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Peter Skillman departure from Microsoft highlights a bigger problem with Fluent Design

When it comes to design, Windows 10 is a tough nut to crack. After all, the OS (at its core) is decades old. And while Microsoft routinely updates it, getting all of its product teams like Skype, Outlook, Office, Cortana, OneNote aligned is a challenge.

Earlier today we learned Peter Skillman, who had overseen various design projects at Microsoft (including most recently Outlook), is leaving Microsoft. That seems like a huge loss. Skillman is active on Twitter, often taking the brunt of design criticism for Microsoft. He never lost his cool, considering what he heard back to the drawing board.

It's unclear why Skillman left Microsoft though he did tease a new role he'll be starting in a few weeks, which presumably precipitated the departure.  Nor do we know all the details around why he left, but it seems evident that he a unique and very hands-on approach to design – something that Microsoft needs.

Peter Skillman, Microsoft

Peter Skillman, Microsoft

The bigger question we still have: What about Microsoft's Fluent Design System? It's still being implemented, but the pace seems slower than what we would prefer. Back in April, Skillman said this regarding Fluent:

Fabric and Fluent are being rolled into a single common component library with full version control that ALL MSFT designers can draw from to drive consistency. It does take time to unify, however.

Likewise, The Verge reported in April about how the many teams at Microsoft had a meeting where they discussed and debated design. That sounds like progress, but the results are far from ideal as pointed out by our senior Windows reporter Zac Bowden on Twitter. From Bowden:  

Like, Fluent Design itself is pretty inconsistent because different teams are using it in different ways. Some menus have reveal effects; others don't. Some menus have a DIFFERENT kind of reveal effect... Why? Skype, as far as I can tell, doesn't even use Fluent Design… There's very little Fluent Design in use with the new Office. Connected animations for the tabs, that's all I can see on that front that rings "Fluent". Some apps like Settings and Mail utilize a no-titlebar design, which looks fantastic. But then you've got apps like Your Phone, Skype, MSN, etc. that still have a visual titlebar. It's just all over the place.We're two years into Fluent Design being a thing now. I know this is supposed to be a journey, but how long is this going to take? Skype has been redesigned like twice since Fluent Design came to be, yet it still isn't using it.

Microsoft may have a fancy name for its design theory, and even the desire to make it happen, but what the company really needs is someone in charge of it all. There should be a design guru leading – and sometimes commanding – the overall direction of Microsoft's OS and app future. Skillman may not have been that, but he was the closest we have had to it, and losing such a public face is a shame.

Will anyone else at Microsoft step up?

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

28 Comments
  • Fingers crossed hopefully.
  • Windows 10 could look and feel so amazing by now.
  • You know what sucks? When things don't work but they look pretty, I mean you can either have ugly looking work horses or pretty painted turds but making the work horse look pretty might take some working out, NO?!
  • "You know what sucks? When things don't work but they look pretty" You just nailed my feelings towards Linux! These new distros come out and they look fantastic, but after I get it all installed and configured to my liking, I go to actually get some work done and am met with the same issues Linux has had for decades - crap open source alternatives to polished and feature rich commercial applications. So yea, I'll take Windows 10 in all it's inconsistent glory. It may be ugly and look unfinished here or there, but it always lets me get my work done!
  • It is not a question of competing resources, it is completely different teams. The design teams sets up libraries, guidelines and templates that then are implemented in the products by the development teams. In this case the teams don't bother, use old or create their own. This is bad management and steering. Bad management and steering vill sooner or later reflect in other parts of the production. If Microsoft can't coordinate it self more and more of the unification and cooperation of it's product lines will fail. That is a bad sign and is called suboptimation.
  • Seems this is an issue of leadership. Does the CEO of MSFT emphasize unification of Fluet Design across its ecosystem? Or is the CEO more concerned about moving to Cloud with Azure? How is One Core impacting Fluent Design? Why spend many coding hours making Fluent design uniform across the Windows ecosystem if you are busy spending coding hours writing for One Core or whatever the new Windows OS is called. How many different flavors of this new OS are being created? How uniform will information processes flow between these new flavors of the OS. The good thing is MSFT is making a bunch of money with good FCF growth. Maybe Fluent design was pushed while the importance of Azure and the many organizational changes necessary to develop Azure was still being implemented. If so, then maybe the senior leadership of the Windows Group needs a different set of people to take the emphasis on One Core is more mature. Seems like UWP and the like suffer the same issues. If most of your app developers are more interested in Azure integration and development and comfortable with keeping the old windows coding in place, why spend the resources to push Fluent design? Without a Windows Phone ecosystem, seems to me the importance of Fluent design is lower than getting Azure closer to AWS in capability and market position. In short, this is probably a result of allocating R&D dollars to the best market opportunities (Azure) and poor leadership in the Windows Group.
  • Satya only cares about cloud. It's all he talks about on his public appearances in Microsoft related events/interviews. They should replace him. The CEO of a company should show interest on all it's products, not just the one. I hate the guy.
  • I share the same idea as you, Satya should be replaced right away for someone with a more wide vision than him and his closed cloud mind. I wish Bill come back but this will not happen, even Steve Balmer was better then Satya. A good name could be the former Nintendo of America CEO Reggie Fils-Aime, but he is retired so I think it not gonna happend. Another good name is Phil Spencer, I think he could do as much good for Microsoft as a whole as he is doing for Xbox. Xbox is still great today because of him.
  • Replace him? Microsoft is making oceans of money with the cloud.
  • Bingo. This is an issue with executive leadership not specifying to these departments to follow the same design.
  • Microsoft's implementation of fluent design is a mess and this has been known both external (and hopefully) internally for a long time. So when I see that the man behind the debacle is gone, it's a better decision than no decision at all. Unlike the Ballmer days, Microsoft seems to have a real problem with putting their foot down and thoroughly sticking to a single idea. Even now, as I am constantly bouncing between Settings and the Control Panel, I sigh knowing this problem should have been solved years ago. I get it, Windows 10 is a "service" that's constantly updated. But some things just need to be done. Hopefully fluent design is next.
  • Microsoft keeps jumping from "nice cool idea" to "nice cool idea" without ever bothering to actually properly implement the idea. It's frustrating.
  • They may just dump the whole thing and adapt Google's Material Design. It's open source, available and being updated regularly. These days Microsoft doesn't have much fight left in them. They are all about Android, Core OS started to look like Chrome OS...
  • They're going soooo slow with it, that by the time they've 'finished', someone will come in and decide it all looks dated and needs a refresh. Thus the whole process will start again. It feels like yet another thing that Microsoft does half-hearted. Either do it properly, or don't do it at all.
  • ask these guys:
    https://news.microsoft.com/leadership/
  • Sad, he was a pretty Skilled Man ...
  • Was he given the authority he should have had to implement his vision, or did he not have the leadership qualities to convince and people (dev teams) to follow?
  • I would first say make OS stable before all this. I would care less of fancy fluent designs if system takes 10 minutes to stabilize.
    I had to disable sync my settings to speed up boot up a bit.
    Fluent design looks like rat race to match up OS X and Android. Nothing original, just ideas from them.
  • Satya only cares about cloud. It's all he talks about on his public appearances in Microsoft related events/interviews. They should replace him. The CEO of a company should show interest on all it's products, not just the one. I hate the guy.
  • That's because the cloud and azure are the future of Microsoft. Windows is the past. The CEO is not SUPPOSED to be concerned about minutiae such as the color of Windows icons. That is definitely NOT his job. You think he should be out there cheering "fluent design"? He probably knows nothing about it. CEO means Chief Economic Officer. He is supposed to be aware of where the market is going, and position the company to take advantage of where the market is going, in order to maximize revenue. Hence, Chief ECONOMIC Officer. He is not the Chief Technology Officer. On that score, is he doing remarkably well. It does not matter to him (or to Microsoft) if "fluent design" in 25 year old Windows goes nowhere. He (and Microsoft) are busy making money elsewhere, in the current (and upcoming) markets. IOW, the survival of Microsoft is WAY more important than the implementation/survival of "fluent design" in a legacy product.
  • That's chief executive officer, not economic officer. He's elected by the shareholders to run everything and while profit is their biggest concern, he isn't solely responsible for that but pretty much everything going on in the company. Shareholders probably know that if Microsoft loses market share in desktop operating systems (i.e. the thing it's known for) it will slide into irrelevancy, just like IBM did when it stopped doing the thing it was previously known for, namely making computers.
  • Unfortunately, this is what happens when you have too many leaders pulling in different directions. I agree, there should be, if there isn't already, a person that keeps the department heads on point. I'm sure there is, so the problem seems to be that there is too much leeway within the departments. Tighten the reigns a bit. Voting on ideas and designs is fine. However, someone has to say, "OK, this is what we are going with and I expect all departments to follow this design or model, to met or exceed the company's overall goal."
  • "There should be a design guru leading – and sometimes commanding..." Yes. There needs to be someone *commanding* these teams to utilize Fluent Design. Some of the changes noted are understandably large undertakings, like Office. But when brand new apps like Your Phone and the ever updated Skype app don't use it? That's just people deliberately making a choice not to. Someone needs to step in and put their foot down.
  • Is there no head of software design that delegates uniformity of features?
  • Have you been to their fluid design guide? There is nothing there except basics. Anything beyond common sense basics available pretty much on any platform it's up to designer to apply everything else to hers or his likening.
  • Hello, I'm Joseph, and I've recently stepped up to drive the evolution of the Fluent Design System - as a collective cross-platform effort for the company. We've been sharing our intent a bit more on Medium and other platforms and we're super excited to continue to build on the momentum with you - our design/dev communities. https://medium.com/microsoft-design/evolving-the-microsoft-fluent-design... https://medium.com/microsoft-design/fluent-design-behind-the-design-9730... https://www.windowscentral.com/e?link=https%3A%2F%2Fclkde.tradedoubler.c... https://medium.com/microsoft-design/richer-relationships-with-people-cen... Join us at: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13529340/
  • Is Microsoft able of doing what is announced correctly, Nahon ?
  • You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. With each update, it's just becoming more incoherent.