Today one of the main reasons for me being at Microsoft arrived. On Monday in the US Microsoft's Expression suite of products was (more) officially announced, and the first product in the suite, Expression Web, was released.

The pending arrival of the Expression products was one of the main reason for me taking this user experience role at Microsoft. The Expression products have a lot of whizzy features, but a key benefit for me, and for many others, is the prospect of closer collaboration between designers and developers. One of the main 'roadblocks' to creating great user experiences is not our ability to design great user experiences, but a lack of capacity for developers to 'absorb' the vacilating output of user interface designers, interaction designers, information architects and what have you.

Design is an inherently iterative process. Design solutions are 'refined' rather than 'inferred' - and this drives developers crazy (even in these days of agile, iterative yada yada...). At the risk of spoiling one of my few UX jokes:

"How many interaction designers does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but they change it again and again and again..." 

In particular, Expression Blend and Expression Design have been designed to streamline the handoff (in both directions) between graphic designers (Expression Design), interaction designers (Expression Blend) and developers (Visual Studio), reducing the risk of mis-interpretation and loss of fidelity that we see today when designs are specified in mockups and diagrams created in tools like PhotoShop, Visio, PowerPoint, Omnigraffle and Axure which have to be re-interpreted (or reverse engineered) by developers.

 We will have many things to discuss over the next few weeks, including:

  • The iterative nature of design.
  • Many designers currently do not produce high-fidelity specifications at all, will Expression have any impact on them?
  • Will products like Expression help address the shortage of designers?
  • What about the many developers who are also user interface designers (by choice or not)?
  • What about rapid prototyping, usability testing and other stuff that is done before a 'final' UI spec?

For now, I'll be reading with interest the reaction of industry commentators, bloggers, analysts and punters alike...