, it is no longer necessary.

Guest said:

Oh my....:( another vista, perhaps?

1 person liked this | Seventh Reign Seventh Reign said:

Windows 8 will make Windows Vista look like Windows XP and 7.

Think about it.

psycros psycros said:

I wasn't familiar with Useit.com but after reading Nielson's piece, I can tell you that he absolutely nails it. The problem with Windows 8 isn't just its unsuitability for the desktop, but that its not all that great on a touchscreen, either. Microsoft seems to have forgotten the most basic principles of good design, and the market will surely punish them for it.

1 person liked this | Guest said:

And Windows 8 is UGLY. I will never use it, it will be a flop like Vista, wait....... even worse than Vista. Look for Windows 9 next year.

bexwhitt said:

I just use startisback the metro interlace is to tablet orientated for desktop use

captainawesome captainawesome said:

I said it before, I'll say it again - I'm finding windows 8 excellent. It's new features are rocking. I don't even mind Metro. What is bugging me are the apps on Metro - the photo's, music, videos etc are all very lacking.I cannot for the life of me find out where to add an email account on mail for Metro.

And as said before, the file search is crap

Guest said:

Windows 8 'does not support multiple windows'. Can it really be true ?

4 people like this | Neil_The_Hero Neil_The_Hero said:

My 5 years old son use Win8 without problem...

WaveZero said:

Specifically, he said Windows 8 on mobile devices and tablets is like a tortured soul hoping for redemption and that on a regular PC, it?s like a monster that terrorizes poor office workers and strangles their productivity.

Sounds legit and professional, hahaha

2 people like this | MrBungle said:

Yes - it does kind of feel like there are "dual environments" but having used it for a while now..I can actually see the desktop being eliminated in the future, it is no longer necessary.

If MS eliminates the desktop in Windows it will be the end of them. The casual web surfing, email only, one thing at a time user which I'm guessing you are could deal with this. Power Users, Professionals, and anyone that routinely runs multiple programs or needs to compare data between two applications is going to be put off by something like Metro.

I'm a database developer by trade, my development workstation has 3x 24" monitors... there are times when I could use a 4th. It is not uncommon for me to see RAM usage north of 10GB... as I type this I have outlook, Internet Explorer, Waterfox, a virtual machine, a remote desktop sesson, visual studio, an access database, and a copy of my current programming project all running. All three monitors are in use... If MS were to drop support for the desktop I would be forced to drop support for them because I could not do my job in that kind of environment.

1 person liked this | Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I can actually see the desktop being eliminated in the future, it is no longer necessary.

Tell that to any pc gamer, custom pc builder, or liquid cooling enthusiast, and they will vehemently disagree with you.

2 people like this | archiTex said:

We have 3 users on two PC's - both with Win 8 Pro. No issues - especially from my wife who is somewhat "PC challenged". My daughter really likes it - did not want to go back to 7. We've found it to be pretty intuitive.

Cannot wait to see and use the Surface i5's.

Kudos to Microsoft from here.

1 person liked this | pmkrefeld said:

Yes - it does kind of feel like there are "dual environments" but having used it for a while now..I can actually see the desktop being eliminated in the future, it is no longer necessary.

Not necessary? You apparently never been productive on your machine. *facepalm*

treeski treeski said:

There are some obvious flaws with Windows 8, but overall I still think it's an excellent operating system and definitely an upgrade to Windows 7. The desktop may or may not be phased out in the future. If it is, then OF COURSE Microsoft will have to find ways of evolving the new environment so that it is as powerful and useful as the desktop currently is.

Personally, I think there will be a merge between the two environments.

Guest said:

Who is the "Nielsen Norman Group" and why should I care about their opinions?

Matt12345170 Matt12345170 said:

I'm a database developer by trade, my development workstation has 3x 24" monitors... there are times when I could use a 4th. It is not uncommon for me to see RAM usage north of 10GB... as I type this I have outlook, Internet Explorer, Waterfox, a virtual machine, a remote desktop sesson, visual studio, an access database, and a copy of my current programming project all running. All three monitors are in use... If MS were to drop support for the desktop I would be forced to drop support for them because I could not do my job in that kind of environment.

Haha, I see some very narrow minded people in this thread, just because you have gotten rid of the desktop, does not mean that you are limited to one application per window. Your desktop is just a median to view your applications, already with windows 8 you can view multiple "apps" at the same time...albeit a limited way. I am in no way saying that "Ok, lets take this metro interface, fly with it and get rid of the desktop." As with everything, it will need refining.

Tell that to any pc gamer, custom pc builder, or liquid cooling enthusiast, and they will vehemently disagree with you.

As far as that goes, being a PC gamer, and a custom PC builder, I can disagree with that.

5 people like this | Guest said:

Let me get this right. This guy gets a handful of "experienced" computer users, sits them down in front of a new OS without training or time to adapt, and they are frustrated by it. Wow, really good research here. I have seen plenty of experienced Windows users be similarly frustrated by OS X, iOS, or Android.

Typical case of designing an experiment to produce the results you want. Anyone who can't see this is an *****.

I have been using Windows 8 since the first preview, on both a desktop and tablet. Its far from perfect, but overall a step in the right direction. Try it for AT LEAST TWO WEEKS and make an attempt to learn before you judge. Why not try having an INFORMED OPINION for once?

1 person liked this | killeriii said:

The desktop will always be necessary!

It is part of organization and productivity. It's how our brains organize and process information.

Try doing an office job without a desk(top). Pulling one form at a time out of a box beside your chair, only being able to look at that one paper before putting it back and pulling another to make changes based on the first.

Windows 8 (metro) is counter-productive to me.

Merto seems more like an OS gui I would expect running on my cell phone, not a powerful computer.

Besides, Windows 8 is just the first step Microsoft is taking to make sure they get money from EVERY application you run on their OS. I think they're jealous of Apple and their "app store" money machine. It's just too bad MS feels the need to alienate half their customers to extort the other half.

I'm hoping this will give Linux its time to shine.

Guest said:

I've used Windows 8 for a few months - Windows 7 (desktop) is great for content creation, and Windows 8 is great for content consumption.

Windows in general pre-Windows 8, technical people were the target audience. With Windows 8, the target audience is now pointing to generally non-technical people. Technical people can make Windows 8 work with effort and tweaking.

Windows 8 is Microsoft's way of forcing the "App Store" model to PC's - blatant money grab.

Lionvibez said:

I'm a database developer by trade, my development workstation has 3x 24" monitors... there are times when I could use a 4th. It is not uncommon for me to see RAM usage north of 10GB... as I type this I have outlook, Internet Explorer, Waterfox, a virtual machine, a remote desktop sesson, visual studio, an access database, and a copy of my current programming project all running. All three monitors are in use... If MS were to drop support for the desktop I would be forced to drop support for them because I could not do my job in that kind of environment.

Haha, I see some very narrow minded people in this thread, just because you have gotten rid of the desktop, does not mean that you are limited to one application per window. Your desktop is just a median to view your applications, already with windows 8 you can view multiple "apps" at the same time...albeit a limited way. I am in no way saying that "Ok, lets take this metro interface, fly with it and get rid of the desktop." As with everything, it will need refining.

Tell that to any pc gamer, custom pc builder, or liquid cooling enthusiast, and they will vehemently disagree with you.

As far as that goes, being a PC gamer, and a custom PC builder, I can disagree with that.

I'm a Gamer, Custom builder and I disagree with you and think he is right!

1 person liked this | Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Haha, I see some very narrow minded people in this thread, just because you have gotten rid of the desktop, does not mean that you are limited to one application per window. Your desktop is just a median to view your applications, already with windows 8 you can view multiple "apps" at the same time...albeit a limited way. I am in no way saying that "Ok, lets take this metro interface, fly with it and get rid of the desktop." As with everything, it will need refining.

The problem isn't that it needs refining, it's that it needs major overhauling. I can see @MrBungle's point about the desktop issue, and his concerns are those of an informed user who needs productivity, not necessarily worthy of being pigeon-holed as "narrow minded" by any stretch of the imagination. I'm actually in the same boat he is in. I like Windows 8 on the touch/tablet form factor, quite a lot actually. But on my multi-monitor systems, it's a kludged mess as it is, and that's with the existing limitations that the current desktop mode have in place.

It's painfully obvious that MS chose to concentrate fully on the touch & tablet experience, to the detriment of almost everything else UI related. They are banking on the future, trying to catch up and blend with the rest of the crowd, yet also stand out enough to get noticed. That's fine, great even, as long as they don't royally hose all of us who actually rely on basic functions and features to do our everyday work. And that is how many power users feel right now - it's not a "narrow minded" viewpoint, it's a valid concern.

I'll admit it: I was really hesitant about the tile interface. Until I got to play with a Surface and see how intuitive some of the features are - you have to "unlearn" some habits and assumptions, then it's pretty cool. It still does not work for me on my desktop configuration, which troubles me. But, I can envision some rather slick possibilities, if MS really gets to work on the productivity side of the equation for a while.

1 person liked this | Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I'm a Gamer, Custom builder and I disagree with you and think he is right!

So as a custom builder, what will you build if Windows 8 does away with the desktop? I highly doubt you'll begin building custom ultrabooks, or liquid cooling them. Do you actually believe that you can eek out the same performance in a laptop/ultrabook/tablet, as you can in a desktop that has far more cooling/graphics/processing/motherboard/upgrade options? Do you honestly believe that an operating system has that much power, to completely eliminate an entire platform? Please enlighten me so that I can understand your reasoning.

1 person liked this | MilwaukeeMike said:

Let me get this right. This guy gets a handful of "experienced" computer users, sits them down in front of a new OS without training or time to adapt, and they are frustrated by it. Wow, really good research here. I have seen plenty of experienced Windows users be similarly frustrated by OS X, iOS, or Android.

Typical case of designing an experiment to produce the results you want. Anyone who can't see this is an *****.

I have been using Windows 8 since the first preview, on both a desktop and tablet. Its far from perfect, but overall a step in the right direction. Try it for AT LEAST TWO WEEKS and make an attempt to learn before you judge. Why not try having an INFORMED OPINION for once?

Unfortunately, that's not how many people like to live. Nowadays we want things NOW. Not in 5 minutes, not after some learning... now. The learning curve has become a learning step.

This whole ripping on Metro reminds me of people ripping on the Galaxy Note for having a big screen. If it's not what you want, then don't buy it, but stop telling other people that what they like sucks.

1 person liked this | Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I'm a Gamer, Custom builder and I disagree with you and think he is right!

So as a custom builder, what will you build if Windows 8 does away with the desktop? I highly doubt you'll begin building custom ultrabooks, or liquid cooling them. Do you actually believe that you can eek out the same performance in a laptop/ultrabook/tablet, as you can in a desktop that has far more cooling/graphics/processing/motherboard/upgrade options? Do you honestly believe that an operating system has that much power, to completely eliminate an entire platform? Please enlighten me so that I can understand your reasoning.

I took that line of commenting to mean the Windows Desktop, not necessarily desktop computers in general... Now you've got me second-guessing myself! Heh

KapteinPyn said:

I wonder what the same test would show with less experienced users.

Windows hasn't changed its user interface this significantly in quite a few years.

If you make changes to a workflow that has been the same for years of course people would have reduced productivity.

The test should be repeated after a year of use and the results should be compared, this would be more accurate.

Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I took that line of commenting to mean the Windows Desktop, not necessarily desktop computers in general... Now you've got me second-guessing myself! Heh

If that's what he meant by his comment, then yes, I can certainly understand that. I was under the impression that he was speaking of the desktop computer platform, which I believe is here to stay for many years to come.

Lionvibez said:

I took that line of commenting to mean the Windows Desktop, not necessarily desktop computers in general... Now you've got me second-guessing myself! Heh

I was referring to the windows desktop not general computers.

Jim$ter said:

Am I only one who hates that Metro has to run full screen. I mean I want to run multiple metro windows. I have a 24" monitor for a reason. I personally just avoid the metro side and forget its there till I have to go back in there for something and remember how annoying it is. Can I ripe out Metro and have it just in a small desktop window...then maybe I could stand it. Till then the desktop of Windows 8 is at least rocking!

Lionvibez said:

Am I only one who hates that Metro has to run full screen. I mean I want to run multiple metro windows. I have a 24" monitor for a reason. I personally just avoid the metro side and forget its there till I have to go back in there for something and remember how annoying it is. Can I ripe out Metro and have it just in a small desktop window...then maybe I could stand it. Till then the desktop of Windows 8 is at least rocking!

Install Start8

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

This whole ripping on Metro reminds me of people ripping on the Galaxy Note for having a big screen. If it's not what you want, then don't buy it, but stop telling other people that what they like sucks.

But, it's not quite the same... If you don't like the Note, you can still buy a S III or one of the wide range of other Android phones that meet your needs. What scares people is how hard Metro is being pushed even if we don't want it, and that it looks like it is here to stay - so if you want to use Windows, you don't have the luxury of choosing other options. Luckily there are workarounds and utilities to tweak the user experience - most of us just think those should have been provided from the start, and given the option on which interface to use.

Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I was referring to the windows desktop not general computers.

Well that makes MUCH more sense... lol

Chris B. said:

Not surprised by this at all.

dennis777 dennis777 said:

If you haven't try windows 8 yet - don't complain... every software has its pro and cons.. live with it.

Chris B. said:

Purchased it. Tried it. Didn't like it. Went back to Windows 7.

ReederOnTheRun ReederOnTheRun said:

Purchased it. Tried it. Liked it. Rockin Windows 8 from now on.

Guest said:

If you haven't try windows 8 yet - don't complain... every software has its pro and cons.. live with it.

But just know the majority of people who tried Win8 went back to Win7 because it had fewer cons which is a pretty big pro in hindsight.

Guest said:

Who or what is nielsen norman and why in the name of fishpaste should we give a hoot ?

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

Oo, whee, I bet if Narcissus had himself one of them thar Sur-facey tablet thingys, he wouldn't have set around staring at his own reflection in a puddle. Now you can take your puddle with you!

Face it...(pun intended), it too easy to get caught if you carry a genuine mirror around with you, and it's less of a PITA than unbolting the door to your microwave. (Which is unlikely to fit in your backpack anyway).

Window 8 rules, for narcissists and catatonics alike....!

Tanstar said:

I said it before, I'll say it again - I'm finding windows 8 excellent. It's new features are rocking. I don't even mind Metro. What is bugging me are the apps on Metro - the photo's, music, videos etc are all very lacking.I cannot for the life of me find out where to add an email account on mail for Metro.

And as said before, the file search is crap

So the Apps in Metro (the reason MS made Win8) all suck, but Win8 is rocking?

Kishore Kumar A said:

http://www.nngroup.com/

Try out the website. If that's his idea of UI / UX, I don't want that...

HellcatM said:

"The group invited 12 experienced PC users to try out Windows 8 on the new Surface RT tablet as well as a traditional computer. Sure the sample group was small but regardless, he was able to draw some pretty telling conclusions based on the users? feedback."

What did these users do for a living? Were they just experienced PC users that they got off the street or IT professionals? Depending on how experienced these people are, this could be a very one sided study.

In reality the only people that matter right now are people off the street that buy Windows 8 devices and so far from what I hear people who have them like them. I don't trust most bloggers, or analysts because I don't think they can be non-bias.

1 person liked this | avoidz avoidz said:

My 5 years old son use Win8 without problem...

Right. And your 5-year-old knows so much about productivity and real computer use. To him it just looks colorful and moves in interesting ways. Not a good recommendation, but thanks.

Guest said:

Let's face it, some people like Windows 8 however based on various feedback that I have seen, most people prerfer Windows 7. I believe this is because most people are used to Windows 7, run it on a desktop or non-touch device and it is very solid OS. Enter Windows 8 with it's dual modes that doesn't add up for most people. I love how other people say, if you just add Start 8, don't use Metro and stay on the desktop it's great. So if you convert to Windows 7 style it's great? In any event to each his/her own, pick and choose what works for you.

TechM633 said:

I work at a networking help desk. I was just remoted into a Windows 8 machine yesterday and Server 2012 the day before. I have never wanted to kick a computer before, until yesterday. Do you have any idea how difficult it can be to explain to the end user who needs help turning his computer, why he no longer has a start button? Or better yet, explain to him what the Metro Interface even is?

Microsoft made a big mistake with Windows 8. They should have utilized windows 7 more into windows 8. Make the metro interface an "OPTION" and not an integral part of the OS. That way, you keep the best of Windows 7 and if you want to use their new Metro style, you could turn it on if you so choose.

Windows 8, while cool in some regards, just made the life of guys in my industry absolutely miserable.

sambob said:

And Windows 8 is UGLY. I will never use it, it will be a flop like Vista, wait....... even worse than Vista. Look for Windows 9 next year.

I think the words you're looking for are "Microsoft bob" running on a radioshack Tandy ugly.

sambob said:

JUST STOP......I think EVERYBODY need's to take a step back...breath In.....breath out...O.K.

Now...If you're not happy with win 8 don't use It, or buy It.

The bad men from Microsoft aren't going to come to you're house and force you to Install and use Win 8, Win 7 Isn't going to magically uninstall Itself, just keep using the OS you're happy with and we can wait for Win 9.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

JUST STOP......I think EVERYBODY need's to take a step back...breath In.....breath out...O.K.

Now...If you're not happy with win 8 don't use It, or buy It.

The bad men from Microsoft aren't going to come to you're house and force you to Install and use Win 8, Win 7 Isn't going to magically uninstall Itself, just keep using the OS you're happy with and we can wait for Win 9.

But really, don' you think that if enough people encourage M$ by saying nice things about Win 8, and buying it, that might embolden M$ to make Windows 9 even worse?.

1 person liked this | Jane W. said:

Yes - it does kind of feel like there are "dual environments" but having used it for a while now..I can actually see the desktop being eliminated in the future, it is no longer necessary.

If MS eliminates the desktop in Windows it will be the end of them. The casual web surfing, email only, one thing at a time user which I'm guessing you are could deal with this. Power Users, Professionals, and anyone that routinely runs multiple programs or needs to compare data between two applications is going to be put off by something like Metro.

I'm a database developer by trade, my development workstation has 3x 24" monitors... there are times when I could use a 4th. It is not uncommon for me to see RAM usage north of 10GB... as I type this I have outlook, Internet Explorer, Waterfox, a virtual machine, a remote desktop sesson, visual studio, an access database, and a copy of my current programming project all running. All three monitors are in use... If MS were to drop support for the desktop I would be forced to drop support for them because I could not do my job in that kind of environment.

I'm in the exact same boat. I have 3 x24" monitors and I often have 8+ programs running from Visual Studio, Sql Server, Filezilla, Virtual Machines, Remote Desktop, Photoshop, Outlook, Training Videos, multiple copies of Word/Excel, IM, etc. ...and as much as I'm trying to like Win8, it's a productivity killer. I tried very hard to use it for a couple of weeks, then had to go back to Win7 since my productivity fell off a cliff.

It scared me when all the "on stage" demos always showed them flipping through a picture-book and showing me how nice it was for looking at family photos, and that I "could even see the weather" on the side (inside, I went "uh-oh" . I love the fast boot and better networking, but that's not enough to endure 4 or 5 clicks to what used to be 1 or 2, and then for their apps to go full screen on my 24" monitor? (it's like going from a power user to Dora the Explorer, and yes,...that is why the 5 year old kids are 'fine' with it.)

I don't know why they are shunning people who need to be productive all day/night, and are throwing us off the bus for people who like to turn on TV, watch a movie, and look at digital picture frames. Microsoft has been so shocked at Apples sales that it's throwing its "cash-cow" user-base under the train for "new-blood" that it'll never find. Microsoft, you'll never be Apple, so stop trying, and use your strengths in the productivity world, not the picture-book world. (Apple will never be the platform of power users, yes there are a few, but that's not Apples market).

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