As a designer I have to give Microsoft props conceptually for producing the new tilt screen, multi-modal MS Surface Studio. They appear to have upped the ante on Apple recognizing that creatives absolutely need a large workspace. Let’s take a closer look…

I recently saw Microsoft’s new product and thought, how cool, they went with the metaphor of the drafting table. A what? For those uninitiated with how 20th century designers, engineers, and illustrators created, here’s a look:

So why did seeing this product initially excite me enough to write about it? Well going back in time I was in the last class at Ohio State to learn drafting with actual pencils and pounce bags on a drafting table before moving to drafting on computers. A few years later while in grad school at Georgia Tech, I hurried to borrow a friend’s truck to save a ~$2,500 electric adjustable drafting table from an execution date with a dumpster. Yes they were just THROWING THEM OUT!!!

Fast forward to today and said table is still with me a decade later as the epicenter of my home’s creative space (at right). * Note its ever so slight tilt of ~5 degrees. This will come back into play below in the review.

From the initial discovery I searched out a video demo of the Microsoft Surface Studio at the Windows 10 Event 2016 by the Head of Microsoft Surface Panos Panay and then headed to a local Microsoft Store to hands on see for myself.

At first sight it does seem really cool and a bit exciting to try a new computer modal interface. A MS associate came over showed me about 5 minutes worth of what it can do and then left me to investigate. Here are my thoughts:


  1. Simultaneous multimodal usage! This goes an additional aspect beyond pre-existing W.I.M.P computing in that while it still benefits from a mouse and keyboard, it has contemporary touch screen for gesture UI and a stylus in which they’re used one at a time. The new addition of the Surface Dial enables a user to truly use two hands to interact with the computer simultaneously for creative purposes.
  2. Adjustable Usage: The ability to use it just like a drafting table is stellar design acknowledgement to what creates need to lean in and get designs created and then tilt it up to peruse the web or show off a design. Bravo!
  3. The screen quality is incredible! I pulled up my painting site and you can absolutely see the texture of the canvas and the oil strokes. The screen is 28 inches (4500 x 3000 Resolution).
  4. Gadgets and Speed: a Mouse, Keyboard, magnetic Stylus, and a Zero Gravity Hinge plus at least 8GB of RAM and 1 Terabyte of storage (goes up to 32GB RAM and 2TB).
  5. Quality Hardware Design: Everything seemed well designed and manufactured. The stylish clean design and aluminum parts help aid in the thinking that this is a pretty sleek modern piece of equipment I’d feel gives me a competitive edge over those poor saps still using laptops and monitors.

CONS Now for the bad news…

  1. Screen size: I really think they should have gone bigger. In this day and age of huge low cost flat screen monitors and TV, along with the metaphor of the drafting table, another 6-10 inches of width and 2-6 inches in height would allow the user a better ability to have enough screen real estate to reference a requirements doc, competitive analysis slide deck, or an image from the net without losing precious workspace (such as the 50/50% split above). To be fair perhaps they did studies and assumed users would still have an extra monitor to tie in with this. Assuming the video card supports two screens there’s certainly a workaround.
  2. Screen doesn’t tilt enough: While the Surface Studio doesn’t have a pneumatic kick plate to elevate the surface nor the same 0-90 degree range of motion as a drafting table, the range it has initially seemed to make sense (it need only tilt from the comfortable usage of what looks like 20-85 degrees). But with actual useage the Dial, even with a rubbery bottom, kept slipping down the screen. I think for V2 MS needs to figure how how to add another 5 degrees of tilt.
  3. The price: Not only is the coolest part of this extra (the Dial costs $99), the 3 versions of this start at $2,999 and go up to $4,199. It’s certainly not outrageous, there are $4,000 laptops and one could argue it is an investment in your career; however I’m just not sure I’m sold on it at that price and reading comments in this Wired article I’m not alone. To be frank, creatives typically don’t make as much as other IT and business professionals and/or their team budgets are often quite limited for the value they bring to companies (a whole other topic in and of itself) and students have even less money. The point being I think they’re a bit off for the target buyer for this product and I’ll be curious to see how quickly they come down from that price range. The sales associate did mention they offer financing and a discounted rate for companies. It’s currently available for order now and for delivery in a few weeks.


For UX Design: While I think this would be incredibly useful for visual designers, illustrators, and animators; I would say the jury is still out on how useful this would be for a UX Designer. I could see how the Dial might possibly allow a UX designer to scroll through wireframe screens, or patterns, or JS libraries faster as well as zoom in and out on work. And the stylus could help to speed and communicate concepts as sketches or for storyboarding. But I’d really like to see Axure or UXPin do some integration work with this product and Windows 10 and then produce a video to illustrate how it could mutually add value with their prototyping tools. I’m interested to hear what other UX designers will think.

For Document Navigation: Realistically we all get overloaded with documents to reference so immediately I’m sure it would benefit the user’s ability to review documents faster. The video demo appeared to show that it has Deep Zoom (Sand Codex’s original Seadragon) capability …which is one awesome intuitive capability.

Finally, if any MS Surface Studio team member comes across this… Keep up the great work! It’s the first release and I think there’s some things to adjust in a next version; but overall I’m really impressed with the innovation and design quality. People should definitely get out and try it! And who knows, I just might order in due time.