Please, keep it simple

February 24, 2012 | 6 comments

I really feel like Microsoft turned a corner a few years ago, and I’ve been impressed with their decision-making for a while. Windows Phone? Pretty neat, actually. “Authentically digital” interfaces? A thousand times yes. Simplified Windows 8 branding? Completely agree.

Their decision to simplify their application line-up is another smart move. Your Windows Live ID is now just your Microsoft account; Windows Live Mail is just Mail; Zune Music Player is just Music. And so on.

Just as they’re removing all those bevels and shines with their authentically digital Metro interface, they’re removing the gimmicky branding that’s dogged software naming over the last ten years. Names like Windows Live Photo Gallery are confusing, they smack of design-by-committee, and, contrary to the presumed intention, they sap the product of any discernible personality. Just freaking call the thingĀ Photos and concentrate on making it useful.

Kudos to Microsoft on making that decision.

Startups should also learn from this. Don’t try and invent your own vocabulary: your users won’t thank you for unnatural branding that clutters up your interfaces and forces them to think about what your feature actually does. If it’s a photo gallery, call it Photos, or, y’know, Photo Gallery. If it’s a music player, call it Music. And concentrate on making it fantastic.

In other words, differentiate your product by making it the best damn product of its kind. Anything else is disingenuous.

Update: Note that I’m not arguing against brands here! But minimize your brands. Twitter has tweets, because a tweet was a new thing (a 140-character status message). But Instagram has photos rather than Instaclips, Asana has tasks, etc etc. I’m not arguing that Google should have been called “Search” at all – but Google Docs is a reasonable name, rather than Google Pro Suite or something.

Another update: Stephen Downes got in touch with me to let me know there’s a racist meaning for this phrase. As Stephen pointed out to me, according to Wikipedia, the phrase predates the racist version – but nonetheless, I will avoid it in future. Racism is against everything I believe in, and I apologize to anyone who may have been upset by the association. I’ve altered the post title.