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Microsoft has done the important things right in 2012:

Distinct look

One strand running through these updates is a fresh emphasis on design. Microsoft’s new wave products look great.

After years of trailing Apple in innovation and coolness, Microsoft has poured resources into design and creativity. It paid off hugely.

There’s a distinct, coherent look across all the range, with crisp minimalism and bright colour blocks.

As UBelly points out, Microsoft draws inspiration from the German Bauhaus art school as well as Swiss typography.There are nods at Mies van der Rohe‘s style and some form follows function thinking.

Welcome change

If it were merely cosmetic, it would be a welcome change.

Yet the design refresh goes further. Features are clearly signposted, there’s little ambiguity. Getting around is simple and obvious.

I suspect there’s a productivity pay-off. I certainly find I’m now less distracted when working.

There are critics, Laptop Magazine reports usability expert Ralaca Budiu says Microsoft optimised the OS for content consumption not production and multitasking. Maybe. I spend all day producing content, but I only use a limited number of tools and don’t make the cognitive jumps she mentions.

Or perhaps there’s a trade-off between distraction and cognitive jumps. Maybe the new designs work for me – as a writer – but won’t work for others.

As they say in America, your mileage may vary.