Design team for Microsoft’s Surface Pro is led by a non-traditional ‘food concept’ guy

by David Needle

July 28 2014

Ralf Groene, who now leads the Microsoft Surface tablet design team, once designed "food concepts" for people on the go.
Ralf Groene, who now leads the Microsoft Surface tablet design team, once designed "food concepts" for people on the go.

Microsoft has been thinking outside the box when it comes to its Surface Pro tablet, Windows Phone and software.

The team behind the look and feel of Microsoft’s Surface tablet is led by Ralf Groene who earlier in his career designed "food concepts” for people on the go such as dried noodles that come wrapped around a pair of chopsticks, according to an in-depth profile by the Associated Press. His other designs included a tubular meal that can be pulled with two fingers from a car cup holder base and a fork that squeezes out sauce.

Though none of these ideas made it into commerical production, the principles behind them can be applied to computing devices, software and services to address the needs of people with busy lives, says Groene, 

"Surface is trying to dissolve into your day,” says Groene who has been working at Microsoft in product design since 2006 and previously held designer roles at the highly-regarded design firms IDEO and Frog Design. 

(See also: Surface Pro 3 early reviews: Impressive device, but not a full tablet and laptop replacement)

Apple has long been considered the gold standard when it comes to computer design, but Microsoft has been investing heavily to catch up. Over the past four years the software giant has doubled the number of designers on its payroll to 1,400. Many of them, like Groene, don’t have traditional computer engineer backgrounds, instead covering such diverse fields as filmmaking, food and footwear.

Design improvements in Microsoft's Surface Pro

Microsoft’s latest tablet, the Surface Pro 3 (see photo above) released in June, sports a number of design improvements. For example, clicking the tablet’s stylus launches Microsoft’s OneNote note-taking app, so it's instantly ready to take notes or scribble on. Microsoft also added a new bar magnet on the keyboard cover and the tablet’s kickstand now has a wider range of motion making it easier to position on your lap or other surfaces. 

On the software side, the AP article says the next update to Windows 8.1 will make greater use of live tiles. Pressing Start in desktop mode will bring up several live tiles in the pop-up menu from which you’ll be able to launch touch-first apps in what has been more of a mouse-and-keyboard environment. 

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David Needle is the Editor of TabTimes and based in Silicon Valley.
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