Sporting a new fall look, Microsoft’s search engine Bing showed off an updated logo Tuesday night in New York as the company called attention to the relevance of design across various types of technology.
On an evening populated with luminaries from the fashion and home décor worlds, Microsoft hosted a chat about how websites and gadgets can increase their aesthetic appeal—and gave a glimpse of Bing’s makeover.
The panel talked about the way design sways how people approach the world, especially in technology. The discussions featured Michael Kroll, principal user experience manager for Bing; fashion designer Cesar Galindo; David Bromstad, host of interior design show “Color Splash” on HGTV; Ingrid Abramovitch, senior editor with ELLE Décor; and potter and designer Jonathan Adler. Scott Erickson, senior director of brand and creative with Microsoft, moderated.
Beyond revealing Bing’s sunny new logo, Microsoft played up the features it believes set the search engine apart. Simply put, the company seems to inject Bing everywhere it can. Bing is integrated into the Windows operating system, Microsoft Office, and Xbox consoles. “When you talk to Xbox and give it voice commands, that’s Bing technology behind the scenes,” Erickson said. That technology can also be found “under the hood” providing search results for Yahoo and Apple’s Siri, he said.
As Microsoft seeks to make Bing more pervasive, Kroll said the development team learns what users care about through real-time tests with a portion of the public, as well as work in research labs. “You see if they know where to look, if they know what to click on, if it makes sense to them or not,” he said. Learning how people outside the team interact with the site’s design helps avoid developing ideas as if in an insular bubble, Kroll said.
Engineers may be experts at gearing up the mechanics behind Web pages, but paying attention to the way design affects technology is getting special attention from Microsoft. “Our goal is to make it easy for people to understand what they’re looking at,” Kroll said. For Bing, the new design needed to be unobtrusive and draw out information in effective ways, he said. The influence of trends, he said, can also reveal how people use technology, including search engines.
“Trends really are the driving force of every creative business,” said Galindo, pointing to the desire among many consumers for products with quick, timely appeal. Technology such as smartphones has also made its mark on what trends move the design world, he said, allowing consumers to share immediate opinions on new items. “The [fashion] business has changed for us,” Galindo said. “There’s a lot more awareness of what people want.” In the past, designers might show their collections but not know the public’s reaction until products got to the retail floor—sometimes six months later. “Now it’s instantaneous,” he said. “Everyone’s favorite accessory is the asexual phone.”
The pursuit of style and flair, though, needs a touch of temperance, said Bromstad, who compared trends to candy: “You love to eat them, but you don’t want to have it as your daily consumption of food because otherwise you’re just going to get sick of it.” Design can become boring, he said, without trends to inspire new directions.
Increased attention to elegance in form, alongside function, has helped technology find more complementary roles in people’s lives, Bromstad said. “We used to design huge rooms around TVs that stuck out four feet,” he said. “Now TVs can be [like] picture frames that have a piece of art when it’s not playing something.” Such improved visual appeal makes it easier for designers to work with technology, he said.
By making gadgets with a slimmer, trimmer, and much lighter footprint, Abramovitch said, incorporating devices into homes can be much less disruptive. “You had to rip out your walls and change all the wiring when adding new state-of-the-art technology for a while,” she said. “I’m waiting for a totally wireless TV.”
Even thermostats for the home have taken on sleeker looks, she said, thanks in part to Tony Fadell, former senior vice president at Apple who was on the team that developed early versions of the iPod and iPhone. Fadell’s Nest thermostats, which can be controlled by smartphones, learn the temperatures that suit users in addition to having a chic appearance. “It’s the tip of the iceberg of what we’re going to see in the home,” Abramovitch said.
Adler said technology has also made his work easier, giving him ways to collaborate with others or search for inspiration. “Back in the day when I wanted to research an artist, I would shut down the studio, go to the public library, and spend half a day,” he said. “Now I go to Bing Images and I can just go to the Web.”
João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @jpruth.