Critiquing the Office 2007
On Nov 28, 2006, at 12:48 PM, David Malouf wrote:
There is a lot of published detail that is quite convincing about how
they came to this design and what problems they are hoping to solve
from earlier Office designs.
It's convincing about the problems they were trying to solve, but not
convincing about the approach they took to solve them. In other
words, I understand the problems they were trying to solve, but don't
think they went about it in the correct way.
1. Their first problem is with the application. From the article on
MS's own site:
"...Now that the programs do so much more, the menus and toolbars
system does not work as well. Too many program features are too hard
for many users to find. For this reason, the overriding design goal
for the new user interface is to make it easier for people to find
and use the full range of features these applications provide. In
addition, we wanted to preserve an uncluttered workspace that reduces
distraction for users so they can spend more time and energy focused
on their work."
Okay, their first problem is the approach of quantity over quality.
They just don't get it. More isn't better. Exposing 55 different
actions on the outset for word processing seems a bit overkill.
Quality over quantity.
Also, I don't find this very "webby" at all except to say that
"webby" means conventionless and this being a new convention without
a lot of precident would confirm that.
It's very web-like in it's approach to use a web-like tab metaphor to
arrange the ribbon. MS isn't innovating here, they're recycling a
convention that's been used on the web for about a decade now. I'm
not saying that there's anything wrong w/tabs on the web, they work
for websites, it just seems like they're going backwards instead of
innovating and moving forwards.
Lastly, the ribbon is only a small part of the changes they've done
to office and to look at the Ribbon as the only major change to me
feels also very surface as a critique.
I'm simply commenting on the ribbon as that was the main focus of the
article on MS's own site.
They did take a tactile "task-based" approach, which I agree with.
We've used that, tested it, and it has proven to perform well for the
applications we've designed. But performance testing is more than
just "Can they access 132 features faster than the prior version?"
It's really about total productivity. And if that interface is
getting in the way of them working w/their document instead of
getting out of the way, then that's a problem.
It is possible to do both - provide access to the features and get
out of the way. This approach is just too in your face, which again,
is in opposition to their goal:
"...will feature a streamlined, uncluttered workspace that minimizes
distraction and enables people to achieve the results they want more
quickly and easily."
My own take after using Office 2007 almost exclusively for a few
months now is that while the beta was buggy the premises were very
1. See before you do is REALLY helpful.
Yes, this is one of our guiding principles we refer to as "Predict
before you click." So, live preview is great.
2. The tabs and associated ribbon as a way of presenting things in a
more discoverable fashion does work over time. It has a learning
curve, but that curve definitely pays off.
I think grouping is a good presentation model. I just think they
could have taken a better approach and put the "ribbon" to the right
and not eaten up additional precious vertical space. MM and Adobe
have used tabs to group things for years. In fact, I think Adobe
holds a patent on that model (at least on tear away and regroupable
tabs). But their approach of putting these at the fringe of the
screen (edges) versus the top works better. The functions shouldn't
be the focus - they're an accessory. MS is making them the focus,
which is on opposition to their stated goals.
3. text formatting widgets as overlay within the text editing space
is GREAT! No longer having to go "all the way" back to the top for
the toolbar to do things like bullets and alignment and other primary
formatting changes is brilliant.
With palettes at the side you don't have to go all the way to the top.
...Things that I miss from the Mac Office 2004 version is the right
panel palettes akin to Adobe software. Since our screens are wider
than they are high and since Word and PPT docs seem to be vertically
focused, using this right space seemed to work better than the
That's my point. And I'm not sure I agree with Excel documents being
more horizontal. Most of the Excel documents we create as well as the
ones we get from clients tend to be more vertical in nature - maybe
10-30 columns wide (wider than Word docs), but hundreds to thousands
of rows long.
Over all, licensing aside, I really like the new version of Office.
It is a bold move for a company that has been locked with its legacy
for way too long in the Windows space. They did 1000's of hours of
research for this project, and I wouldn't want to be so quip with
snubbing it out of hand.
I agree it's bold. I just see it as a step backwards in many ways. I
do see and agree with their challenges, I just think they took the
wrong approach - more is better, expose more. Their stated goal is
uncluttered, but that's not what they produced. And I don't deny that
they did 1000s of hours of research for this project, but having
spoken with several researchers at MS, I know the disconnect between
the research data they provide and what gets implemented.
Personally, I think a company with their presence has a duty to their
customers to create better application design than they do. MS just
doesn't get design. Apple does. Mercedes does. Adobe does sometimes,
more than MS, less than Apple. MS is like the Chrysler of the
software industry - they can't make quality, so they try and focus on
sexy. But MS can't even get that right.
There is so much potential for them. They're just missing the boat.
Consider me an idealist if you will, but I believe that interaction
design can be better than it is in most applications today. And I for
one, will keep fighting the good fight.
PS. While I do think that Apple's Pages application excels over MS
Word in many ways, I think the palettes used in Pages are not a good
design solution. They're not efficient for moving between options for
formatting, especially in Keynote. I did recently learn of an
undocumented feature that allows you to have multiple palettes open
at once, which helps, but it's still not optimal.
Todd Zaki Warfel
Partner, Design & Usability Specialist
Messagefirst | designing and usability consulting
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.
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