Improvements in User Experience

Inductive UI in Office 12

By now anyone interested in software user experience has seen the video or read the articles about Microsoft Office 12 getting a complete UI makeover. For an ongoing explanation of the design rationale, you should also checkout Jensen Harris’ blog. Jensen works on the Office user experience team.

Many people write-off the UI changes as merely a ploy to get customers to upgrade. In a way, I agree. Customers will upgrade because the new interfaces will make using Office easier and allow users to be more productive. Inductive UI’s have been around for a while, but this is the first large-scale use in a major Microsoft product.

For those of you in the back, it’s not just about the menus and toolbars (or ‘Ribbon’ as they are calling it). It’s about why the menus are gone and why the toolbar is separated into contextual sections and chunks. I am glad Microsoft spent the time and money to research how users were interacting with Office. Since Office seems to set a UX precedent, I am hoping we see some of these new conventions trickle down into other applications as well.

Update: Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror has a post about this too.

Windows Vista User Experience Guidelines

Microsoft has also released preliminary Windows Vista UX Guidelines. Although many people are pointing to the download, few are commenting on the information contained within. Chris Pirillo does provide a nice list of nuggets he discovered while scanning the documentation. I’ll point out some of my favorites:

  • Wizard pages: Remove front and back pages. Remove page header. Basically remove all redundant textual information.
  • Help on Dialogs: 1. Make labels and controls easy to comprehend, 2. Add explanatory text sections as needed, 3. Use hyperlinks to jump into Help for specific topics which may be confusing, 4. Do not use vague or general Help buttons (users don’t like vague or general help).
  • Task dialogs: MessageBox API on steriods.

I like this release better than previous ones (Win2K and WinXP) because it seems more focused on UX and contains some rationale as well. It’s not just specs for controls, layout and themes. Some sections, such as Window and Layout sections, are not included yet (it’s preliminary). You also need to wade through some Aero graphics babble (I am not impressed with ‘glass’ for UX).