Inside the design of Windows Live Photo Gallery 2011

Inside the design of Windows Live Photo Gallery 2011

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ZDNet’s Ed Bott penned a very thorough comparison of Photo Gallery 2011 and iPhoto ‘11 in The Ed Bott Report this past week. While he doesn’t go so far as to declare a winner, he highlights some clear advantages to our design approach. In a lot of ways, his experience and analysis reflects what we set out to achieve with the design. We thought it would be worthwhile to provide a little back story on how we ended up where we did so that folks could compare Ed’s analysis with how it really unfolded.

In the beginning

Looking at Photo Gallery 2008, we knew it was a good candidate for the ribbon. The product has a lot to offer, so the trick was to expose capabilities in a way that allowed users to use them easily. We needed to understand which parts of the product were being used the most, observe and listen to people who couldn’t do what they wanted to do, and then design a product to accommodate both of these needs and desires. This is exactly what teams did in Office 2007 when the ribbon was first introduced.

We had four major design principles as we began the design of Photo Gallery 2011.

Windows 7

A big part of Photo Gallery is about organizing photo and videos, so it was important that we reflect the new file library investments made in Windows 7. Whatever file structure users might create in the Windows File Explorer is maintained inside of Photo Gallery. Vice versa, any new folder structures made inside of Photo Gallery are reflected in Explorer.

Ed touches on this a bit in the beginning of page two of his post where he mentions the left navigation pane as he compares it to iPhoto. The symmetry of folder structures between Photo Gallery and File Explorer makes it easy for users to access their photos and videos in a familiar and predictable way. We know from countless interactions with our customers that people want to have control over the locations of their files. With that control comes confidence that they can organize, find, and enjoy their photos.

Learn from Photo Gallery 2008

Using telemetry data from Photo Gallery 2008 gave us a real leg up on how to structure and organize the overall design of the product and the ribbon in particular. This data basically told us which commands were used most frequently so that we could make sure the most useful features were just a click or two away. (You can read more about telemetry and how we use it in this post from Steven Sinofsky.) There was also a recent post on how the ribbon for the Explorer in Windows 8 leveraged telemetry to arrive at its new design.

Most used commands

This is telemetry data taken from Photo Gallery 2008. If we look at the top ten commands used, it becomes clear right away that navigating, viewing, and managing are prominent. This gave us good insights that these commands needed to be readily accessible in the Home tab. In fact, the usage of these commands is so prevalent that we thought it necessary to duplicate most of them in the status bar so that they’re available no matter which tab you might have selected in the ribbon.

Status bar when in list view
Status bar when in list view.

Status bar when looking at a single photo
Status bar when looking at a single photo.

Ed alludes to a bit of this at the end of page two of his analysis where he points out the number of options available at any one time in Photo Gallery is about one third of those available in iPhoto when the ribbon is collapsed. We’ve seen a lot of customers choose to work this way. But what’s more compelling than the sheer number is the commands themselves. It’s not only that there should be a relatively small number of commands always available, but that it’s the right set commands available when users need them.


A big focus point of our design was better enabling people to effectively narrow a large set of photos down to the few they care to share. We asked, “how can users get from 400 photos of their latest vacation to the 40 they care about to the 10 they want to share?” We knew the ribbon could help steer people through that process. This is represented most prominently on the Home tab as each chunk alludes to the flow of managing photos from left to right: New, Manage, Organize, Quick Find, and Share. Naming the chunks in the home tab is important, but it’s even more important to get the names of the top level tabs right. So it was good to see Ed give attention to the View tab.

He zeroed in on the View tab, stating, “Both programs give you the capability to sort and group the display of photos in the pane on the right. Changing the sort order, viewing details such as ratings and captions, organizing photos with tags/keywords… These are among the most common tasks you’re likely to do with either program.” Here again he points out the advantages of the ribbon over traditional cascading menus. On the Home tab we also introduced the notion of flagging files. This is a good example in which we used the ribbon not only to expose frequently-used capabilities, but to introduce new capabilities. One of the quickest ways to narrow a set of photos down is to quickly flag them. It takes the stress out of rating or even deciding to keep or delete a given file.

Using the 400-40-10 model, you can easily flag 40 or so favorite files of the 400 imported in the Home tab.

Flag a photo from the ribbon

Then you can use Quick find on the Home tab to view those flagged items.

Quick find - flagged

When I flag my photos in Photo Gallery, I just use Quick find and then use the Insert key on the keyboard to flag the files I care about. This way I can keep one hand on the Insert key and the other on the arrow keys and then simply arrow to the photo I like and flag it. As Ed points out, the number of clicks to do these kinds of operations is minimized with the ribbon versus cascading menus. But in this case, I only have to use the mouse once to view the files I care about! And I’m not the only one taking advantage of flagging. Taking a dip into our Photo Gallery 2011 telemetry on September 8th, 2011, we see Flag showing up among the most frequently used commands on the Home tab.

Graph of most used view commands

People matter

The organization of the Home tab really sets the tone for app, so making sure it was designed to reflect our “400-40-10” goal played into this. We made big investments in face recognition and face tagging in this release as well, so we wanted the Faces gallery control in the Quick Find chunk to have prominence.

Faces gallery

And as you can see, while Flagging has become popular, so has using faces to find people.

Graph of most used view commands

Introducing face recognition in Photo Gallery 2011 has been a true delighter for our users. It provides another way for users to easily find, enjoy, and share the photos of the people they care the most about.

We’re not done

Ed’s article, the comments, feedback from customers, and our own telemetry data all remind us that our work is not done. While overall we’re happy with where we landed with the design, everyday usage patterns help to tell a more evolved story. We knew editing in Photo Gallery 2008 was not easily accessible, so we predicted that having it show up as the first tab after Home would result in a boost in usage. That much is true.

Graph of most used edit commands

Again, looking at telemetry data from September 8th, 2011, we see that people very frequently double click on a photo to edit. The top ten most-used commands are edit commands. It’s not until you get to command number 18 that Delete shows up.

Graph of most used edit commands

Some of these numbers are deceiving in that editing operations often involve experimentation. And with that iteration, comes a flood of data. The fact remains, editing is very popular. As Ed points out on page four of his post, the ribbon makes editing easy, too. With live previews, it’s easy for users to preview an effect before committing to it with a click.

Adjust exposure with preview
Hovering over the various exposure adjustments will automatically preview various aspects of brightness, shadows and highlights in a photo without clicking.

As we look at the data and listen to customers, we ponder how the design of Photo Gallery could evolve. We could look at the data and decide to trade off some of the lesser-used organization features for editing features in the Home tab. Or we could look at the data and decide people are successful at doing what they want to do. After all, once they’ve opened a file to edit, the Edit tab is the Home tab!

The Edit tab

Clearly there are lots of ways to look at this. And we do. With research studies, customer feedback, and telemetry data, our work doesn’t have to be guess work. Ed’s right: “Everyone has an opinion about user interfaces,” and it turns out his own opinions are backed not only by his own experience, but by data. Reading Ed’s reverse engineering of our design decisions bolsters our confidence that we’re moving in the right direction. We by no means have it all figured out, but we do learn as we go. So by all means keep the feedback coming.

Brad Weed
Group Program Manager
Windows Live Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, and Writer

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  • 7flavor
    352 Posts

    I forgot to mention this. Probably the biggest limitation of Photo Gallery is that you cannot view a slideshow of pictures in a UAC virtualization protected folder location. Can you fix this please?

  • 7flavor
    352 Posts

    Two things that come to mind are in Live Photo Gallery, you can't manually arrange the pictures in the order you want and you can't export pictures to another format. Both of these can be done in Picasa.

  • @ggrieg - er, the hierarchical browsing/management of tags via the Navigation Pane is still there, just as it was in earlier versions. However, now it's an option, which is turned off by default. To turn it on, just go into the Options, and it's a checkbox setting on the General tab...

    @jader3rd - I think "Flagging" is intended for a different purpose than "Star Ratings". For example, I use Flagging to select photos that I want to work on as a batch. Also, unlike Star Ratings, the Flag setting is only held in the WLPG database - it is NOT written out into the photo files as metadata.

  • Nora
    4 Posts

    @Brad Weed

    Many of the requests in the comments have been there since XP days but your team seems to be slow to address them. I am happy to see that you are taking the list again and this along with the features the Photo Galley team has already promised in the help forum and in that one tweet after the last release your next release shold be good. I would hate to see the Photo Gallery team rest on it's recient success when compared to Picasa or Apple and not have many of the features others have listed here along with the ones the team takes about after the last release.

    I am really hoping for the improvements in how tagging works with faces. If you have a lot of photos it takes a long time since you are always switching from mouse to keyboard and back again. Clearly this feature was not completely finished last release and with a little effort I hope you make it work as well as you did in adding the ribbon to the product.

  • Lots of good suggestions here. I have a few of my own requests.

    1. When editing place the original in a hidden folder in the same location as the photo or make it an option. As it is now the original is placed in side my user profile, my photos are on a network share and complications can arise if two people edit the same photo... which user profile has the original?

    2. The close photo button is a big red X... just like the delete button. That is too easy to get confused, delete should be a garbage can.

    3. I like how picasa's pinning feature works... the flags work similar in WPG 2011 but in Picasa the pinned photos show up as thumbnails at the bottom of the screen so one can easily remember which photos were pinned.

  • I really miss the hierarchical browsing/management of tags that was in earlier versions, as well as for folders.

  • John
    26 Posts

    Why not include a simple full screen mode (non slide show) which has touch gestures to browse throught the photos including pinch and zoom. I still prefer Irfan View to view photos, because it launches super fast and has a quick full screen mode by pressing enter. I wish that would be possible with Live Photo Gallery.

  • jader3rd
    24 Posts

    I'm surpised about the flagging a picture feature. If I want to figure out which pictures I like the best wouldn't I rate the pictures with the star raitings and then only share the 4/5 star pictures?

  • Minime
    3 Posts

    Forget my previous post... tagging several times...when I think about it.. just need it once ;-)

  • gorzko
    24 Posts

    It would be really nice to easily sync photos with SkyDrive. And I mean a "smart" sync. Now, when I tagged few gigabytes of my old photos, I have to re-upload them all over again... It would be really cool, if WLPG could just simply update metadata of those photos :-)

  • Minime
    3 Posts

    Hi, just a short note to ask you to allow to tag several times the same person in one photo. Because, I scan in one time several old photos in order to archive them (and so I get one jpg file with several photos) BUT, at the moment it is impossible to tag more than once the same person.. Thx

  • I have to use Picasa a lot because I like 16x10 photos for my desktop monitor. Picasa has that crop setting, WLPG doesn't. And yes, to echo Vieya, can something be done to fix Windows Live Movie Maker? Its constant error messages and lack of a timeline/narration make it the embarrassing dog of the Live family.

  • Drazick
    16 Posts

    I wish you add lossless rotation ofJPEG photos.

  • drankurn
    42 Posts

    i would like to see atleast 2 features, would make it really useful.

    handling of RAW files, when i have both JPEG and RAW files of the same image - i would like to WLPG to hide all the RAW files by default or give us choice of selecting it, and than you can give option of opening RAW by right click or something like that, right now both types are visible by default and when i am scrolling through we have to basically go through the same image twice and on top of that WLPG takes couple of seconds processing the RAW file every single time.

    when we are looking at the library in folder view, all the folders are in alphabetical order, which is not useful at all when you have a large no. of images, so it would be very helpful if we can view the folder by date taken.

  • abm
    268 Posts

    "Find duplicates files" and "batch file rename" are the two features that I would like to see in the next update of WLPG as well as the upcoming WindOS8.

  • @ Brad Weed

    We (my partners and myself) have filed numerous times the feature requests and the suggestions for improvements since the first appearance of WLPG in 2009.

    They have never been taken into account.

    I will list the major ones once again (one never knows ...).

    Cropping a picture :

    In Picasa we can set our own cropping proportions, we can even add them to the predefined proportions.

    It means that we can make a crop with a proportion of e.g. 12 by 7.35 or whatever other proportion we want.

    Importing pictures from our TWAIN flatbed scanner.

    With WLPG it can only be done from a WIA scanner, but no scanner manufacturers provide WIA drivers for their scanners.

    Picasa can import pictures from a TWAIN scanner.

    A Double click on a photo in "Windows Explorer " opens the Photo Gallery Viewer.

    When we want to edit the photo, we have to go via the "Edit, organize or share tab" which is ridiculous.

    The Edit function should bring us directly to the Edit screen.

    Sending a picture via e-mail results by default in a Photo e-mail.

    There is no way to change that default into attached photos instead of photo e-mail.

    Flip feature is not available.



  • I like the Photo Gallery a lot, but there is one big drawback: Filtering is done using only OR. I want to do filters like "Vacation 2010" and "Lisa".

    The functionality in the Microsoft Digital Image Suite was brilliant. It used OR and AND automatically in a very smart fashion. It is a pity you didn't implement the same functionality in the new Photo Gallery.

  • Bruno H
    6 Posts

    Please make Geotagging better! Just typping a name of a city is not good enoug. I want a map to soom in on so that I can pinpoint where I took those photos. Today I use Microsoft Pro Photo Tools because of this feature. Also it would be nice to be able to se a gographical view of where all your photos are taken.

    Bruno Horvat

  • I agree woth @7flavor and @frankwick. WLPG slideshow quality and transitions has really gone down. Also, there should be faster updates for MS products rather than once in a year release.

  • DannyBoy
    16 Posts

    @Brad Weed

    I can't speak for the others, but I also chose Picasa over WLPG for one simple reason: it takes 5+ seconds to load WLPG while Picasa opens almost instantly on my netbook. Since I use it more as a photo viewer more than an editor, speed is of utmost importance. For actual photo editing, I prefer dedicated editors like Paint.NET or Hornil StylePix.

  • SDreamer
    11 Posts

    I just recently started using WLPG a bit more since I went on vacation with my family. I used it to manage photos and touch some up on the go, and stich photos. I have to say it works pretty darn well. I did find some shortcomings with using it though. I used it to upload to my Skydrive, this isn't WLPG directly, but WLPG should sync with Skydrive, and Skydrive needs to have better photo sharing, as in full screen slideshows. It lost a lot between the transition to HTML 5, which I find a pity. I think of Skydrive as an extension of WLPG. Also one HUGE thing I really hated is the lack of touch panning in WLPG. I have an HP tm2t, a convertible touch screen tablet with active digitizer. It doesn't work with touch panning, nor even "flicks." The navigation pane on the left works with it, but the thumbnails don't. Also another thing that bugged me that almost made be go use Picasa for everything was the fact that Date Taken was by default disabled. I don't know what statistics you guys looked at, but I think most people look for photos by dates, and not by the folder it's stored in. I think both Folder Hierchy and Date Taken should be shown by default. It wasn't apparent I could show this because it wasn't in the View tab. I just happened to stumble across it when I was trying to configure import settings. I think this is a huge disadvantage for most users who want to find their photos easily. It takes way too many clicks, and way too many different combinations using the Find tab to accomplish this. If users want to be able to just scroll through months quickly, the Date Taken in the Navigation Pane is the way to go. The other way is to click the year, then the month in the Find tab, this takes twice as many clicks, as you have to click Month then the Month, instead of just clicking the Month directly like you could in the Navi Pane.

  • vieya
    44 Posts

    Fix windows live movie maker please. It's too simplified to the point you can't do much with it. No timeline and only good for bad choppy videos.

    You guys need a garageband like program for music. digital audio station for windows live.

  • @frankwick

    As Brad mentions we hear your suggestions. I want to add a follow up to two of your points though:

    If you're using RAW, read-only or file types that don't support metadata writeback it is true that the metadata is separate from the images but with normal jpegs the data should be in the files so you don't lose it when you move to a new computer. If you use Windows Easy Transfer to transfer your collection of photos between PC's that also ensures the database gets transfered over so you don't lose metadata such as people tags and star ratings that are only stored in our database.

    The login prompt in Photo Gallery is not a requirement, users should be able to cancel out of it and after 3 prompts it will never show again so hopefully that shouldn't block you from using it.

  • Brad Weed
    18 Posts

    @ Site-Jumper : It would be great if you could list out the things you went to Picasa for.  Those lists are super useful.

  • Brad Weed
    18 Posts

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone.  It's great to see all the suggestions.  A good chunk of these are things are consistent with similar feedback we've received, so it's great to see affirmation.  There are also some new requests including a few as a result of the new design.  It's through channel like these that we start to form new opinions on how to approach future releases, so keep it coming.  This gets to the question Sven was asking about how we get feedback on capabilities that are not yet in the product.  We talk, listen and learn; observe, understand and prototype; iterate, validate and refine.  So while this post talks a lot about how we use "high volume" data streams to help make decisions, a big part of what we do also involves "high touch" with customers.

  • I have used WLPG for some time in 2009/2010.

    I switched to Picasa however because it has a couple of very basic features that are not present in WLPG.

  • w1ngnut
    25 Posts

    WLPG is a great tool! However, there are some items I would like to see in the future:

    1. ability to adapt to current theme automatically (instead of all the blueness);

    2. ability to detect which pics are already on Sky Drive;

    3. ability to load a full catalog from Sky Drive on a clean install.

    Plus other improvements are also always welcome.

    Great work!

  • I love Windows Live Photo Gallery.  Sadly I had to move to Photoshop as I started working more with RAW images.  I know the CODEC was released recently but it still lacks the features I was looking for.  Granted part of that is because of Sony's RAW format.  However once I have the image tweaked and saved for web I use Windows Live Photo Gallery for sharing and presenting the images.  Keep up the great work!

  • frankwick
    37 Posts

    My wife is professional photographer who uses WLPG to triage/organize/sort/rank her images.  It is a really nice solution for managing her THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of images ( I mean THOUSANDS).   The best feature which no one talks about is the speed at which images can be viewed.  I would expect any program to operate quickly with 1,000 images, but WLPG flys with many more.  

    She typically does her triage and sorting using the "star" rating system.  Good photos get 4 stars, great photos get 5 stars, and so on.

    It is a good program but it is not perfect.

    - I learned the hard way (twice) that meta data is stored separately of the images.  So, all the people tagging and star ratings were lost when I moved the images to a new computer.

    - I would like to see a feature that looks for duplicate images and let's you take action.

    - Dropping a photo on to a tag is good, but why can't you drop a tag on to a photo?  Afterall, you are "tagging a photo" not "photoing a tag."

    - I am desktop architect for a Fotune 500 company.  Basically. I get to pick what software goes on the corporate image.  I cannot use WLPG in the image because of the login requirement.  I could find no install switch to bypass the Live login prompt.  So, I would like to see more control of the features and settings for mass deployments.

    - Why can't WLPG sync to SkyDrive? I would like to see it sync photo and meta data.

    - I would also like to see more regular updates.  One of the arguments of pulling the products out of the OS was to shorten release cycles.  Haven't see this happen yet.

  • Sven
    54 Posts

    What a great insight into what is done with all that data that comes in from the feedback options in many, if not most, MS products. Not just for Photo Gallery, but this process is repeated over Office, IE, and even Windows Phone. I always opt to let MS get that feedback, even though what I want to do doesn't appear to be what everyone else wants to do. At least i believe my voice is heard. Love to see more of this sort of analysis from the other program areas.

    Guess a question is how do you discover and rank the desire for things that can't be done now? Obviously you can't get feedback on things that you can't do. Controlz comment is an example, as would be tethering in WP7.

  • Thom
    31 Posts

    A few things on my wish list :)

    I wish I could fine tune, tag & caption all in one pane. That way I wouldn't have to run through my photos twice (or more) when getting them ready for facebook.

    I also wish I could auto-resize when sharing to facebook. It takes too long on my 2mb broadband connection to upload 50 10mpx photos. At the moment I am using a seperate phot resizing add-in but that leads to duplicates and is a process I could do without.

    It would also be nice to have some kind of webcam tab on the ribbon so I can take photos immediately with my friends and have some fun with them straight away.

    Finally I would like to see the Office 2010 style ribbon used with a backstage too. That looks much more contempory than the vista style File menu you have at the moment.

    Keep up he good work!

    (p.s. @controlz: you could use Windows Live Mesh to do what you want)

  • 7flavor
    352 Posts

    The reason I don't use WLPG 2011 and use the 2009 version is the slideshow quality and transitions. The transitions from WLPG 2009 (collage, travel etc) were much more exciting and diverse. WLPG 2011 slideshow feature is based on the Movie Maker engine and all the transitions are mostly variations of pan and scan). The quality of slideshows is also visibly lower than WLPG 2009 and MS acknowledge this in their Windows Live forums. Hopefully, the higher quality slideshows and all of the excellent old transitions will return to WLPG in a future version.

  • controlz
    145 Posts

    It would be great if you could view your photos on SkyDrive in Photo Gallery.