Jensen Harris – The Story of the Ribbon (Office 2007) [uxweek08 notes]

Microsoft Office Word 2007Image via Wikipedia


Jensen Harris lives at


The story of the Office


Conventional wisdom said that the Office is good enough.

Asking real people told different story, which was that the user interface was failing users.


Symptoms they noticed:

They added new features, but hardly anyone found them

Office was supposed to be done, and that everyone though that it’s not going to change


How did they get to the first office?


The first version – Word 1.0 (1989) -Two toolbars, quite simple.

Word 2.0 – 640×480 (1992), Number of toolbars: 2

Word 6.0 – 800×600 (1994) – Toolbars: 8

Word 95 – 800×600 (1995) – Toolbars: 9 (defined red-squiggle spell checking)

Word 97 – 1024×765 (1996) – Toolbars: 18 (added clippy); people used to describe it as bloat

Word 2000 – 1024×765 (1999) – Toolbars: 23 (reducing the perception of bloat)

– IntelliMenu; the menus are too long, we can shorten them. But instead of shorting them we can just hide the things in the menu. But to make it extra tricky to the user, we’re intertwine the showed and hidden. On top of that, the computer learns how to arrange the visible/invisible menu.

  – Rafting; all the menu items that wouldn’t fit, fell of the screen

– It proved out to not work really well

Word 2002 – 1024×768 (2001) – Toolbars: 30

– Created the Task pane (the right column). Since anyone couldn’t find anything in the menu, they added the things into right column.

Word 2003 – 1024×768 (2003) – Toolbars: 31


Word 1 – 50 menu items to 300 in the end.


Menus and toolbars we designed for less full-featured programs. The feature set of Office had grown and stretched the existing UI to full limits.


A new UI was needed .. To reawaken the soul of software


The Design process of Office 2007


Part 1: The Art part – Research


People have an emotional relationship with their computer.

They learned from “real people”. Video, visiting, interviews etch.


The fish – Framework for understanding the different kinds of feelings that people had at the overall using the office.


When people are frustrated, why are they frustrated. Which of the factors are important and which less.


Revelation: The sense of mastery of our software was gone


We don’t know just what the software is capable of, but we actually understand how to go around it.


Science: The Role of Data

Over 3 billion (anonymous) data sessions collected from Office users

Every month, tracked 150 million command button clicks in Word

Tracked nearly 6000 individual data points

We couldn’t have done this without the data


The data doesn’t lie


Part 2: Design tenets


Design tenets – a set of principles that your team believes in, and it allows your team to have a shared goal.

Igor Stravinsky – [I feel] a sort of terror when, finding myself before the infinitude of possibilities that present themselves, I have the feeling that everything is permissible… 

…If nothing offers me any resistance, then any effort is inconceivable, and consequently every undertaking becomes futile.”

[Showing Office 2007 UI Design Tenets]


Design tenets have to be religion


Part 3: Prototypes

Created hundreds of discrete prototypes


Conceptual prototypes

Designed to explore a few key concepts deeply (as opposed to broadly)



Part 4: Evaluation  Is it Good or not


Standard Usability Tests – give you a good sense of what someone’s first 30-90 minutes turn out. But it’s different from the other users.

Longitudinal Usability Tests – Weeks or months of observing users. Singular most usable usability testing tool.


Eye Tracking – “special monitor that watches you”. It turns out that users mouse is in a totally different spot that what the user looks at. Heat map and screen gazing.


From initial design to final product – ITERATION


Iteration Built Into the Product Cycle – Planning to iterate. From product schedule to changes in code that allowed late prototype


Happy ending


The attention to Design Pays Off. Lots of awards and people buying the software at 2x the size of the earlier versions.



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