Between the gradual rollout of Fluent Design, its new Office icons, and other tweaks across its portfolio, it's safe to say Microsoft is taking a new approach to design. As it turns out, that's largely due to a new cross-company, collaborative effort on the part of Microsoft's design leads across Surface, Windows, and Office.
In a new interview with The Verge, Microsoft's Office UX lead John Friedman explained that the company is now approaching design like an "internal open source team." Friedman is working together with Albert Shum for Windows and Ralf Groene for Surface to share and critique their design work between teams. Says Friedman:
This is definitely a cross company effort. We operate like an internal open source team. So we're all openly sharing our design work, critiquing the work, working on it together. What we've found is that the best way to develop our Fluent Design system is to truly open source it internally. What's happened is that we're getting the best of everyone's work that way.
That coordination coincides with a different approach to the pace of design changes as well. Notably, with Fluent Design, Microsoft has been more deliberate in its rollout of changes across its apps and services than it was with Windows 8's Metro design language. This has led to a greater coordination between Microsoft's internal teams, according to Friedman:
If we have to change everything at the same time, it will never happen. We're highly coordinated internally, so the Office designers know exactly what's coming next with Windows. The Windows designers know exactly what's coming next with Office.
Most recently, this design process has reared its head in additional Fluent Design updates gradually coming to Windows 10 and the various apps Microsoft creates for it. Going forward, we'll see more elements make their way to Office and even the Surface teams. We've already seen a preview of some of this with the aforementioned redesign for the Office 365 app icons, and Microsoft is pushing forward today with a design revamp of its Outlook app on iOS.
According to Friedman, the end goal is to make sure the software and hardware are polished together with hopes of creating a more cohesive product. "It's about bringing the software to the place it needs to be and then doing hardware and software together at a high polish and high craft," Friedman told The Verge.