Microsoft reaches out to NZ designers

Microsoft is trying to engage with local designer groups and hopes to build a designer community, says web development advisor

Auckland kicked off Microsoft’s Expression around the Clock event, which was held in ten cities on October 4. Starting in Auckland, Expression finished in Zurich, Switzerland, where Steve Ballmer gave a keynote.

Many of the around 200 attendees, mainly designers, were attending a Microsoft event for the first time, says Nigel Parker, web development advisor of Microsoft New Zealand.

The Expression around the Clock events aimed to reach locations that missed out on conferences such as Microsoft’s MIX and REMIX, says Parker. Microsoft is trying to engage with local designer groups and hopes to build a designer community similar to its developer community, he says.

Microsoft did not go through its usual channels to attract attendees to this event, says Parker. Instead the company went for more of a word-of-mouth approach. The company talked to designer groups, design agencies and tried to reach into designer teams within companies, he says.

The event promoted Microsoft’s new Expression Studio suite of products, which brings together four programs: Expression Web — an incarnation of FrontPage; Expression Design; Expression Blend and Expression Media. The products aim to work together as a design suite for web and desktop applications, and to support Microsoft’s Silverlight technology, which is widely considered a competitor to Adobe’s Flash.

The Expression suite could help blur the lines between the developer and the designer, says August de los Reyes, creative director for the Windows Platform Core Innovation Group at Microsoft headquarters in Seattle, and keynote speaker at the event in Auckland.

The platform gives the ability to merge, for example, a Flash-based solution with Silverlight, says Parker. He thinks web design will be about “the right tool for the right job” in the future, and that products will have components from different platforms blended together.

De los Reyes led the design team for developing the touch-based interface, which is used for Hewlett-Packard’s Touchsmart PC, a project with two New Zealand ties, he said. Auckland-based NextWindow supplied the touchscreen technology for the PCs, and one of the managers at HP in the US was from New Zealand.

Critics of Expression have said that Microsoft simply wanted to push something out on the market to start making it possible to build Silverlight applications. A review in Computerworld US said there are still many pieces missing to the suite, but that the products will probably build up over time.

In his keynote, de los Reyes talked about emotional design and the challenges it brings to designers. Emotional design is focused on a person’s response to something, according to de los Reyes, and it has its roots in video game design, which is pure emotional design.

When consumers make choices about products and services today, they tend to be based on less rational ideas, such as spirituality, beauty and emotion, rather than functionality. Instead of buying a good or service because of its features, consumers tend to buy things because they could transform the consumer or help define one’s identity, said de los Reyes, and this has presented a whole new set of design problems for the designer community.

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