Dialog Launchers

A common question I hear: "Are there dialog boxes in Office 12?"

The answer is a definite "yes."  Dialog boxes remain a part of the
Office 12 user interface, and many of the "tried-and-true" dialog boxes from
past versions of Office remain untouched in Office 12.  The dialog box has
proven to be a useful paradigm for presentation of advanced functionality and
thus we've left it to play that role in Office 12.  What we've tried to do
through the use of galleries and better-scoped features is to reduce the amount
of time you have to spend in dialog boxes, especially for frequently-used

In today's world of menus and toolbars, the entry points to dialog boxes are
divorced from the efficient way of performing commands.  For example, in
Word 2003 most people know how to use the Bold and Underline
toolbar buttons.  But what if you want Double Underline?  Or
?  These uncommon font styles are only available in the
Font dialog box, and your knowledge of the location of the Bold button
doesn't help you find the related advanced functionality which is located in the
"Format - Font..." menu.

Similarly, if all you want is a simple alphabetical sort in Excel 2003, you
can use the Sort Ascending toolbar button.  As soon as you want
something more complex than that, you have to dig through the menu structure to
find the more powerful version, tucked away on the "Data - Sort..." menu.

The Office 12 UI introduces a concept called the "dialog launcher", which
formalizes the relationship between the efficient presentation of functionality
in the Ribbon and the advanced version in a dialog box.

Each "chunk" in the Ribbon can have a dialog launcher which leads to the
dialog box which maps to a chunk's functionality.  In this case, the Font
chunk on the Write tab in Word contains a dialog launcher that navigates to the
Format Font dialog box in Word:

(click to see full picture)

If you know where the simple version is, you know where to look for the
advanced version.  Similarly, every gallery that has a more advanced set of
settings or choices in a dialog box contains a dialog launcher at the bottom of
the gallery:

(click to see full picture)

As you can see in the previous picture, the dialog launcher at the bottom of
a gallery is called "Advanced."  One of the current topics of discussion
internally is what to call these and deciding how important it is that they are
standardized.  "More Columns", "Advanced", "More", "Columns Dialog Box",
and several other variations are all in the running.

Our internal design criteria for when to use dialog launchers is: "only when
the dialog box cleanly supersets a chunk or gallery on the Ribbon."  What
we don't want is people feeling like they have to check every dialog box in the
product as part of scanning for a certain feature.  So, when the mapping
isn't totally clean, we don't expose the feature as a dialog launcher and
instead leave it as a normal labeled command.

The dialog launcher is a simple concept that helps make the interface
of Office more logical.  It was designed to help people become proficient
at finding advanced functionality when they need it in Office 12.

Comments (24)

  1. Step says:

    I’ll throw in a tentative vote for something more like "Advanced", and less like "More". 🙂 Of course, you guys are doing the usability studies and the constant work with the interface, so I’ll hope you find the best solution. I think consistency in what you call these links is pretty important. As you say, the goal is to not have people searching all over the place to figure out if they can do something. That means they need to be sure that what they’re seeing is really "all" there is for that particular type of command. As soon as that is even in question, the whole thing goes down the tube as before. It’s definitely a question of mapping: good luck!

  2. anon says:

    I don’t know if I’ll be the only one to think it’s a bad idea to choose something that looks like a cross and is at the same place than an application or toolbar red cross, while having a totally different meaning.

    The closest thing to this in other applications is some icon at the same place like a triangle, which means "hey, click here there is more". While the location is still bad enough, the look is not terribly bad because it converys some meaning.

    I notice one thing, the new UI seems to rely a lot less on right clicks — Jensen, I think a left/right click ratio comparing the older and new versions of Office would be extremely interesting — so why right-clicking does not allow just that : when I right-click an icon in the ribbon, it brings the associated dialog box up.

    Just a thought.

  3. BradC says:

    I also like the idea of something like "advanced…" instead of "more columns…"

    That way you can standardize, instead of trying to have "more borders", "more columns", "more stuff".

    Is the + in the triangle a finalized visual style? I guess I’ll get used to it, but the first time I saw it, it didn’t even occur to me that the little corner thing was even clickable. I wonder if there is a better way to indicate "click here for more options!"

    I really do like the idea of having the advanced dialog "close by" the related button commands. Great job on this new feature.

  4. The most common "icon" (usually a textual pseudo-icon) for displaying a more advanced form of the same thing you’re looking at is ">>". For example "Show details >>".

    If I had to pick an icon for the dialog launcher it would include that >> notation somehow, perhaps in a circle or something, rather than the "+" which, as has already been pointed out, looks an awful lot like an "x" and is placed in the same location. I’m a power user who’s not scared of trying new features, but if I were using office 12 and hadn’t read this blog, I’d be terrified to even *try* clicking that in case it closed up that chunk of the ribbon and I couldn’t get it back (even with a different icon, I’d consider moving it somewhere else – not sure where – to avoid the association with close buttons. Fear of accidentally closing something is a *very* powerful motivator away from trying something).

    Another thing I’d suggest is there really ought to be some visual similarity between the icon for "Advanced…" as it appears in galleries and the icon for the dialog launcher in the ribbon. Perhaps you could superimpose the "dialog launcher" icon over the top of the icon you otherwise want to use, rather like what’s done for the little arrow icon on shortcuts in Explorer. That serves the dual purpose of consistency *between* the different gallery-based launchers, and providing a hint to the user as to what the other mysterious similar-looking icons in the ribbon do. Putting the text "Advanced…" (another vote to keep that as the text, btw) as the tooltip on the icons in the ribbon would further emphasize this relationship.

  5. steven vore says:

    re: dialog launcher triangle/plus/whatever

    you might want to take a gance at Photoshop, where many dialogs have a triangle-in-circle which brings up more settings… see right under the minimize & close boxes in http://www.gbbc.org.uk/crh/layermasklayerorder.jpg

  6. jensenh says:

    Thanks for all the good suggestions.

    I should have been clear that the dialog launcher widget itself is just temporary. We are looking at designs as part of implementing the real visual style. And you guys have given us some good ideas.

    The idea of matching up the iconography between the chunk dialog launcher and the gallery dialog launcher was also something we talked about a while ago but haven’t really followed-up on since. That might be an interesting way to go.

  7. jensenh says:

    Left to right click ratio, that’s an interesting way to think about the UI.

    Overall, I think you’re right that we’re probably moving the UI a bit more towards left click. Part of it might be that I haven’t talked about the right-click parts of the UI yet (context menus still exist and you can right-click items in the Ribbon.)

  8. Andre says:

    The plus sign thingy needs to be bigger and more obvious. To me, it just looks like a way to drag and re-arrange the toolbar sections that make up the different ribbon sets.

  9. Fritzly says:

    Just my 2 cents here:

    I agree with the other posters that "advanced" would be better than "more"; also I don’t dislike the idea of the triangle with the cross although I would suggest to color the triangle. What color? I would say something that pop-up and grab the attnetion but still consistent with what will be the final design.

  10. TC says:

    Hmm, I thought I added the first comment for this article, but it seems to have disappeared into a big black hole! So I’m trying again, to see what happens this time.

    My comment was to the effect that the widget looked completely different in the two examples shown. If it is indeed a single thing, ie. a dialog launcher widget, then, it should look the same, where-ever it appears. Otherwise you reduce the discoverability aspect of the new thing.

  11. Step says:

    Yes, I agree with almost all the comments here. I had the same thoughts when I realized the plus sign was the launcher. I’ll second the many suggestions on moving it out of that corner, and correlating it to the "Advanced" menu item symbol.

    On the right-click/left-click, I don’t think it’s the ratio that’s important. What I really like is how discoverable everything is, compared to older Office versions. right-click is an advanced user tool, and it should be treated that way. It falls into the category of "invisible" in user-design, and if it’s the only way to access a feature I would consider it a very poor design. I like that you’ve started by showing us that we’ll be able to easily find any feature. I also look forward to seeing the tools we’ll have to help us become power users, after we’re familiar with the features we need.

  12. BradC says:

    I don’t know that you would need to move it out of that corner, but you DON’T want it in that corner AND looking anything like an x. (the confuse-it-for-a-close-button fear mentioned above).

    Before your posting, I also thought that these icons had something to do with closing/rearranging/customizing the ribbon panels.

    I assume this is obvious, too, but you ALSO don’t want it looking anything like a (?). That would give the wrong visual clue, and power users, especially, tend to shun anything that looks like a "click here for help with this feature" icon.

  13. zz says:

    Will the new UI be more scalable? When I use 120 DPI, the Office 2003 toolbar graphics do not scale up very well.

  14. BlueJay says:

    I like the idea of dialog launchers for more settings. Based on my experience with novice users, "Advanced" is a word that would *keep* them from clicking on it out of fear. I’m hoping for something more simplified and less intimidating like "More…"

    Also in my experience with novice users, especially in recent years, they right-click is their primary way of getting to the features they use. They seem to understand that if they want appropriate choices for something on the screen, they right-click — which is great until they want to do something beyond that small set of choices. That’s when they get lost in the myriad of icons along the top of the screen and the plethora of choices on the menu — and then they give up looking.

    I’m really curious what the right-click is being morphed into. I’m hoping to see the same concept of dialog launchers incorporated into it. It would be much easier for users to know they can "look here first" with a right-click and launch to additional related features rather than have to look somewhere else after not finding it first.

  15. BlueJay says:

    Here’s a big question for me… As a software developer and a user interface/experience designer, I often try to make the applications office-compatible with their look and feel. I have been excited about the new tools in Visual Studio 2005, which finally give developers tools to make our applications fit into the UI of Office — menus with icons, and toolbars, and docking, etc. Now that we have these tools, Office has given them the boot (for the most part) in favor of a more accessible design model. This is fantastic news for Office users, but I’m also curious to know if similar tools will be released for VS developers to incorporate into their applications to continue Office compatible design? Have you heard anything related to this? Thanks!

  16. Step says:

    BlueJay, I agree that users are becoming more accustomed to right-clicking and looking for options there. The problem is exactly as you’ve described, this is a workaround because they are confused by their other options, not because it’s a great design idea. Since so many bad interfaces have been designed, and leaned on the right-click, users have adapted to that.

    That’s not to say that I don’t like right-click: it’s an awesome power tool, and should definitely stay around. In the hands of a good usability expert, the user will find just the tools they most likely need or want, presented in an easy to understand and remember manner.

    I understand your first point on "Advanced" vs. "More". But I’m not sure that a novice user who is scared of clicking "Advanced" should need to go into a dialog. That’s just an idea, and I could be quite wrong about that.

  17. jensenh says:

    zz: Yes, the new UI scales to high DPI much better than the previous UI.

  18. jensenh says:


    Yes, we’re aware that a lot of ISVs want to take advantage of the Office UI in order to make their apps experience consistent with ours.

    I don’t have anything specific to report yet, but as we move closer to the Office 12 betas and then RTM, stay tuned for possible announcements.

  19. jensenh says:

    Re: right-click. I wrote about the importance of context a few posts back… that’s one of the main things we learned from context menus.

    I’ll write about the context menus soon… there’s a lot to like there but not a radical revision of how context menus work. They do have a "dialog launcher" concept though.

  20. anon says:

    "Step : Since so many bad interfaces have been designed, and leaned on the right-click, users have adapted to that. "

    Exactly. In one of the companies I have worked for, the UI was all Macish (the code was ported to Windows from Mac), that is everything was presented in front of the user, nothing hidden, and the user could do everything with the left button (click, double-click, drag). It was a shock to me how great it was, I was a Windows guy, and all of a sudden it looked like all the "modern" windows UI concepts I took for granted were not really a sign of progress in UI in general. The right-click has its uses, but I definitely think that leftish UIs tend to be more intuitive.

  21. Fadi says:

    That’s hell lot of change since Office 2003. I would really love to see the effect on all segments of users when it’s released.


  22. Blitzkrieg says:

    Please guys, include a duplicates removal tool in Outlook 12. I know this has nothing to do with the GUI post here. Can you please send this message to the outlook development team? They don’t have a blog here.

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