07-03-2013 mag 7 /


Sense and Simplicity

by: Adriaan

The Windows Phone-tiles are about content before chrome; they give immediate access to information instead of hiding it behind a metaphoric icon.

In 2010, Microsoft released Windows Phone 7. The company made a bold move: it re-imagined the way icons are used in an operating system. Tiles are almost non-icons, as they are dynamic, contain descriptions and they are no metaphors anymore: the tiles refer to their applications by showing content from that application, instead of trying to represent what the application is. Those square or rectangular formed tiles, which are reminiscent of the works of Dutch painter Mondrian, are the heart and soul of Windows Phone, including 7’s successor, Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. The tiles are everywhere for Windows-users, so it is important to know what these tiles exactly are and how they are connected to their applications, as the tiles are used by a growing number of people. Furthermore, for the academic, Microsoft’s shift is interesting as well. Linguists, as Ferdinand de Saussure notes, do not like an innovative language, as one have to re-learn that language.

Then, one could ask, what are the benefits of throwing the icon-system overboard – which is still dominant in Android, iOS and Linux – and how exactly do the tiles differ from icons? Moreover, what are these tiles and why are they called ‘tiles’ in the first place? Put shortly, what is behind the tile-image? With the help of Windows Phone design-manager Albert Shum, Charles Sanders Peirce’s semiotics and Marianne van den Boomen’s investigation of computer icons, these questions will be answered in the article Sense and Simplicity by Adriaan van Bart, master student at the University of Utrecht.