Interface Text in Microsoft Surface

Microsoft Surface offers an opportunity to create user experiences that surpass what people expect from most human-computer interaction. Specifically, the multitouch, multiuser interactions at the core of Surface applications set them apart from traditional software. The Surface experience should be immersive, enchanting, natural, and intuitive; users can see the screen come to life under their fingers and they “know” what to do.

From this perspective, Surface applications should require little user interface (UI) text. But your adherence to any guideline should be secondary to creating a compelling and engaging Surface application. For example, a commercial application that describes different cellular telephone plans or shows tourists the points of interest in a city will have to use a lot of text. On the other hand, entertainment applications, such as the Microsoft Surface Photos application, require only a minimal amount of text.

The first topic in this section describes the basic principles behind the use of text and textual elements in Surface applications. The second topic provides specific guidelines for language and tone. And the third topic provides guidelines for using text in specific user interface components, such as buttons and information messages.

Language and Text

Whenever a Microsoft Surface application uses text, that text should reinforce the qualities of the experience; it should do its job and go away. Text should reinforce the Surface experience as immersive and natural. If it teaches the user how to do something, it should do so in a way that makes the learning seem intuitive. You can accomplish this effect through the content itself and the text’s style and tone.

When you use text or voice audio, use them in a way that complements and does not contradict the user experience. Microsoft Surface should not perform like a desktop computer. Many users view Surface as a device that belongs in science fiction films. Text and voice audio need to meet such lofty expectations.

1. Casual, Clear, and Personal Tone

Microsoft Surface should facilitate a social experience that engages and delights users, even in commercial applications. To reinforce this intent, text in Surface applications should communicate with users with the same casual and comfortable language that people use when speaking with each other.

Keep user interface text in Surface applications clear and concise. People want to touch Surface, so tell them what they need to know quickly and let them get their hands back on the application. Microsoft Surface is unique because it is one medium in which people learn best by doing rather than reading. Text should provide just enough guidance and then let users act accordingly.

You should avoid computer-based terminology (“computerese”) at all costs. A Surface experience should encourage users to explore and discover, and the text to help them do that should take a friendly tone. For example, a text direction for moving photos into a stack should say, “Slide the photo into the stack,” and not, “Drag…”

In other words, use everyday words that people use in similar contexts and actions, and avoid words that they would associate with functions in GUI software applications

2. Using Text Judiciously

Microsoft Surface is fundamentally a visceral, immersive, and touch-based experience, and you should use on-screen text only if you have no other way to convey critical information. In default mode, a Surface application has access points. A user can touch an access point to return to Launcher, but the application continues to run. If you want to enable users to close an application, add an explicit close function. For example, the I’m done button in Launcher provides this option and uses text on a button to give a clear choice.

The Photos application illustrates another principle. The application enables users to move, resize, and play with photos. However, it uses no text that tells users what they can do or how to do it. A well-designed application helps users to easily and naturally discover how the application works and what they can do with it. Use text if you must, but always consider whether you can effectively communicate the same information in another, non-textual way.

3. Text as Graphics

On-screen text is a graphical object and should follow many of the same principles and guidelines as the interaction and design areas. You need to write and design textual elements properly. You need to consider font type and size, placement, whether users can rotate it, how applications that have a 360-degree user interface will display it, and so on.

4. Audio

Microsoft Surface units have built-in stereo speakers and you can connect them to external speakers. And while you might want to use audio to give direction and feedback verbally instead of textually, you should use audio judiciously. Audio introduces several factors that might be out of your control: the volume at which the user or administrator has set the Surface unit’s speakers, how the physical environment around the Surface unit affects the sound, and whether the users are hard of hearing. Although all the text guidelines do not apply directly to voice audio, you should follow all of these principles for both text and voice audio.