Microsoft Office’s “Ribbon”, Word 1.0 Unleashed and Some Apple-ish Findings

Jensen Harris’ talk at UX Week was a great one. He cycled through all the releases of MS Word, since 1.0 to the latest version, in which MS introduced a new UI paradigm: the Ribbon.

Word 1.0 rocks!

I must say that was really amazed when MS Word 1.0 user interface showed up in the screen: it was impressively simple and straightforward! My first reaction was to wonder if I could buy a copy of that version! Maybe we could open a Vintage Software Online Store…

In the talk, Jensen made clear, in a humorous way, how MS failed to realize that the UI paradigm used for the initial releases couldn’t stand the huge amount of new features that were being offered in each new version of the software. Then he showed how they managed to break it and think out of the box.

In my humble opinion, they have also failed along the years to realize that many of those features were not that important and could be left aside.
It happens every day, in lots of companies (including mine): “The user might like this and that as well, so why don’t we give him options?…”

This is the start point for a featuritis plague.

Barry Schwartz, who wrote “The Paradox of Choice”, says that, as freedom of choice is supposed to be good, we assume that more choices empower the user, offer a better service and give freedom, but in fact that’s not true. When the amount of options increases up to a certain level, it can generate paralysis on the user’s mind. One gets afraid of selecting an option that is not the better one, and much more effort is needed to make a decision. Sometimes the user will just leave.

There’s a good quote I’ve heard at Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini’s Interaction Design Course (Nielsen/Norman’s Usability Week 05) that was something like “If it’s not completely necessary to the user, it’s noise”. This is true. I have made myself a big favor and sticked a post-it in my mind with that.

Well, Jensen told that it took over a year for MS to get it right… and they did. Based on new design tenents, the team made lots of prototypes to rest assured the final version would be “Beyond Good Enough”. Now that’s really good: prototyping, testing, prototyping, testing again… The results?

Top feedback:

1) Makes it easier to create professional looking docs
2) More fun to use
3) More enjoyable\fewer steps to get things accomplished
4) More intuitive
5) More easy to find and discover new functionalities

What I really enjoy seeing is that each and every bullet has a link to people’s feelings. Come with me:

1) I feel more powerful
2) I have fun
3) I enjoy getting the work done
4) I understand it. I don’t feel dumb
5) It surprises me

…and all of this can be found in the DNA of an Apple product. :)
Ok, I’m a big Apple fan, but come on, they’ve been around for a while thinking about people, human factors and conditions.

Well, definetely not only Microsoft but lots of other companies are moving beyond feature-driven products to experience-driven products and services. It’s easier when you live to see that iPod got a huge market share offering no new technology, but simplicity and aesthetics that talk to the heart and a seamless experience that goes way beyond the device itself.

18 08.2008 • •

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