Fluent UI proposal for Visual Studio raises fears about another botched redesign

Fluent UI proposal for Visual Studio raises fears about another botched redesign

Microsoft is planning to redesign the Visual Studio user interface to make it conform better to the Fluent Design System which is used by Windows.

According to Kaitlin Brooks (Senior Art Director), Cherry Wang (Design Developer) and Dante Gagne (Senior Product Manager), “The current visual language (which hasn’t been updated since Visual Studio 2012) has limitations for many customers. These limitations include small and crowded controls that can be difficult to interact with, visual noise which makes it difficult to focus or identify the active area, and inconsistent state indication that can cause distractions and confusion … by aligning with Fluent, Visual Studio will look and feel more seamless with the rest of the operating system and other Microsoft products.”

The post, along with the associated feedback request, has received a high number of comments, showing how much developers care about the Visual Studio UI – though many are wary, recalling previous redesign efforts like Visual Studio 2012, in which the menus were ALL CAPS, and the colouring of icons so faint that they were hard to tell apart. Then as now, part of the reasoning was “to keep Visual Studio consistent with the direction of other Microsoft user experiences.”

Visual Studio is the second most popular IDE after VS Code, according to a survey by StackOverflow last year, with over 32 percent of developers using it to some extent.

Mock up of the proposed redesign in Dark Mode

The Fluent design system looks elegant, but one contentious issue that goes all the way back to its ancestor “Metro” design in Windows 8 is that it uses more white space and content is less dense – something designers tend to appreciate, but which some developers dislike. “I’m one of these persons who try to remove as much white space as possible, I want all my buttons, menu options, etc… to be as close as possible to minimize mouse movements,” said one. Another observed, “please make this waste of valuable screen space optional, and default it to not using the new style.”

Another common view is that Microsoft should invest in improving the core product rather than revamping its appearance. Issues raised include lack of visual designers for MAUI (Multi-platform App UI) and WinUI, the fact that Visual Studio is still built on .NET Framework rather than .NET Core, and performance and stability issues. “I rarely hear people complaining about VS’s GUI. What I do hear and see often is complaints about performance, bugs … and half working features. Please don’t expend effort here that could be much more usefully spent elsewhere,” said one.

Many developers work with both Visual Studio and VS Code. “Make VS Code and the Visual Studio IDE more similar for those of us having to jump between the two,” asked one dev. VS Code is praised for its clean UI and the fact that all the features are available in a command palette – though Visual Studio also has a command palette (Ctrl+Q), something some devs have missed. “I use Visual Studio, VSCode, Sublime Text, Sublime Merge and Xcode regularly and only the Visual Studio feels like there is too much going on and the screen space is wasted everywhere,” a dev commented.

Others are more appreciative. “I am strongly in favor of this effort! I particularly encourage the distinctive highlighting for current tabs,” said one; and another that it is a “much-needed and very welcome effort … the changes in spacing are very welcome.”

One thing seems certain: it will not be easy for Microsoft to please all its Visual Studio users.