There’s No Place Like Home


A long-open issue in the designs of the Ribbon content for the Office 2007 programs has been what to name the first tab of the programs.


In Beta 1, Word’s first tab is called “Write,” Excel’s first tab is called “Sheet,” and PowerPoint’s first tab is called “Slides.”


Where did these names come from? Well, we made them up. We thought it was important that the names of the tabs helped describe what that tab was used for–but the first tab proved the most challenging.


“Write” seemed to most people to be the most successful name. It’s a verb, so it matches well with other task-based tab names, like “Review” and “Insert.” And, it’s a relatively short name in English with good, short translations in most languages.


“Sheet” started out being called “Enter Data” in Excel, as we tried to come up with a term which matched “Write” in spirit. But it was a long and clunky name, conflicted with the “Data” tab of Excel, and worst of all (in my opinion), it makes working with Excel sound like drudgery.


PowerPoint started out with a “Create Slides” tab (again, to make the first tab a verb like “Write”), but that proved to be a usability disaster. The name was so specific that some people thought the only thing they could do was to create slides, and they would look elsewhere for formatting and layout features.


So, we were not at all happy with the names. The first tabs were very similar in concept, but far apart in naming. Should they be verbs or nouns? Concrete or abstract? We knew that we needed to make a change for Beta 2.


We started the discussion by looking at usability data, which indicates that it doesn’t matter what the name of the first tab is as long as it’s generic enough (not to repeat the “Create Slides” fiasco.) This is borne out in our command organization research, in which users feel by far the least relationship between the tab name of the first tab and the content of it. “Review” helps people make a decision about whether to look somewhere for a command, but “Sheet” doesn’t help to inform their decision.


And as much as we originally thought the first tabs needed to have unique names, in reality the concept behind the first tab of each app is totally consistent: presenting high-usage features people need efficient access to most frequently. If we were trying to be really pedantic about literal tab names, we’d have to call the first tab something like “Highly Used Commands.”


So, in a sense, a per-app name (Slides, Sheet, etc.) was just window dressing the real issue–that the first tab is the place to get to the most fundamental features.


Anecdotally in conversation with Office 2007 users, this seems to be true just based on the fact that the vast majority of references to the first tab are “the main tab,” “the home tab,” “the first tab,” etc. In fact, the research has shown the current first tab names are much less sticky than “Review” or “Insert” or “Animations,” which are descriptive and accurate.


People are already forming the concept of the first tab as a special place–it’s where you start, it’s where you spend most of your time, it’s where you keep coming back to, and, in fact, it already has a set of special behaviors based on it (like we put you back there when a contextual tab goes away.)


So, when time came to revisit naming for the first tabs, we considered the following inputs:



  • Research indicated that it didn’t matter what we called the first tab as long as it was generic enough

  • The current names weren’t adding any value at all in terms of usability

  • The tabs are actually highly consistent in their design: fundamental, high-usage commands

  • People already vocalize and think about the tabs as primary, main, home, first…

Based on that, it seemed like it made sense to rename the tab to match the user’s own conception of how the UI system works and have a consistent name that indicates the specialness of the high-usage features tab of each program (it’s where you start, it’s where you spend most of your time, it’s where you keep coming back to, it’s where we put you back to.)


Once we agreed on this, it was just a matter of choosing from a set of potential names: Home, Main, First, Primary, etc. A couple of people suggested “Edit”–but we found out in Excel that’s a bad choice because it’s a loaded term and it biases people’s expectation of what would be on it negatively.


We also looked at calling this tab the name of the program, but that took away the consistency we had come to think was a good thing. We really needed a short, friendly, name which communicated what the tab was all about.


In the end, we made the decision to go with the name “Home.” We think that it’s the best overall choice: it describes the common usage of the tab and it matches people’s conception of what the tab is all about. Undoubtably, some people will wish we were naming it something else (or will miss the old names), but I feel confident that this is the right decision.



The change was introduced into the build directly after the Beta 1 Technical Refresh, and it will be in Beta 2.

Comments (52)

  1. Chris Smith says:

    Just a thought, but the obvious name for the tab that came to mind when reading this post was "Compose". This is consistent across all of the programs which have Ribbon support and is consistent with the primary purpose of the tab. To me, it seems a lot more meaningful than "Home" which is open to confusion (people might want to change their office "Home" page).

    Can you give any insight into whether this option was considered and why it was rejected?

  2. Eyal says:

    Actually, I think "Start" is a good option (I’m surprised you didn’t mention that as one of the options..), and it’s also consistent with Windows (Is Vista still using "Start"?)

  3. Stephen Bullen says:

    If you’ve gone with "Home", will you be hooking it up to the "Home" key on the keyboard, with some shift/ctrl/alt combination?

    While you’re in this area, any chance of reverting back to the "File" menu, rather than "The round blob thing in the top-left corner"? Please…

  4. Colin Walker says:

    With the changes to the UI etc. I am curious to note that among the things still covered by the Office NDA one of the items is described as:

    "Beta-2 user interface refresh or images"

    Does this relate to the new look in B1TR and later?

    As blogs like yours have effectively put the new look in the public domain I don’t really see why this needs to be covered by the NDA if it is what is actually being referred to.

  5. BradC says:

    This very nicely solves the whole issue of what to use for the hotkey for the tab. Nice work!

  6. I like it! What’s the keyboard shortcut for it? Alt-H?

  7. Jay Freedman says:

    In retrospect, it’s the obvious choice. Hindsight is always 20/20, right? :-)

  8. William Gallagher says:

    You say people are referring to the home or the main tab already, but logically aren’t those people the ones who’ve been using the beta with ‘Write’, ‘Sheet’ and so on? Couldn’t the knowledge or experience you’re ascribing to them be coloured by how they’ve had this helping hand that now future users won’t?

    I see the problem and it’s fascinating but I would suggest that because you can’t get a good word for Excel and PowerPoint’s first tabs, you’ve thrown away the one that worked well for Word.

    I’m not sure Home really means anything. I’m trying to imagine using it every day and I think for a long time it’d be a stumble, that I’d go to it after I’d stopped to think. If anything at all, Home makes me think of the kind of thing that’s under the office button, most especially since that doesn’t look like a button.

    William

  9. Kaushik says:

    While I applaud the research that went into this,  Home doesn’t quite seem intuitive in what is primarily an ofice program.

    Life’s an Irony, eh? :)

    Nonetheless, 2007 Microsoft Office System looks like a winner. Microsoft has really hit this one out of the park.

  10. joe says:

    why can’t the Home tag take the place of that fugly Office Button?

  11. James says:

    When I was halfway through reading this, I expected the decision to be to name the first tab after the program. I don’t really understand the consistency argument against that, because it doesn’t make sense: the first tab would consistently be the name of the program, rather than consistently the word ‘Home’. It would still be as easy (if not better) to speak of generalisations like “Paste can always be found on the first tab” rather than “Paste can always be found on the Home tab”.

    I dislike things calling themselves ‘home’ because it feels far too personal. It’s a productivity tool, not my living room. Perhaps it’s a cultural insensitivity; Americans just don’t seem to have a problem with software using words like “My” and “Your” and “Home” to refer to choices they haven’t made and files they haven’t created. At best, I find it confusing when I discover that I have a pile of junk called “My Clipart” that I’ve never seen before, or a “Home” that I’ve never been to.

    On the other hand, at least it solves that keyboard-shortcut bother you were talking about.

  12. TC says:

    Good decision on the Home tab. However, I think the Office button instead of File menu is going to confuse people to no end. Is there any usability data (qualitative or quantitative) on that yet?

  13. Alex says:

    Oh, I’m wondering how the tabs will be named in Russian. It’s much more tougher than English…

  14. JJ44 says:

    I would have guessed "Basic", but I suppose that can have negative connotations too.

  15. Sjoerd Verweij says:

    How about "Start"?

  16. Phylyp says:

    Home.

    Proof that the best solution is often the simplest. :) I like it.

  17. Andy C says:

    I like it. For a horrible minute there I thought you were going to say "We decided to label it Start", for which I’d have detested you eternally.

    Thankfully you’re all a lot smarter than that 😉

  18. Step says:

    :)  Feels good to have a suggestion end up right on now and then, even if it was just luck on my part.  

    Glad to see the change – it certainly seems right from my perspective.

  19. Joel says:

    Please tell me that, when maximized, the upper left corner of the screen doesn’t click through to whatever is underneath it, as it appears to do in that screenshot.

    And "Home" is fine; it doesn’t really matter what it’s called as long as it stays put.

  20. Stephen McLaren says:

    I quite like the thought of a ‘Home’ tab… It’s consistent across the different apps, so newbies (I include myself in this for everything except Excel) know where to begin and it also avoids what I thought was the biggest flaw with the previous system. ‘Write’ and ‘Right’ are pronounced the same and yet have totally different meanings… I could just see some poor IT support worker trying to get a user to click on the ‘Write’ tab and they’re actually clicking on the right hand tab…

    Another well thought out feature from Office 12 IMHO

  21. Centaur says:

    Shouldn’t “Formulas” be “Formulae” :)

  22. Vincent says:

    I think "Write" was much better for Word. Home is an overused name in the Windows world. If I wasn’t told what Home was about, I would think this was a "Word 2003 – Getting started pane"-like panel or the similar useless panel in Visual Studio. I know I may be too much into IT, but for me everything that starts with "My" or that contains "Home" are naturally avoided by my eyes. I have seen too much beginner content in placeholders called "Home". For Excel, I think Edit is a better name. It is strange that some features used by 1% of the users are taking all the namespace.

    Home is a generic name right, but it is a name that is too generic. Using Verbs in the ribbon makes you feel more like if you are doing something.

    What I don’t like about Microsoft is that they always have great ideas during Beta stages and when it gets too close to release, they freak out about people won’t be able to use it anymore. Styles in Office XP/2003 were not really enforced and it’s so easy to have a 3 pages long stylesheet just because Word is creating another style for every little change you do. And just think about the not-so-gone Clippy or Windows user interface looking just the same since Windows 95. I think you must do at least once every 10 years a UI paradigm shift (think Mac OS 9 -> Mac OS X).

  23. Samuel says:

    It is a very good name. It sounds really good in English, but in Spanish I know what is going to be: Inicio (Start). This supposition is based on current Spanish keyboards: the Home key is Inicio (i.e. Start) in Spanish keyboard.

    And if I am right, now users using Office 2007 will have three buttons that may confuse them: Start button in Windows taskbar, Office button in every Office 2007 application (that many people using Beta 1 are calling Start at present) and the Start tab. Where are they going to click when I tell them: "Click ‘Start’"?

    At the end, Vista Developers Group takes Start away from the Start button and Office translators put it right there.

  24. Brandon Bloom says:

    I’m happy with this decision, but what about Outlook?

  25. gary keramidas says:

    why not start, like the start button in windows? or just the logo, since you removed the word start in vista.

  26. Maverick says:

    Jensen, can you give any info on why the name "Main" was not chosen?

  27. Mike says:

    As always, don’t hardcode those things. Give a default name or verb, but make sure there is a way (even at the expense of a reg key change) to change it for those who hate "Home" already. Thanks.

    I don’t understand that on the one hand, WPF is all about decoupling UI and code, and in the Office team everything seems hardcoded and the result of a draconian choice, no matter how many people had the opportunity to decide.

    Are we in 2007?

    I want an Xml-driven UI for the front end.

    Better yet, I want this Xml not only to be an application-level thing, I want it to be a document-level thing : you read it right, have an optional customui.xml file in each and every .docx/.xlsx/.pptx file.

  28. Philip Taron says:

    How does this work with the Outlook message window, where there’s only one tab, typically?  Do you have the "Home" and "Developer" tabs at the top?

  29. jensenh says:

    Just finished moderating the first batch of comments…

    It was interesting that now that you’re commenting without being affected by everyone else’s comments how much many of the conflicts were at odds with one another.  Goes to show how hard it is to make even the simplest decision to please everyone.

    Anyway, yes we looked at Start and Compose and pretty much every other reasonable word.  Picking Home involved looking at the translations available, thinking about the model for apps in which the first tab might not be about "writing" down the road, etc.

    Keep in mind that you boot into this tab, and it’s the one with bold, italic, center, find, font, etc.  No one will have trouble finding this one–as I mentioned in the article, usability really reflected that we could call the first tab "foo" and not have it be impacted at all.  It’s the position as first tab that is far more relevant and important.

  30. jensenh says:

    Alex,

    I don’t know because they haven’t done the Russian translation yet, but Russian is one of the languages we look at frequently.

  31. “…we made the decision to go with the name ‘Home.'”

    Yesss!

    Now if I wanted to be a smart aleck, I’d suggest calling it “Tools.” But seriously, I think this is the best decision all things considered.

  32. johnh says:

    > No one will have trouble finding this one–as

    > I mentioned in the article, usability really reflected

    > that we could call the first tab “foo” and not have it be

    > impacted at all.

    I thought it was striking that this post was so focused on words words words when the rest of the UI discussions have been more holistic.

    If I were making a new app along the lines of yours that no one knew about I’d be strongly inclined to put my app’s icon either next to “Home” or in place of “Home”. It’s a good branding opportunity, and less boring than “Home”. That’s really valuable screen space: as you say it’s the first tab and everyone will see it most of the time. Might as well take advantage. Any app can have a “Home” tab, but only yours can have a [slick excel icon] tab.

    On the other hand many times boring is good, and the Office brand is strong already.

  33. Tim says:

    I can kind of see the reasoning behind this, but Home feels a bit too generic, and I was a bit disappointed that you chose it.

    I keep thinking of PowerPoint, as I rarely use it, so if I went to use it, and in the middle of something decided I wanted to manipulate some slides, I would have found the tab named ‘Slides’ a lot more obvious than ‘Home’.  I guess I would have worked it out if I’d turned over enough rocks.

    Other names suggested like Create or Compose don’t work – what if you want to edit a slide rather than create one?  So I agree with avoiding that kind of thing.

    Home just feels like "Meh.  We couldn’t think of what to call it." and like others, I was half expecting you to call it the ‘Start’ tab (which is just as grey and meaningless, tbh).

    That said, I’m not sure there is a ‘right’ solution to this.  Nomenclature is hard, but most people never spend much time on it, so I’m glad someone is.

    Still don’t like the big Office button though :)

  34. Mike328 says:

    Great job. As a long standing application developer, who agonizes over pixels and captions and the like, the decision you’ve settled on is perfect.

    The only thing I can’t figure out is why this blog is associated with such a horribly unreadable font–I can actually almost measure a reading speed 75% of what it should be normally as my visual system strains to process the strangely unreadable text.

    I believe that’s Cambria 10pt font. I think I understand now. This is a Vista font (that I put on my XP system), and it looks pretty horrible non-anti-aliased (via IE 6). I tried it in IE7 Beta 2 Preview 2 (MIX06) and it looks much better. I think that’s the gig. Apparently it will fall back on Georgia if Cambria isn’t present. I don’t think you intended the page to be viewed with Cambria in a non-anti-aliased and/or Cleartext context…

    Good work on the blog. Don’t let the negative comments / spam get you down, there are thousands of legitimate readers of this blog who, I’m sure, find it very educational (even the GUI hotshots!).

    –Mike

  35. Old Bones says:

    Home has a certain familiarity that will be comforting to a lot of users, particularly NOT those who read blogs about beta software! I suspect Main, Home, and Start would have all worked well. I’d like to ask Jensen a question that earlier folks asked — Will the round button in the upper-left corner actually be called the Office button? Also, when is the term "chunk" going to be revised?

  36. Kim Pedersen says:

    Home works fine in English – I’m Danish and translating "Home" into Danish doesn’t work.

    "Start" seems to be universal and works for Danes too :-)

    // Kim

  37. Somehow, Home sounds right in English, but I can only smile at the idea of the "Haus"/"Maison"/"Casa" translations for German/French/Italian; they really sound ridiculous, believe me.

    You’ve placed a heavy budren on the shoulders of the people responsible for localisation. I only hope they do a better job than for other parts of the Windows UI (I remember the funny translation of technical terms like "two-staged pipeline" in French: "oloduc  deux tages").

    Maybe you should indeed consider reorganizing the left of the ribbon: first, replace "Home" with the Office Icon and then add a real "File" tab instead of that strange round button…

    All that said, it’s really interesting to see how the UI evolves. And trying to keep up with you is rather difficult (visit http://www.creativedocs.net/blog/ to see what I mean).

    Pierre

  38. CS says:

    I think, "Home" is a good one (thinking about it, right now I would come up with Basic, Main, Start, Edit and Create), but if you’re going to keep it you should give it the hotkeys CTRL+Home and ALT+Home (or "Pos1" on my german keyboard).

    Have you considered problems in translation? Not every language allows such wide and vary meanings of words as English does. E.g. in German "zu Hause" (the literal translation of "Home") would strongly irritate users).

    Thanks for kicking the spammers.

    Hope they don’t get back here…

    So far

  39. Ilya Birman says:

    I’m not a native English speaker, but as far as I can see, "Home" is very nice name.

    The funny thing is, there’s no word "home" in Russian :-) So I wonder what they will call it.

    For the interested ones. In Russian there’s word "дом" (dom), which can mean "home" or "house", "building" depending on context. But дом put without context can only mean a building, not a "home", so this word won’t work for Russian speaker at all.

    However, given that you say it doesn’t matter that much how you call it, maybe they will go with дом? :-) Let’s see.

  40. mentas says:

    “Write”, “Sheet” and “Slides” looks better.

    “Home” not sounds great.

  41. J.Kroes says:

    OK, "home" sounds pretty clear. Did you consider "work" at all? Or would that be too broad of a description and confusing for people?

    Great site by the way, very informative. Can’t wait for the final version of Office 2007!

    J.Kroes

  42. Cutedbm says:

    I don’t know how they will call ‘home’ in the Chinese version.

    Seems very hard…

  43. headtoadie says:

    I’m not a big fan of Home. Home is too much of a browser word. And Start too much of a Windows term

    I actually prefer Main. Main is central, main is primary, main is Main Street.

    -HT

  44. I came across a feature which might be a bug, which might be a feature, which might disappear by the