Monday, August 25, 2008

Jensen Harris Tells Dan About Microsoft Office's Ribbon Interface

An extensive interview on the Microsoft Ribbon ...

"Dan Harrelson, design technologist at Adaptive Path, recently spoke with Jensen Harris, Group Program Manager of Microsoft’s Office User Experience team. Jensen was one of the key designers behind the new Ribbon user interface introduced in Office 2007. Dan and Jensen chatted about Office’s redesign and the techniques he uses to keep the focus on user needs within an organization the size of Microsoft.

Dan Harrelson [DH]: Hi Jensen, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. You are often credited with designing the Office 2007 Ribbon. Can you tell us what went into the interface redesign and what your role was?

Jensen Harris [JH]: Creating the Office 2007 user interface was a team effort, and there were dozens of designers, usability researchers, developers, testers, and program managers involved in different aspects of the creative and engineering process. So many people contributed great ideas to the Office 2007 design that it is truly impossible to single out any single person as being the “designer” of the Ribbon.

My team was responsible for delivering the shared user interface platform for Office 2007, including the Ribbon, galleries, Live Preview, the Mini Toolbar and the rest of the new user experience.

I would characterize my role as most similar to that of an architect. I drafted the design tenets, and helped make sure that everyone’s detailed designs gelled together into a harmonious whole.

One of our fundamental goals was to make the UI “feel as if it was designed by a single person” — even though, practically speaking, we knew that it was much too big of a project to actually be designed by a single person. Achieving a coherent design at this scale requires coordinated, consistent decision making as well as a strong design philosophy.

DH: The Ribbon has certainly garnered much attention and has been touted for the success of Office 2007. What other one or two UI enhancements would you also call out as critical to the software’s success?

JH: One of our success metrics for Office 2007 was that we wanted normal people to be able to make beautiful, stunning documents and presentations. We wanted the average user to have access to professional-level results with fewer steps than in the past.

To help make this a reality, an awesome new graphics engine was built into Office — one capable of high-quality, beautiful effects, such as drop shadows, reflections, 3D lighting and surfaces, etc.

We knew that we had to make harnessing the power of this graphics engine incredibly easy because, otherwise, most people would never spend the time to use it. This is where the new UI comes in.

Based on our early user research, we embraced a model for Office’s new UI called “results-oriented design.” The idea is to show people a graphical representation of exactly what result they’ll get as the primary way of surfacing the feature. Compare this to the old model, “command-oriented design” in which you show people a dry list of commands and let the user figure out how to string them together to get a good result."    (Continued via adaptive path, Dan Harrelson)    [Usability Resources]

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