Fun Factor

Unless you’ve just awakened from a Rip Van Winkle-style hibernation, you
probably heard that Microsoft released the Xbox
last night at midnight.  The local
news in Seattle
was stationed outside of the

Best Buy I normally go to in Bellevue
, giving up-to-the-minute updates about
the progress of the line (several hundred people long) and breathless testimony
about Bill Gates inside “playing games and meeting the Best Buy staff.”  I
will say this: it’s a frigid night in Seattle (low 40s and foggy) so I hope a
lot of the people who waited actually got a console tonight.

As you might expect, I have friends and acquaintances who have worked on Xbox
360, and I’m happy for them that they finally are starting to reap the rewards
and can kick back and enjoy the upcoming holidays.

As for me, I don’t have one yet, but I do plan on getting one eventually. 
Unfortunately, there’s no employee discount or purchase program or anything like
that.  In fact, the launch mail sent to everyone at Microsoft tonight
implored us to “make plans to visit retailers early, and check back often, to
pick up yours.”

The whole Xbox 360 launch got me thinking about fun.  I’m a big believer
that software can be fun to use–even a piece of productivity software like
Microsoft Office.  But maybe that just cements my status as a hopeless

Microsoft isn’t one of those companies which focus groups itself to death (at
least not in the Office group.)  But, from time to time, our product
planning and marketing teams do lead focus group-type discussions to gauge the
impact of certain marketing messages and to get a sense for how to talk about
the product.

The first of these around the UI happened over a year ago now, in several
major cities.  Marketing showed some mockups of the UI along with a
voiceover explaining a little bit about how it would work.  Then, the
people were asked to evaluate several different possible ways of communicating
the new UI.  They were also given a list of words such as “innovative, fun,
disorienting, bleak, optimistic, useful” and asked to rate on a 1 to 10 scale
how closely the adjective fit the software prototype.

One of the words that people had a fairly negative reaction to was “fun.” 
I seem to recall that we had a statement like “The new user interface makes
working with Office more fun.”  While some people did agree with the
statement, many people did not and revealed why in ad hoc comments: “Fun is
playing with my kids, not sitting in front of the computer!”  “I go to work
to WORK, not to have FUN.  WORK is not FUN.”

So maybe it’s beyond the reach of software to be fun for non-geeks.  Or,
maybe the definition of “fun” needs to be a bit more liberal when describing the
experience of using something we ourselves call “productivity software.”

What I do think software can aspire to is to try to inspire a sense of
possibility.  A sense that suddenly you’re an expert at something than
formerly seemed beyond your grasp.

I mentioned that I thought Live Preview was fun.  Well, in a
way I think it is.  Because the the combination of galleries, the Ribbon,
and Live Preview, and I can see 25 great ways for my chart to look in about 10
seconds.  I’m not an expert, but I feel like one.

The software is making me look smart.  It’s giving my ego a boost and
making me feel like I know what I’m doing.  I feel in control, and I want
to explore more of the galleries to see what else I can do with a single click.

That to me is “fun.”  I kind of know what I’m doing, the software is
responding to me, making me look good, and inspiring in me that sense of
possibility.  I’m inspired to create better things.  Maybe it’s not
fun like “whee, we’re going to Cedar
to ride

Millennium Force
, but it’s not a bad feeling either.

Is Office 12 all the way there?  Of course not.  But I think we’ve
at least taken the hard first step at orienting the software towards positive,
enabling experiences that make people look good at what they do.  This is a
goal we should strive for every version.

Is using Office 12 anything like the Xbox 360 kind of fun?  Nah,
probably not.  But if it was, your company probably wouldn’t put it on your
PC at work…

Comments (9)

  1. Skip C. says:

    >Maybe it’s not fun like "whee, we’re going to Cedar Point to ride Millennium Force", but it’s not a bad feeling either.

    How funny to see someone on the west coast refer to Cedar Point! Millennium Force happens to be one of my favorites, and my friends and I make an annual trek to CP in the fall.

    > I’m a big believer that software can be fun to use–even a piece of productivity software like Microsoft Office. But maybe that just cements my status as a hopeless geek.

    Pretty much, but you aren’t the only one. Try being a computer AND coaster geek!

    Keep up the great work on the blog! I am very excited about this new version of Office – it will certainly keep me in a job (MOS Master Instructor here) for years to come 🙂

  2. Joel Dinda says:

    Methinks it’s not constructive to impose a geek interpretation on the focus group answers you’ve shown us. I expect that if you ran the same test on the folks I work with, you’d get similar results, that I could predict those results, and that the correlation would not reflect anything I’d call a geek quotient.

    Folks in all kinds of jobs love (or hate) their work. Other folks (again in all kinds of occupations) deliberately compartmentalize their lives into work (not fun) and real life (the worthwhile things I do when I’m not paying the bills). Just people, being people.

  3. Andy says:

    It’s important to differentiate between marketing speak "fun" and real people fun.

    In the real world people equate fun with enjoyment, relaxation, lack of concern; to have fun with a computer means to most people doing something that has no real value, it is entertainment.

    Of course the geek element enjoys finding out how things work, there is some satisfaction to be gained by making something look great, but most people hate the idea of just playing with a UI as they would do this only when they are confused and this is the exact opposite of fun.

    In marketing land there is no difference between the satisfaction at finally having got the damn thing done, and a fun experience. Gratification of any kind is listed under marketing fun, but real people just don’t go all Harry met Sally at the site of a finally crafted roll over state.

    Telling someone office software is fun is patronising and false, but then so is all marketing.

  4. dan.g. says:

    perhaps the word ‘enjoy’ would have been less provocative.

    after all i can enjoy many things such as a book, wine, food, sport, software without necessarily having fun.

    i also think that the most desirable attribute of software is that it does not engage the user in such a way that they are distracted from their chosen task. ie a good spade is one which does the job without you having to constantly be alerted to the fact that you are using a spade.

    wondering if the user is having fun using office seems to be rather missing the point of why they’re there, which is to get something done and move on the next thing. if they can do that without even knowing they’re using any specific software then the goal of perfect software has been achieved. everything else is about wanting to be noticed which strikes me as the antithesis of great software.

  5. Michael Zuschlag says:

    Steve loved work in the machine shop but especially with jobs like this: a tricky part to make, and no NC –all manual milling. He’s looking forward to it. This calls for the trusty Bridgeport mill. Reliable, precise, effortless, no surprises. Using the Bridgeport, its only Steve and a slab of metal stock, the final shape emerging directly from his consciousness. Most satisfying. The boss says, "You just think that old Bridgeport is fun to use." No. But jobs like this are fun when you have the right tool.

  6. dan.g. says:

    i agree michael, but the fun thing for steve was making the part not necessarily using the tool. if you have fun using the tool then you’re focussed on the wrong thing. that’s the problem with machines with lots of flashing lights and gizmos, they look fun to use but in practice the lights and gizmos are more distracting than useful to the task in hand.

  7. I got beta 1 a few days ago, and for me, discovering all the new features and the new UI is fun! 🙂

    I love the new UI, it’s great! Really great work!

    Sometimes it took me a while to find something. The feature that took me the longest time to find was "word count". I guessed correctly that it would be somewhere under the "review"-tab, but I didn’t expect it to be under "Proofing tools", although it probably makes sense to put it there.

    Another feature I had to search longer are the new IGX graphics, because I did not now that they are called "IGX". I still don’t know what IGX means :). I had to ask somebody to find out that IGX was what I was looking for.

    Sometimes it’s still a little slow, but that’s ok for a beta 1. I worked on a few documents and it was really easy to do everything I needed to do. This will be great product once it is finished! 🙂

  8. Abigail says:

    Belatedly, I’d like to add a thanks for the shout-out to Cedar Point, the best coaster park in the nation! I spent most of my childhood in Michigan and fondly remember our annual visits to "America’s Roller Coast"!