The Myth of Ideal Organization


A major component of the work around improving the Office 12 user interface is
rethinking feature organization. 
As I’ve
explained in past posts
, there are many reasons why commands ended up in
certain menus and toolbars–not all of them logical.  Most of the decisions
made sense in isolation, but over two decades, the overall model hasn’t hung
together very well.

One of the myths I hear from Office enthusiasts a lot when we sit down to chat
is “but the current UI is already organized totally logically.”

It seems to me that in this case, familiarity might be clouding rational judgment.

Not that I underestimate or undervalue the importance of familiarity.  The
fact that some people can master even the most complex tools shows that any lack
of user-friendliness can be made up by sheer time and experience.  No
question about it. 

In fact, this is why we have taken so seriously the task of reorganizing Office. 
We only did so after many years when it became clear that the benefits of doing
so
hugely outweighed the advantages of familiarity with the current system, however
flawed.

But, at the same time, let’s not romanticize the “idealness” of the current
Office menu structure either.  It may feel familiar to experts, but that
doesn’t mean it’s the best system for helping people find functionality in
Office.

Just as a simple example, here’s a fun Monday quiz for all you Word gurus out
there.

    What do the following Word 2003 features have in
common?

  •     Find out the current number of words in the document
  •     Use voice recognition to control Office
  •     Create a Document Workspace
  •     Print envelopes
  •     Open the Visual Basic editor to write macros
  •     Hyphenate the text in your document
  •     Merge the contents of multiple documents
  •     Start a video conference using NetMeeting
  •     Tweak your AutoCorrect settings
Comments (20)

  1. John Topley says:

    They’re all on the Tools menu. Do I win a prize?

  2. Roman says:

    All of those features are in the same submenu, in russian its called "Service", though the features themselves do have nothing in common.

    I really do think that you are doing the right thing, though I prefer to call myself a bit of a PRO, and I do find it a bit hard to relearn, but I do like it.

  3. ChrisC says:

    Jensen,

    Good point, for a long while I was irritated at Lotus Notes for ‘hiding’ the spell check under the "Edit" menu – at some point I admitted that that was a perfectly logical place for it; still don’t like it though 🙂

    Here’s my guess: (Ro-13 encoded. see http://www.rot13.com/index.php)

    Gurl ner nyy ybpngrq va zber guna bar gbc yriry zrah. v.r. Jbeq Pbhag vf ninvynoyr obgu va Svyr | Cebcregvrf (ba gur Fgngvfgvpf gno), naq Gbbyf | JbeqPbhag. [Zl Ynathntr = Ratyvfu (HF)]

  4. Andy C says:

    They all live on the "Things we couldn’t think where to put" menu, called Tools in the English version…

  5. Abigail says:

    Oh, I like Chris’s answer. But I think they might also all be on the Tools menu.

  6. Chaz says:

    After all these years, it still takes me three attempts to find "Header and Footer". Perhaps this should go in Tools as well?

  7. Orion Adrian says:

    Where is hyphenate text? Otherwise all are in the tools menu.

  8. ChrisC says:

    Orion Adrian: Where is hyphenate text?

    I had to use ‘help’ to find it: Tools | Language | hyphenation

    The answer could also be something we would have no chance of guessing except by chance: "They generate the most support calls", "They require a dialog box after the menu selection", or "The most often requested features which are already there", etc.

  9. Gavin says:

    On an off-topic point, Jensen I don’t the blue of your blog background looks very nice, especially compared to all the lovely pictures you post; any nicer choices available?

    Excellent blog though, can’t wait for Office 12.

  10. Ben R says:

    Jensen, thanks for such a great, frank blog.

    When I saw the name of this post, I immediately thought you were going to say that there is no ideal organization possible in ANY software–how there may always be a sort of "junk drawer" that contains the handful of commands that simply didn’t fit in anywhere else. Do you think that’s true? Is there a spot (or spots) in Word 12’s UI where a bunch of somewhat random commands are grouped? A Tools menu equivalent? I’m sure you’re working to limit that sort of thing, but is a little bit of a "junk drawer" inevitable?

  11. Matt says:

    The answer is that they’re all in the wrong menu.

  12. Mike Staunton says:

    The root cause, as Jensen says, goes back a couple of decades with the introduction of Windows that imposed common menus across different types of programs (spreadsheets, databases, word processing)

    Pre-Windows different programs had lots of different menu and short-cut key sequences so that learning a new program was hard work

    All that’s happening now is that the imposed commonality is being relaxed and replaced by task-specific commands via the ribbon (think of it as just an extension of the right mouse button)

  13. Daniel says:

    They’re all on the Tools menu

  14. Michael Zuschlag says:

    by Andy C:

    "They all live on the "Things we couldn’t think where to put" menu, called Tools in the English version…"

    Bravo. The Tools menu is certainly the poster child of junk drawer menus. And yet, I heard developers argue that their application *must* have a Tools menu because Microsoft "says" that’s the logical place for Options.

    The name itself is a clue it’s a junk drawer, being so vague. Here’s my blacklist of menu names, each which I’ve seen over the years, and each a sign of a junk drawer: Actions, Menu, Commands, Functions, Tools, Utilities, Special, Advanced, Miscellaneous.

  15. Nas Hashmi says:

    All of those things are on the tools menu.

    I could not find "hyphenate the text in your document".

    I have not looked at any of the past answers yet. I read this blog from a reader. It will be fun to see what people answer though since last time everyone was way off.

    By the way, after subscribing to this blog, I went to see how many features of Word I have not used. I realized there is only 1 feature I have not used, online collaboration. Probably because i am a school student.

    One feature that i did learn from here was the alt+highlight, everything else was old stuff.

  16. [But, at the same time, let’s not romanticize the "idealness" of the current Office menu structure either.]

    And let’s not also make the mistake of thinking that the Office 12 arrangement is any more "ideal". I’m sure Jensen can quote statistics about how Office 12 makes more things accessible for the average user, but it’s a simple fact that it’s impossible to create a single UI layout that’s equally ideal for everyone.

    The only way that an arrangement can be ideal for everyone is to let everyone modify the standard arrangement to suit their specific needs. That’s something that Office has always allowed, and Office 12 must not remove that ability.

  17. duh says:

    I think the right answer, the common thing amongst those features is, however sadly, that:

    NOT A SINGLE BODY EVER USED THEM.

    bwa-ha-ha, where’s my prize?

  18. Randy R says:

    I don’t like all the previous answers, so here is my suggestion for the common theme with these tools: "They will all become much more easier to access and use in Office 12"

    Some suggestions:

    – Make the word counter an ‘as you type’ updated field you can put on your toolbar.

    – Develop an intuitive interface for document consolidation

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