I’m working on a web design project where we have been asked to use a UI skin and grid system which has some similarities to common Microsoft interface skins… glassy, similar menu bars, etc. The other designers and I agreed we don’t want our work to come off as related to Microsoft. However, Microsoft actually has current and developing extensions into all kinds of new interaction models and even visual presentation. It’s a much broader spectrum than we’ve usually associated with them… new products, deeper and richer design ideas. They’re investing in serious design research and leadership. For instance see Bill Buxton, a regular contributor on businessweek.com, and author of Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design. Highly recommend his inspiring lecture to the Stanford HCI Seminar on iTunesU. He talks about the role of design, and the true object of design focus. He says Hendrix had it right with “Are You Experienced?”
One new example in the Microsoft design world on the web is SpectraNews. From MSNBC, it doesn’t carry the whole weight of the glossy transparent stuff… nice initial launch experience as the browser expands, and good use of color for meaning unencumbered by shading, transparency, or unnecessary modeling. The illusion of depth is created by the floating and revolving news placards.