Microsoft’s Baby Duck Dilemma

Microsoft, it can finally be said, has done something absolutely revolutionary: they’ve created a computer. Microsoft, it can also be said, has done something that will absolutely overshadow that achievement: they’ve redesigned Windows, drastically.

Apparently, the new operating system is easier to use than anything Microsoft had previously released. The problem, however, is that Microsoft’s users spent years mastering the clunky design that was/is Windows. Asking them to change from the clumsy yet familiar layout of Windows’ previous versions is shaping up to be a real problem for the software giant.

This phenomenon even has a name: baby duck syndrome. Baby duck syndrome refers to the tendency for computer users to imprint on the first system they learn and then judge other systems by their similarity to that first one.

Many Windows users have spent years figuring out the wonky nuances of the world’s most popular operating system. Now, in one fell swoop, Microsoft is forcing these same people to throw away all that accumulated habit and adopt radically new routines. Like baby ducks, the first thing they call ‘mom’ may not necessarily be warm and fuzzy, but baby duck syndrome means that even Windows can feel comfortable after a number of years.

But baby duck syndrome doesn’t only apply to Windows. This relates to the redesign of any website, app, or program, as well as a whole universe of other systems both online and off. The question for a designer, then, is how do you upgrade a website without alienating existing clients?

Information to the rescue! Once you launch, make sure that your “Help” section is easily available for users who can’t find what they’re looking for. Keep your users aware of what’s to come through newsletters or alerts on the site that point out major changes. An information campaign can highlight WHAT the change is, WHY it’s being made, and HOW it makes the user experience better.  Not only will your users appreciate a light overview of the changes, but it also highlights your commitment to improving your product while staying up with the times. That’s literally a win-win-win-win situation, and surely one to shake a tail feather at. Quack?