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Metro style applications – designing for the user

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Lazar Nikolov
Lazar Nikolov
Joined Dec 15, 2010
Articles:   7
Comments:   59
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0 comments   /   posted on May 02, 2012

It has been months since Windows 8 is available for developers and the need for new applications is growing in a fast pace.

And nothing is more exacting than a computer user in 21st century. It’s quite difficult to build the right application, moreover – it’s even more difficult to stay on top and not to be, metaphorically, stepped over by the big players. They always know what exactly the user wants and have the resources to provide it to him. But that’s not always what has to happen after all.

You have the power to build what the user wants and even build it so that s/he would feel it so natural to use your Metro application. That is to design the application in a way that using the fingers on the display seems to be a pleasure, but not a challenge.

Okay, let’s make our Metro applications look great!

Designing the Metro application is different from designing the common and straightforward desktop application. Obviously, using fingers on touch instead of mouse cursor is a big difference. And the Metro style applications will soon become the mainstream.

Here you can find design assets for creating great Metro application mock-ups. The download contains layered PhotoShop files representing common controls and components, project layouts and templates.

In the download you will find lots of .psd files that you can use to build a sketch or mocked prototype of your application. It seems that everything you would ever need is in:

  • Common controls. A variety of styles of all controls in dark and light Metro themes.
  • Common components. Tiles with the 1x1 and 2x1 ratio, contracts – the charms bar, search, share and settings side menus and more, and the keyboard.
  • Base layouts. For fill, full, portrait and snap views.
  • Project templates. For light and dark themes.

Microsoft provides you with all you could need, but you are, of course, not limited only to the list. All files are layered and fully editable to stick with your mock-up design needs.

User experience design patterns

Here come the UX design patterns. They encapsulate the most important principles in Windows 8 Metro applications and guide you to the ultimate design. Using the patterns helps you in finding answers to questions related to content organization in pages, placing buttons and commands and the touch gestures and interactions.

Navigation design

The navigation design patters guide developers in organizing application content in pages, subpages, sections and categories so the users feel it comfortable and intuitively to switch between application screens and navigate through different views. It focuses mainly on two types of navigation.

The Hub design pattern, or hierarchical system of navigation, is the most commonly used in the consumers preview. It is appropriate when the application consists of large amount of data that also varies a lot. The content is organized in levels and each level is responsible for a specific context. The top-most page – the Hub page, also referred as initial page, is where the content is presented in different sections with different contexts. The Hub page usually provides very different categories of content and less functionality. Its main focus is the content presentation. Each section of the Hub page is associated with a Section page that is more specific in its content presentation. It often contains a number of data items. Each item is then presented in details in the Details page – the third and last level of content.

The Flat design system is used mostly in applications that have a single purpose and clear interaction and process flow. Such an application is document creation tool that has small number of pages that have to be executed all in a specific order.

On the navigation design documentation page here you can also find guidelines and basic navigation concepts for Metro applications.

Commanding design

The commanding design guidelines that you can find here describe the best practices in Metro applications for placing and using command buttons in all possible ways. The focus is on what the user should be able to do and how this should happen. When possible you must allow manipulating items and executing commands directly from the canvas and not by the charms and the application bar. The command buttons have to be consistently used in all application views so it is the same and intuitively for users to execute commands from everywhere. To avoid complexity limit the number of commands and always consider the placement of the button – this could improve the speed a command can be acted upon.

Touch interaction design

On the Microsoft Build conference last year Jensen Harris of the Windows User Experience team announced the results from usability research conducted from Microsoft in their dedicated labs for the comfortable zones of interaction and behavior when using a touch screen device like the Metro tablet. Everyone uses the touch device in a slightly different way in different postures – on the knee, on tables, with two hands on the side, etc. The last turned to be the most common posture.

The touch interaction guidelines (that you can find in details here) describe how to provide good touch interaction experience with your application partly relying on researches among users.

Interaction comfortable area: Because the Windows 8 tablets are most often held along the side, the bottom corners and sides are ideal locations to put your interaction elements. To comfortably reach the center of the screen it takes you a posture change – put the important interaction interface close to the edges in the user’s comfortable zone.

Reading comfortable area: Content in the top half of the screen is easier to read than content in bottom half or the middle because it is often partly covered by your fingers.

Windows 8 has several standard touch interactions, which effects shouldn’t change when the display is touched with more fingers than expected. 

Elements from your interface that could be moved around should follow the finger direction while the display is touched. Just like in real world – the pen is in your hand while you don’t put it on the desk. All interactions should be observed, i.e. user should feel or see a feedback from his actions. It’s not acceptable to press a button with your finger and don’t see any flash or any kind of feedback. You could be misled that your touch hasn’t been registered from the device.  And last but definitely not least – always consider the size of the things. The error rate increases with the size getting smaller. The recommended minimum size for a touch target is 7x7 mm (40x40 pixels) with at least 2 mm padding. Of course, when the accuracy matters, the size gets bigger.

Touch interactions are important. Think if the interactions as the language that your application uses to communicate with the user. You need this language fluent!


Designing your application in a way that you put yourself in the user shoes is a key factor for the vitality of a future product. In a world where the user is ruling and defines the standards, the design and feel of your application is also the packaging. And the bad pack is even not considered as an option. This article is about attracting users with nice and intuitive user experience in Windows 8 Metro applications. To keep a user, though, you need also the content and value. Harnessing the power of the navigation, commands and touch interactions guidelines and patterns parallel with the content may be the key of your success!



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