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

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.