Learning From the MVPs

Last week, Microsoft

hosted the MVP Global Summit
here on campus in Redmond.  After a summer of beautiful weather, it turned
nasty and rained on the MVPs most of the time they were here.  Luckily, we
don’t normally do technical sessions outdoors!

Attending the Summit were several hundred Office specialists, either
affiliated with a specific product or technology (e.g. an Outlook MVP or a Word
MVP) or the whole Office System (an Office MVP.)  I had the opportunity to
brief all of the Office-related MVPs as part of their opening technical keynote
along with Steven Sinofsky and
Brian Jones.  I was
supposed to talk for 90 minutes, but with questions, I ended up being on stage
almost 2.5 hours.

The topic, of course, was the new Office 12 UI.  I had a little bit of
worry going into the talk–the MVPs are a passionate bunch and they know more
about our products than anyone in the world.  They are the most elite of
power users and the “word on the street” coming into that first day was that
they had seen the screenshots up on microsoft.com and weren’t sold on the idea. 
Concerns and doubts were raised in the private MVP newsgroups about our
direction based on the screenshots they’d seen.

But I also knew that the MVPs were fair and that they’d give us a reasonable
chance to demonstrate the new UI and talk about the reasons behind our bet to go
forward with it.  Most of them hadn’t actually played with the product yet,
and so were going pretty much on a few screen captures.  So, I felt a lot
of pressure to show the depth of Office 12, to show the capabilities of the new
UI and the richness of what you can do with it.  I knew I had to explain in
detail why we were undertaking the redesign, and all of the detailed thinking
that has gone into it.

The last day of the Summit, Saturday, concluded with an open microphone Q&A
session with Steven Sinofsky.  To my delight, nicer, more positive things
couldn’t have been said about the new user interface.  There are, of
course, a few areas which the MVPs made abundantly clear they want us to
continue refining–but overall it was a total 360 reversal.  These were our
most grizzled Office veterans, who know every nook and cranny of the current
products–and they were totally on board for the change we’re making and totally
jazzed about the product in a way they weren’t at all before the Summit. 
Several said that they’re more excited about Office 12 than anything Microsoft’s
done in the last decade.

Steven asked the MVPs what caused them to have such a big turnaround on the UI, and they had two
great pieces of feedback that we need to take to heart.

  1. You have to explain why you’re changing the UI, not just how you’re
    changing it.

    The Monday series I’ve started posting here is the “blog version” of the first 30
    minutes of the talk I gave for the MVPs, but they’ve convinced us we need to
    do even more education.  So look for more materials around this
    available in the near future.  We’re going to do everything we can to
    help you understand our thought process and how the new UI paves the way for
    another decade of innovation on the Office platform.  Most people who
    learn about why we’re making the change come away understanding the benefits
    and excited about the product direction.

  2. Still shots of the UI don’t do it justice–make everyone see it in

    One MVP went so far to say that we should actually take down all our
    screenshots and make everyone watch a video of how it works.  It’s
    clear that people who see the UI live are way more jazzed than people who
    just see screenshots and so, while
    Julie’s video
    is a good start
    , we need to do a lot more in this area.  I started
    by making a little video which you’ll see on this site Thursday. 
    (Don’t get too excited, it’s only 24 seconds long.)

As always, a big thank you to the MVPs for their passion about our products
and their always candid and often prescient feedback.  And it was a special
treat to get to end the Summit with Steven letting out another of the
cats we’ve had in the bag for some time now: that the

Office 12 apps can natively save as PDF

Comments (13)

  1. BradC says:

    Yes, seeing the UI in action will make all the difference.

    Even if they are really short snippets that accompany each of your articles:

    * 2 minute clip on the 3 stages of formatting with some examples

    * 30 second clip showing how the contextual tabs show up only in the appropriate situations

    * 1 minute clip showing some different types of galleries in action

    I don’t know how much work it is to create/upload these clips, but I would love to see a short clip illustrating the major topics of each of your postings.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Mr. Dee says:

    Actually, I think it would be much better if you made 30 second clips of each individual Office app that has the new ui, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access.

  3. Garry Trinder says:

    Why not just make some interactive Flash mockups of the UI? That would be way better than bandwidth sapping videos which have crappy smudgy resolution anyway for screen UI stuff. Much better would be to use the special WMV9 codec used for UI screenshot videos. In fact I was pretty surprised that the Office folks did not choose to show the UI in all its interactive glory. You cannot get the Office 12 UI by just taking a quick glance at screenshots. Even I was a skeptic till I realised what it was and now even I think that Office 12 is one of the best things Microsoft has done in a while.

  4. Mr. Dee says:

    Check out the link to see a screenie of Google Office, its looking good so far:


  5. Step says:

    Both of those points hit the nail right on the head, especially the second one.

    When I saw the screenshots, my reaction was pretty negative – within the first minute of seeing the UI in action I had already started changing my attitude, and by the end of (Julie’s) video I was almost in awe.

    Definitely, get more people to see it in action and you’ll see the biggest sales of Office in Years! 🙂

  6. Klaus says:

    > Concerns and doubts were raised

    You know the cliché about the girlfriend asking you about her new hairdo? MVPs (mostly) love the applications, and look at radical changes with a bit of trepidation.

  7. Dave says:

    Dude, if you do a ‘total 360 degree reversal’ you’ll end up pointing exactly the same way. You’re probably thinking of a 180.


    Sorry to be pedantic.

    P.S. what’s the font in the Office 12 UI? Is it new? I need to know – I love it!

  8. jensenh says:

    Dave, you’re right, gotta brush up on that math! 🙂

    The new font is called "Segoe UI" and it is the UI font for both Office 12 and Windows Vista. It’s a brand new font commissioned specifically for these two programs, so you’re not likely to find it it any font library.

    Glad you like it, I do too.

  9. Jonathan West says:

    I’m one of the MVPs who was initially skeptical, but I was impressed with the demonstrations, and I’m looking forward to getting a beta copy and trying it out.

    One further item of feedback: You need to reassure people that older templates and add-ins that modify the old UI will (usually) not break when running in Office 12, and show them how the UI customizations designed for older versions actually show up in Office 12.

  10. Jensen, you’re dead on about seeing the nav in action. When Scoble’s video with Julie hit Channel9, I pushed all the skeptics I interact with to her video. Every single one has walked away with "man, when you understand the WHY, it really does make sense." Thankfully I had a chance to tell Julie & Scoble this in person last week as well.

    You truly don’t appreciate the new UI until you’ve had a chance to work with a document or spreadsheet or presentation. I can’t believe how fast you can make things look so much more professional and appealing!

    Cheers to your team!