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 • •

Don Norman’s Keynote and Storytelling with Kevin Brooks at UX Week 2008

Awesome talk. Don Norman starts pointing that we should refer to “People” instead of “User”, even though he’s the one who coined the term User Experience long time ago.

“We design for people, not for users!”

The great thing in being here watching Don talk is that I am a firm believer of everything he says (and a huge fan). I mean, we usually care about how people will think about our product, but in fact, we should care about how will people feel about using it. We are talking about emotions here, and how do people take those emotions into their lives.

One key statement on the presentation that goes with it is that a positive experience is based on memory, not on reality. So he took the iPhone example, it really lacks some important features (even more on the first version), but what you take of it is a good memory, hence a good experience.

So shouldn’t we start thinking about how can we print good feelings in our audiences mind? Uniqueness should be a key factor in my opinion. If you develop something unique or even dress up something in a unique manner, it feels to me it’s more likely to be remembered.

In the Storytelling workshop with Kevin Brooks, he told us that we need to craft our audience. One of the key points Kevin made was about Imagery, how we should use images when telling stories to bring the experience to be more sensorial. That words don’t count, images do. When you tell a story, people are not building plots, they’re building images. Images make stories more vivid in the head of the audience. So we all should be “Imagetellers” instead.

If that is true, shouldn’t we try to think about more visual interfaces, with very simple animations just to tell a story (being very careful on this one) or how to get the interface to be more sensorial? It seems to me that if we do that, the product will stick to memory with ease and people can build up images from that.

One other key point in Kevin’s speech is that the storyteller has to connect with passion if he wants to have the audience.

If we bring back from april’s MX Conference the talk from Chip Heath, author of “Made to Stick”, we’ll remember that ideas that stick have the following:

- Simplicity
- Uniqueness
- Credible
- Concreteness
- Emotional
- Story

Look how it converges:
- The imagery Kevin told us about brings Concreteness and addresses the sensorial side, thus the Emotional;
- When you connect to passion, your story gets credible. People see it;
- We are conveying ideas as stories here, so check the Story bullet;
- Uniqueness comes from Don Norman’s speech in my opinion, as I have already stated;
- Simplicity. Well, I’ve heard from all of them, read lots of times and have my own personal flag waving to my team and colleagues;

Now let’s put this whole post in a blender. Check how we always relate to emotional states or in the end, that’s what counts.

So I think all of us, UX designers, should give priority in understanding psychology and how to connect with people, instead of going freestyle or just following the products and technology that found their place in the sun.

13 08.2008 • •
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