MS Office Fluent user interface

15 Aug 2008 - 9:33am
5 years ago
9 replies
1637 reads
tdellaringa
2006

Happy Friday everyone,

I'm working on an interface for a new product and considering using the MS
fluent user interface as a model instead of your basic menus. I've been
googling it this morning and there's actually a surprising lack of UX
writing on the subject - or I am simply not finding it.

I don't want to use something without having a good understanding of it
first. I did read this from MS

http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/products/HA101679411033.aspx

Which is a fine overview but doesn't quite get too deep. Anyway, I'm
wondering what your thoughts are on the interface. Is it effective? Like or
dislike and why?

We don't have office 07 here but I do have MindJet MindManager which uses
it, so I've been playing around with it. It is certainly different.

One advantage we have is that this is a completely new product, so there is
no preexisting bias for an old interface. Of the things I did find, people
seemed to be upset with the fact that there was no backward compatibility
with the old app. We won't have that issue.

Thanks

Tom

Comments

15 Aug 2008 - 9:50am
tdellaringa
2006

On Fri, Aug 15, 2008 at 9:48 AM, Nick Iozzo <humansize at gmail.com> wrote:

> I am under the impression that MS has many patents on this design. Right or
> wrong is not for this thread, but I would dig into that if you are
> developing any commercial software.
>

Wow, didn't even think of that - thanks for pointing that out. I'll look
into it.

> It is hard to comment on this design from a neutral point of view. I have
> used it for a while, I was very use to the old office design and where to
> find things. I find myself struggling to find things I use to be able to
> find effortlessly. On the other hand, I have found things I never knew
> existed. So it has some benefits.
>
> I look at this design as a merger of client and web app design (e.g., the
> ribbon is just an AJAXian toolbar).
>

A good perspective. Thanks.

15 Aug 2008 - 9:56am
Sterling Koch
2008

> I am under the impression that MS has many patents on this design. Right or
> wrong is not for this thread, but I would dig into that if you are
> developing any commercial software.
>

While that may be true, buying a WinForms/ASP.NET control set like those from DevExpress (my favorite) or Infragistics covers the right to use that design paradigm. Using the DevExpress controls, I do design work on a software product that is more or less a Word/Outlook 07 hybrid/look-alike and we haven't had any problems with that end of things.

> It is hard to comment on this design from a neutral point of view. I have
> used it for a while, I was very use to the old office design and where to
> find things. I find myself struggling to find things I use to be able to
> find effortlessly. On the other hand, I have found things I never knew
> existed. So it has some benefits.
>
> I look at this design as a merger of client and web app design (e.g., the
> ribbon is just an AJAXian toolbar).
>

A good perspective. Thanks.
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15 Aug 2008 - 11:36am
Steven Chalmers
2007

Sterling: I don't believe it is true that buying the Infragistics
XAML controls for the MS Ribbon gives you the right to use that
design paradigm.

We are using the Infragistics package for XAML and found a specific
note in their site that the buyer needs to make arrangements with MS
to use the Ribbon.

I can get the details if needed.

Steven

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15 Aug 2008 - 11:39am
mauropin
2007

> On Fri, Aug 15, 2008 at 11:33 AM, Tom Dell'Aringa <pixelmech at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> I'm working on an interface for a new product and considering using the MS
> fluent user interface as a model instead of your basic menus. [...]
>
> http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/products/HA101679411033.aspx
>
> Which is a fine overview but doesn't quite get too deep. Anyway, I'm
> wondering what your thoughts are on the interface. Is it effective? Like or
> dislike and why?
>
>> On Fri, Aug 15, 2008 at 9:48 AM, Nick Iozzo <humansize at gmail.com> wrote:
>>
>> It is hard to comment on this design from a neutral point of view. I have
>> used it for a while, I was very use to the old office design and where to
>> find things. I find myself struggling to find things I use to be able to
>> find effortlessly. On the other hand, I have found things I never knew
>> existed. So it has some benefits.
>>

Hi Tom,

I'm not the right person to make a comment on the interface. I've
installed this Office version without been aware that it was totally
different from the previous concept, and I got very surprised when I
started using it. But, as Nick, as I'm much more used to the old
model, I thought it would be such a pain to "learn" everything again
in this new interface and decided to use an older version, instead of
trying the new one.

This may be something to think about. To what extent the familiarity
users have with an interface is something that we have to consider
when designing a new proposal? For some users sometimes it's more
important to be familiar with a "not so good" interface than to have
to learn a better one?

One of Microsoft's team arguments to this new interface is that it
makes us more aware of the options the program have. The commands,
they say, are more evident in the interface.

My first impression when I opened MS Word was that I had too many
options on the screen! It was overwhelming. They say they have
"cleaned" the interface, but I had the opposite impression. I wanted a
"clean" interface, and the new one was cluttered with buttons, tabs,
icons and other stuff. As I wasn't expecting "a change", and as I was
also needing to work at once, I couldn't even figure out if the change
was for better or for worse. To me, at that point, changes were not
good at all, just because they were unexpected, and I had not time to
learn something new.

And talking about "most used commands", one particular thing that has
nothing to do with the interface, but with the software itself, is
that most Office applications have too many options. I guess most of
them are useless to the majority of users.

Jasper van Kuijk has pointed that in his Uselog:
http://www.uselog.com/2007_09_01_archive.html

I quote him:
"At a US conference Bill Gates gave the development team of Microsoft
Excel a huge compliment for the features they had come up with in the
new version of Excel. Too bad that those 'new features' already had
been a part of the spreadsheet program for last three years. Gates had
simply not noticed them in the previous version.

However, Gates was in good company. Steve Ballmer (Gates' successor)
revealed that most Office users have no idea of what was possible with
the software package. 'Nine out of ten of the new possibilities people
would like to have in the new edition of Office, were already part of
the current one,' according to marketing manager Paul Coleman. 'The
users simply couldn't find them.'

Research Microsoft performed revealed that office workers that used
Office 2003, only used 23 'core features' on a regular basis. For your
reference: Microsoft Word alone offers 1500 tasks. By performing an
extreme makeover on the user interface of the Office package,
Microsoft claims to have been able to raise the number of features
that are used regularly to 60 or 70."

Office is to me one of the worst software I know. Even after using it
for more than 10 years, I still have a hard time to find commands and
to use it.

Still, I'm very curious about this new interface. Maybe I'll give it
another try sometime, to see if it's better or not. Till now, the
"fear of change" is something that is making me avoid this interface,
as a regular user. The designer is curious, though. ;-)

And maybe you could share some thoughts about it when you get depper
into this subject. :-)

regards,

--
prof. mauro pinheiro
universidade federal do espírito santo
centro de artes
depto. de desenho industrial

15 Aug 2008 - 1:21pm
Fred Beecher
2006

On 8/15/08, Tom Dell'Aringa <pixelmech at gmail.com> wrote:
>
>
> > It is hard to comment on this design from a neutral point of view. I have
> > used it for a while, I was very use to the old office design and where to
> > find things. I find myself struggling to find things I use to be able to
> > find effortlessly. On the other hand, I have found things I never knew
> > existed. So it has some benefits.

I would echo Nick's sentiments here. I currently have FOUR versions of
office installed on my machine (2003, 2007, 2004 for Mac, 2008 for Mac... I
know, it's ridiculous) and I often have to bounce between them, which I feel
allows me to offer some insights.

My basic opinion is that I strongly prefer Office for Mac's "Inspector"
interface to Office 2007's ribbon. As Nick said, very basic things (Open,
Save, Save As, Print, etc.) are hidden. The items I mentioned are hidden
beneath the Office logo, which absolutely does NOT look like a button.
(There is a tool bar that you can configure to add common stuff to, but most
users would likely not discover this.) On top of that, the tabbed ribbon
interface causes users to *always* have to make two clicks if they are
changing MS-defined contexts (e.g., from editing text to editing a table).
This is often frustrating for me, because I often need to edit tables within
a larger text document (like 95% of all other knowledge workers out there).

The way Office for Mac (2004 & 2008) is set up is that there's the typical
Mac menu bar at the top, a main toolbar, task-specific toolbars (e.g.,
Reviewing), and the Inspector. The main toolbar has all the usual suspects:
New, Open, Save, etc.... all that stuff 2007 hides under the Office logo. In
2008 you can also dock some (but not, to my great frustration, all) of the
task-specific toolbars underneath the main toolbar.

So far this is all fairly standard, but the Inspector deserves its own
paragraph. : ) This object accomplishes the goal that the ribbon is trying
to accomplish but in a much more flexible way. The inspector, for the most
part, is a collection of palettes that can be collapsed and expanded. For
example, I always use styles rather than fonts, so I always have the Font
palette collapsed while the style palette is always open. There are other
palettes that come and go as you need them, like when you're editing a
table. I can do Insert Table from the main toolbar or menu bar, click on the
table, and then table formatting options appear in the inspector. When I
click out of the table, they go away. When editing the rest of my document,
if I need to go back into that table I just click it and my table formatting
options show up again. In 2007, I'd need to click the Table tab, and only
THEN would I have access to table formatting options.

So yeah, I'm not a fan of the ribbon. Nice shot, but MS didn't hit the mark.
Ironically, they were closer with their Mac product. Maybe it's just that
there isn't a strong "Inspector" metaphor in Windows, whereas it seems
relatively common in Mac apps.

- F.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Fred Beecher
Sr. User Experience Consultant
Evantage Consulting
O: 612.230.3838 // M: 612.810.6745
IM: fbeecher at gmail.com (google/msn) // fredevc (aim/yahoo)
T: http://twitter.com/fred_beecher

15 Aug 2008 - 1:37pm
Sterling Koch
2008

>Sterling: I don't believe it is true that buying the Infragistics
>XAML controls for the MS Ribbon gives you the right to use that
>design paradigm.

Steven is correct here! I did some research and, true enough, both DevExpress and Infragistics explicitly say that buying/using their product does not give you rights to the Office 2007 design metaphor. I had been misinformed (it's going to be a fun day at my company, I assure you).

More about Microsoft 2007 UI Licensing: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/office/aa973809.aspx

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18 Aug 2008 - 4:38am
Itamar Medeiros
2006

A few people would agree with me that the initial shock of having to
"learn everything again" tells us that it was quite a bold move for
Microsoft to try this approach.

But my first impression of the Fluent User Interface model is that
its strongest contribution to the user experience is to boost up the
the discoverability of some features.

I was really hoping that to see usability testing results of specific
features, like the Ribbon, to be able to say: yes! this is a solid new
model for interaction!

{ Itamar Medeiros } Information Designer
designing clear, understandable communication by
caring to structure, context, and presentation
of data and information

mobile ::: 86 13671503252
website ::: http://designative.info/
aim ::: itamarlmedeiros
skype ::: designative

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18 Aug 2008 - 8:23am
tdellaringa
2006

On Fri, Aug 15, 2008 at 4:08 PM, J. Ambrose Little <ambrogio at gmail.com>wrote:

> On Fri, Aug 15, 2008 at 10:33 AM, Tom Dell'Aringa <pixelmech at gmail.com>wrote:
>
>> Which is a fine overview but doesn't quite get too deep. Anyway, I'm
>> wondering what your thoughts are on the interface. Is it effective? Like
>> or
>> dislike and why?
>>
>
> I figured I'd chime in with a different perspective. On a personal note, I
> LOVE the Ribbon.
>
> For yourself, you're not going to have (maybe?) the history of
> usage/proficiency that will break for some users, so the main drawback might
> be kind of a non-issue.
>

True, we won't have that history - it's going to be a brand new product.
That is one reason that it appealed to me. We don't have the new Office here
actually so I've never used it in that context, only as part of MindMapper.
One thing that strikes me negatively about it is the complex visual noise it
can present. I like a clean interface myself.

Our application is not going to be as complex as say a Word. I might be able
to take some inspiration from the ribbon but come up with something more
applicable to what we have.

Thanks for your input!

Tom

19 Aug 2008 - 2:42pm
Anonymous

Hey Tom,
I am currently designing an application using the ribbon (which yes
we'll have to get licensed from MS). Our product will release in
2010 at which point we expect that most users will be familiar with
the paradigm - whether its easier to use or not. I still have
problems with it after 3 months use. I definitely have use for what
used to be the task pane in 03 (that is now gone) or possibly the
inspector that was described in the previous post. The ribbon
guidelines recommend that items aren't contextual in the ribbon - I
need contextual tools as our product is a complex EAP application.
You're right about the guidelines - sort of weak for what I need
answered - like what granularity should be on the ribbon etc. I did
find some insight in a Microsoft Office blog here:
http://blogs.msdn.com/jensenh/default.aspx Hope this helps!

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