John Gruber just posted some thoughts on Steven Sinofsky’s remarks on designing Windows 8. Sinofsky repeatedly says the thing about Windows 8 is that it doesn’t compromise: “Our goal was a no compromise design … We chose to take the approach of building a design without compromise … Windows 8 brings together all the power and flexibility you have in your PC today with the ability to immerse yourself in a Metro style experience. You don’t have to compromise! You carry one device that does everything you want and need … Our design goal was clear: no compromises.” Gruber notes that, by comparison, “Apple has embraced compromise … The compromises enforce simplicity and obviousness in design, and at a technical level they lead to iOS’s excellent battery life.”
What strikes me about this is that Sinofsky’s use of the the word “compromise” (which Gruber follows in order to make his own case) is almost the reverse of how it’s often employed in this sphere. How many times in the past have we heard that it’s Apple that does not compromise on its view of how things should be made? Or think of how often—and as recently as last week—people have said things like “Steve Jobs’ great talent is his uncompromising vision” for the products his company makes? Or consider profiles of people like Apple designer Jony Ive, or his inspiration Dieter Rams, where again the emphasis is always on their singular design sensibility, their purity of vision, their refusal to compromise.
What’s happening here? It’s a matter of perspective. When people talk about designers, an “uncompromising” vision is perfectly compatible with cutting products down to their essentials, focusing them entirely on some narrow set of functions, or making them do one thing perfectly. What’s “uncompromising” is the designer’s commitment to make a perfect thing, without any extraneous fluff or crap. But when people—especially salespeople—talk about customers, the phrase “no compromises” is the claim that the product will do whatever the customer wants, even if different customers want different things. It’s the promise—or pitch—that everyone can have their cake and eat it.
Notice how Sinofsky switches points of view midstream. At the beginning he talks about Windows 8 being “design without compromise”. But by the end he’s promising you as a customer that “You don’t have to compromise!” Uncompromising designers make products that will not appeal to everyone, or be of equal use to everyone, or do everything equally well. On the other hand, IT products advertised to consumers as having “no compromises” try to please everyone all of the time. From the perspective of the Dieter Ramses of this world, Sinofsky’s repeated use of the phrase “no compromises” means exactly the opposite of what it says—and more or less guarantees that the product will actually be riddled with design compromises, all made in an ultimately futile effort to keep everyone happy.