The Cancer Of Microsoft’s Tastelessness

I’m reading The Race For Perfect: Inside the Quest to Design the Ultimate Portable Computer by Steve Hamm.

Steve Jobs famously stated:

It’s in this book that the full extent of that statement was brought home to me.

The book is primarily about the creation of the ThinkPad X300.

At one point in the design process, David Hill — who headed corporate identity and design for Lenovo — wanted to avoid this:

Another issue was the appearance of the bottom of the machine. Back at the very beginning, when the designers and marketers were dreaming up Kodachi, Hill set the goal of making a machine that would look elegant and uncluttered on the outside—a perfect simple black box. Yet, by rules and practice, the bottoms of laptops were covered with labels and markings recording the safety checks done on the machines and attesting to the authenticity of various components. The result was that the bottoms of the machines looked like those well-traveled suitcases from the early twentieth century whose proud owners slapped stickers on them from various cities and countries to show where they had been. Hill’s goal was to remove every single label from Kodachi. The solution that Lenovo’s designers had come up with was to transfer the labels to the inside surface of the battery bay. That way, people who bought the machines could see all of the serial numbers and certifications before they installed the battery. Kozak checked with each organization, government agency, or company that was behind each label. He got permission to move them inside the bay from some outfits, but not from others.

So, even he could see that to have a true design statement, a company must have control over all aspects of a product’s appearance to complete its overall experience for owners.

But wait, here’s Microsoft’s cancerous tastelessness, metastasizing:

Microsoft was the big hang-up. Its label had the Windows serial number on it and the four-color Windows logo. After several rounds of discussions between Kozak and Microsoft officials, they were at an impasse. Microsoft simply wouldn’t budge. It wanted its brand featured prominently all over the machine. In the end, there would be a handful of labels on the bottom. Not the clutter of the past, but, still, the bottom would not have the elegant simplicity that Hill had been hoping for.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

What sort of combination of hubris and duncefulness does it take to require a damned sticker like that?

People won’t see it’s Windows running when they turn on the machine?

Did Microsoft wonder if maybe Lenovo would pull a fast one and put Linux or even Mac OS X in the ThinkPad X300?

Did Microsoft really need reassurance that people buying a ThinkPad — a ThinkPad!! — would understand there’s Windows in it? Like Lenovo’s advertisements wouldn’t mention that?

Microsoft does not understand design at all. That part of its corporate DNA is defective. And probably always will be.

21 responses to “The Cancer Of Microsoft’s Tastelessness

  1. Jobs’ comment is totally spot on. Not bad, just totally lacking in taste.

    Of course. As you say:

    “That part of its corporate DNA is defective.”

    CORPORATE is the key word. Committees cannot possibly come up with anything original. All you get with a committee is the lowest common denominator of everyone’s ideas.

    Many years ago, someone made a crack about Barry Manilow – “A singer designed by a committee.”

    Windows is an OS designed by a committee.

  2. Says it all. Supposedly done by Microsoft internal marketing.

  3. I never saw that before now! I’d seen screen snaps of the before and after. The video is hilarious. The fold-out System Reqs cracked me up!

  4. The bottom of a MacBook Pro, for comparison:

  5. Yes. I was going to link to a prior post I did about this but figured the horse was already down!
    http://mikecane2008.wordpress.com/2008/01/18/why-apples-design-is-excellent/

  6. Ah yes, one piece of evidence from X years ago proves beyond all doubt that everything corporation Y does is, beyond argument, completely tasteless.

  7. Well, come on, it’s not like they haven’t got a record.

  8. I didn’t explain what I wanted to say very well.

    Now that I’ve had my coffee, I’ll try again.

    I did some interpreting work for Microsoft years ago and had hands on experience of endless meetings and committees. There were hours and hours of talk that ended up with trying to find some point of agreement so that we could go home.

    I don’t think Apple does it this way.

    I think that Jobs gets an idea and Ives and the rest of the team turn that idea into reality.

    I’m sure that committees and meetings happen in Apple too, but I think the purpose is different. What they are doing is trying to find ways to implement Job’s ideas.

    There are different points of view.

    We look at a dancer like Michael Jackson in wonder, “He’s amazing! How does he do it?” But, I wonder what Michael Jackson’s point of view of my dancing would have been? “OMG! Why does he bother?”

    And so, from Job’s point of view, Microsoft products must look tasteless. About as interesting as the music they play in supermarkets and airports, Reader’s Digest, fast food – the stuff that nobody really objects to, but nobody gets excited over either.

  9. Should have put linux on there =] nice idea removing all the stickers and hiding under the battery through

  10. I sadly have to agree with much of your criticism. Some of us on the inside are slowly trying to turn the battleship – watch http://live.visitmix.com/MIX10/Sessions/CL14 for an example of some folks inside MS who are vouching for good design.

  11. No, the bottom of the current MacBook Pro line has no seams or latches whatsoever.

  12. Pingback: The Cancer Of Microsoft's Tastlessness « Mike Cane's iPad Test | Microsoft

  13. Microsoft is right.

    I’ve reinstalled two laptops in the last six months (for friends) – and was able to use the correct serial number because it was on the bottom of the laptop.

    Without that they’d have been stuck with a machine that didn’t get updates and warned them about being unverified all the time.

  14. I’m still reading The Race For Perfect. Just read a chapter that dealt with the post-Jobs Sculley-run Apple and the creation of the Newton. Lots and lots and lots of meetings. Ending in a flawed product that one of the people didn’t want to ship as-is but was overruled.

  15. But the sticker would have been there, just inside the battery compartment.

    What surprises me is that no one asked where the stickers are in Apple’s products. There’s no battery door to remove on some of the portables. Not that a serial number of any kind is needed, but I wonder about all those government stickers required to show compliance.

  16. @ mikecane

    The compliance documentation is a little booklet. And occasionally a discrete logo (eg: CE etc).

  17. Andrew: “was able to use the correct serial number because it was on the bottom of the laptop”

    Requiring a serial number to authorize an instance of an OS is the problem. The sticker is a solution to a problem that shouldn’t exist.

  18. You would never know that from the stickers placed on everything!

  19. Pingback: Top Posts — WordPress.com

  20. Pingback: EverydayUX morsels (April 21st – April 27th)