Not So Set In Our Ways After All


Back in the article “Set In Our Ways?” I talked about one of the design issues we were thinking about at the time–namely, whether or not it was OK sometimes to break commands out of a set.


In particular, we were thinking about the Mini Toolbar which comes up on selection and as part of context menus in Office 2007. As you may recall, in order to make the best use of the limited space available, we needed to cast a critical eye on the content included in this UI.


With many people clamoring for indent, outdent, highlighter, and styles, it seemed like a waste of space to include much less frequently-used features such as right justify and underline.


As it often does, an interesting discussion ensued, and many of you encouraged us to break with convention.


So, for Beta 2 we decided to take the plunge and really optimize around the most frequently-used commands, breaking the restriction that all of the commands of a “set” (such as Bold, Italic, Underline) have to be together.


Here’s what we decided on as Beta 2 content for the Mini Toolbar in Word:


The Mini Toolbar, Revisted


(Remember, the complete set of commands is still always available in the Ribbon–the Mini Toolbar is for super-efficient mouse access to the absolute most frequently-used commands.)


An overview of changes from Beta 1:



  • Styles were added (the button next to Format Painter on the top row)

  • Underline, left justify, right justify, and numbering were removed.

  • Highlighter, Indent, and Outdent were added

  • Center is now a toggle button which toggles between Center and Left Justify (if you click Center on centered text, it left justifies.)

As a result, the set of features available maps much more closely to the most frequently-used features in Word while taking even less screen real-estate than the Beta 1 Mini Toolbar.


We made similar enhancements to the Mini Toolbar in Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook based on the same design criteria.


So, as always, thanks for taking the time to write your thoughts–it was because of feedback from the internal beta program as well as the discussion here that we made this change.


I’m finding the updated Mini Toolbar to be a lot more useful, especially because of the indent/outdent and highlighter that I missed so much on the Beta 1 version. And I know, based on overwhelming feedback, that many people will be happy to have access to Styles as well.


So, while I’m optimistic about the improved design, only time will tell as we get the next round of feedback based on Beta 2.

Comments (45)

  1. John Topley says:

    What does the little arrow to the right of the Bullets button do? Does it toggle between bullets and a numbered list?

  2. Nate says:

    The styles icon seems hard to understand. You’ve said it yourself before – it’s difficult to fit much information in a 16 x 16 icon. How much more width does the word "styles" take? Personally I’d remove the painter icon to do it.

  3. Sanjaya says:

    In that context, the font color icon sure lookes like underline.

  4. Andrew T says:

    "Center is now a toggle button which toggles between Center and Left Justify (if you click Center on centered text, it left justifies.)"

    I realise this is how the Bold and Italic buttons behave but then they have always had toggle behaviour.  The paragraph justification buttons always behaved like a group of radio buttons though.  Will this centre button have an indicated (pushed in) toggle state (like Bold and Italic)?  If not then having a button that shows centred text that can, when clicked,  result in left justified text would appear to be most confusing!

  5. JW says:

    I think you need new icons for the indent and un-indent buttons. I have to get pretty close to the screen to tell the difference.

  6. Nikhil says:

    Great blog Jenson, been reading it for a while.

    Anyways, using beta 1 at the moment myself, and the mini toolbar is definitely a great feature. The ways you’ve modified look good, apart from the omission of underline. I would be more comfortable with underline in there. (though agree that all the justify, right align etc shouldn’t!!)

    Is this toolbar gonna be available for the technical refresh, or just beta 2?

    Keep up the good work, office 2007 is shaping up to be excellent.

  7. aidan_walsh says:

    I agree with Andrew T, changing the behaviour of the Center button to a toggle seems wrong.

    Perhaps when the Mini Toolbar is brought up over centered text, or when text is changed to centered, the icon for Left Justify can replace it?

  8. jensenh says:

    Aha… discussion about the Center button.

    Now let me add a little bit of information: the Center button is _already_ a toggle, even in the version of Word you have.  Clicking it reverts back to left justify.

    We didn’t actually change the behavior, it’s just a shortcut to "uncenter" something which already exists.

  9. jensenh says:

    Nate,

    We can’t label items on the Mini Toolbar because it needs to be ultra-small.  If the work for Styles is huge in some language, all of a sudden, the bar would be 4 times longer–something unacceptable for a UI which comes up on selection.

    The good news is that there are labeled versions of all the styles commands in the Ribbon.

  10. Jon Peltier says:

    I can get used to a toggle on the Center button. In Excel, the Indent button will Outdent if you hold Shift while clicking it. Is this a possibility if you need room for another button?

    Is the Mini Toolbar going to be essentially locked in, or is there room in the UI or OM to customize which controls appear? The difficulty or complete inability to customize the interface is a major drawback to Office 2007, compared to our capabilities as developers (and even as users) in Office 97-2003.

  11. Jeremy Johnson says:

    Any chance the Mini-Bar can be customizable?

    That could serve the needs of the power-user even more.

  12. Lars Malm says:

    Looks great! Big improvement from last time. I think I might get irritated when I find the bullet-list button but not the numbered-list button though. But maybe I’m just set in my ways. 🙂

  13. I never thought to even try clicking the Center button when text is already centered in my current version of Word. Nonetheless, I think you got the Center button behavior right. If I saw the Center button showing an "on" state, then, with no alternative buttons, I think I’d click it to de-center the text, which to my English-writing brain means align left.

    Now my only question is, given discontinuous text selection, is the format painter really sufficiently useful to have a place on the minibar?

  14. David Heffernan says:

    Well done for listening to the feedback and putting the styles button in.  If you hadn’t done this it would have turned the mini-bar into an anti-feature, one that tempted you to do things the "wrong way".

  15. Justin says:

    Could it learn from your most common Ribbon choices?  For example, if I underline text frequently, but never outdent, the mini-Toolbar could shuffle around the choices?

    Possibly add an option to turn this on (off by default).

  16. Brandon Bloom says:

    I also motion for user customization of the Minibar. I for one know that I would add Justify to the Minibar right next to Center.

    However, I am weary about plug-in extension to it.

    As it is, I have to do a lot of hard work to remove the annoying Adobe PDF toolbar icons that the "PDF Maker" plug-in insists on putting back no matter how many times you remove them. I had to edit a whole bunch of registry keys (and have to do it again each time I update my Adobe Suite).

    I think it is unfair for a plug-in to decide "Well he installed me, so I guess my functionality must be available at all times because clearly he needs me".

    Maybe Mini-bar customization could easily be made discoverable by including a "dialog launcher" icon in the corner just like a ribbon panel?

  17. Lex says:

    What Adobe has done with the Office plug ins recently borders on that of malware – it really is unbelievable.

    I like the new Minibar though – to often we make concessions to consistancy that realistically have no benefit

  18. Nas Hashmi says:

    WE affected the Microsoft Office team decision?  This is truly history in the making.

  19. Sumod says:

    +1 to Jeremy Johnson

    Please allow customisation of the minibar… this is too valuable a ui tool to leave to ‘most common’.

  20. JanL says:

    first of all, this is a great blog.

    umm just wondering, if paste and copy and cut are among the most used functionalities, why are they not included in the minibar (while for ex. the format painter is–which anyway did not make it to the top 5 most commonly used)? the minibar pops up so much and and is more accessible than copy and paste since i have to right click to use copy and paste or travel all the way up to the ribbon to use copy/paste. whenever i highlight comething it’s usually to replace text(in other words paste) or copy or cut, and it’s great the minibar pops up to assist but why aren’t the most common functionalities in it?… pop-ups are annoying if they don’t have what you want, but they are great if they have what you want. and most of the time it’s paste, copy, and cut.

  21. JanL says:

    first of all, this is a great blog.

    umm just wondering, if paste and copy and cut are among the most used functionalities, why are they not included in the minibar (while for ex. the format painter is–which anyway did not make it to the top 5 most commonly used)? the minibar pops up so much and and is more accessible than copy and paste since i have to right click to use copy and paste or travel all the way up to the ribbon to use copy/paste. whenever i highlight comething it’s usually to replace text(in other words paste) or copy or cut, and it’s great the minibar pops up to assist but why aren’t the most common functionalities in it?… pop-ups are annoying if they don’t have what you want, but they are great if they have what you want. and most of the time it’s paste, copy, and cut.

    it’s great we know the most commonly-used commands, but are they also the most commonly-available commands?

  22. Magda Charles says:

    The format painter is definitalely one of those commands that get under-used because of bad placement/low discoverability. Putting it on the MiniBar will allow many more people to discover it. It’s a great tool!

  23. Mario Goebbels says:

    You know what’d be great? If there’d be an option to switch the font and style buttons, means with a global options, the drop down box lists the styles (including the active style as default option) and some font button that unfolds into a font list. For some persons, including me, that way would be handier.

    Now, lets run to Betaplace…

  24. PA says:

    I’ve never used the highlighter tool but I constantly use format painter and think it’s a shame that not too many users know about it.

    I guess the problem is you have to remember where to put the cursor _before_ selecting the tool which makes it kind of noun-verb-noun interaction. IMHO it would be better if it worked like the clone tool in Photoshop.

  25. Greg says:

    I don’t care so much about what the buttons on the minibar *are*, as much as what they *do*. The problem at the moment is that Bold, Indent, etc apply direct formatting to the selected portion of the document rather than to the appropriate style, which leads to complete unmaintainability (is that a word?) in complex multi-author documents.

    For example, if selecting a run of text and clicking Bold applied a bold character style, and selecting a paragraph and clicking Bold set that paragraph’s style to an appropriate bolded style, I’d be fine with the minibar.

    There’s nothing worse than trying to maintain a doc in which every paragraph is Normal style (not Body Text – why don’t folks get this?) with a bunch of direct formatting applied.

  26. Mario Goebbels says:

    You’d think that marking text bold or italic would assign the respective styles, which are Strong and Emphasis.

  27. Keff says:

    Will it be possible (please, do :)) to customise the contents of a mini bar? Maybe a little bit hidden, but still possible?

  28. Simon Cooke says:

    Could you by any chance include the One Note keyboard shortcut for a bulleted list in the next version of word? (CTRL+.)

  29. Eric J. says:

    Allow me to add my voice to those asking for customization. My guess as to why Cut/Copy/Paste aren’t on the mini-bar is because users overwhelmingly use the keyboard shortcuts rather than buttons to perform those actions.

  30. Leigh says:

    Customization = Good,

    Consistency = Good

    I think Keff had the best compromise — hiding the customizability a little.  This would prevent novices from ruining the interface while allowing power users to really take advantage of the mini-bar.  I really hope an otherwise great version of office isn’t limited by the one size fits all mentality.

  31. Klaus Linke says:

    If you want the Italic and Bold buttons (on the minibar and elsewhere, as well as the keyboard shortcuts) to apply character styles (Emphasis and Strong), you can do that with your own macros "Italic" and "Bold", as in previous versions.

    BTW, I haven’t come to like the mini-bar, and much prefer the context menu, which pops up when I want it. Though it pretty often doesn’t have what I need. It would be great if the interface to customize it without programming could be brought back.

    (Also BTW, and nitpicking a bit: "Center" toggles between center alignment and whatever is defined in the style. It also gets rid of leading and trailing whitespace, which can be handy)

  32. Klaus Linke says:

    And again I have to eat crow:

    The Left and Justify buttons toggle between each other, not to the alignment defined in the style. And if several paragraphs are selected, the toggled alignment is determined from the first paragraph.

    I bet much thought and hard work has been put into making things *this* inconsistent <g>

    (… though I doubt many people ever try to use those buttons as toggles on purpose, so it probably doesn’t matter that much)

  33. Mike Harrington says:

    Just a question, but why not have the mini-toolbar have some level of intelligence with it?  If a user is always using a feature that is only available in the ribbon, swap it out with something in the mini-toolbar that is rarely used.

    Just a thought.

  34. I agree with Eric J. that Cut, Copy, and Paste need not be included because users who don’t know and use the shortcuts should be educated to do so (especially since there are so many places–across windows apps–where the shortcuts work even though the buttons are unavailable). But I also tend to use the shortcuts for alignment; I won’t miss the Justify button as long as Ctrl+J still works.

  35. Brandon Bloom says:

    Keff, Leigh:

    Reguarding "hidden" customization. What was wrong with my original sugession? Reproduced below:

    Maybe Mini-bar customization could easily be made discoverable by including a "dialog launcher" icon in the corner just like a ribbon panel?

    See:

    http://blogs.msdn.com/jensenh/archive/2005/09/27/474382.aspx

  36. Leigh says:

    Brandon Bloom:

    The screenshots I’ve seen of the "dialog launcher" have the widget placed in the top right of a title bar like element.  This would add too much size to the minibar unless it were used without the titlebar in which case it would be non-standard.  Even without the titlebar it would still take up a portion of the mini toolbar for a widget that is not used every day.  

    I think a right click-customize option might work.  It takes no extra space, is extremely discoverable for power usrs, and somewhat hidden for the novice.

    That is if Office 2007 will even give us that level of customizability.

  37. Guess Who says:

    I too would like an auto-custumizing mini bar. I don’t use indent or outdent at all. I would much rather have those be replaced by more helpful icons.

    Also I think that instead of icons that increase or decrease font size it should have the fontsize drop down box, or atleast a box that you can type in the desired font size.

    Just a few thoughts

  38. Jon Peltier says:

    "Just a question, but why not have the mini-toolbar have some level of intelligence with it?"

    Last time we let Microsoft do this, we ended up with Short Menus. The first feature I always turn off. The first feature I always add is some buttons, both regular menu items that don’t appear on the toolbars and custom macros. This is a higher level of intelligence that I’d expect from a "smart" mini-toolbar. I get the tools I want where I want them, not where some algorithm decides is best for me, or best for everyone.

  39. Richard Gadsden says:

    Can you please set the toggle on center to toggle between center and the justification set in the style (or Left if the style is centered), instead of between center and left.  If, like me, most of your styles are fully justified then it won’t "turn off center" which is what my mental model of a toggle does, but it will impose left justification.

    [Oh, and can we have an English-UK localised version with centre].

  40. JanL says:

    I wonder if "Format Painter" should be called "Copy Format" or "Copy Style" in line with Cut, Copy, and Paste? "Copy Format" suggests to the user to use it because it’s a verb, just like "Copy" and "Paste" and it registers more easily to the consciouness what it can do than if it’s called "Format Painter" which sounds more like a TITLE. Format Painter is a really cool feature but it has an intimidating name. If a user selects an object and clicks "Copy Format" it’s pretty clear that the function copies the format of whichever is selected, just like if he selects an object and clicks "Cut" it cuts the selected object.  Unlike if he selects an object and clicks "Format Painter" then it doesn’t register to the user that the format of the selected object has just been copied.

  41. tom says:

    IEBMaker lets you customize and build an Internet Explorer toolbar tailored to meet your company’s needs. The software generates a small executable file that you can distribute to your customers. With this executable, your customers can install or uninstall your Internet Explorer toolbar onto their systems with ease.

    http://www.yaodownload.com/internet-tools/browsers/iebmaker/

  42. Another misconception that I read is regarding the new Ribbon interface: some people apparently are expecting…

Skip to main content