No Distaste for Paste (Why the UI, Part 7)

This is the seventh part in my eight-part series of entries in which I outline some of the reasons we decided to pursue a new user interface for Office 2007.

Last time I issued a challenge: for readers to pick the most-used command in Microsoft Word 2003 and also the top 5 most-used commands (bonus points for having them in order.)

For me, the most interesting part was reading the justifications around the guesses. I’ll reproduce a few of them here:

“Ctrl-Z Undo has *got* to be one of the top 5. I’m sure that bold/italic are in there too.”

“…Save is very rarely used. Most end-users I’ve known are very hostile to the idea of saving frequently.”

“I disagree with everyone. My mother can’t cut and copy and paste, and she’s probably much more of a typical user than any of us.”

“normal ppl don’t use Print Preview.”

Now you have a pretty good idea what designing software at Microsoft was like before we collected data through the Customer Experience Improvement Program. Our internal discussions would have been peppered with the same wild guesses, justifications, and personal “anecdotes” served up as fact.

And looking over the guesses, one can’t help but be surprised at the variety of commands nominated. From “Word Count” to “Tab Adjustments” to “Final Showing Markup” to “Header Style”, is it any wonder it’s a bit tricky to design a feature organization for software used by 400 million people?

The only difference between your wild guesses and ours would have been that ours would have become reflected in the product. If someone had a strong feeling that a particular feature was important and could convince people with her justification, then probably the product would have reflected that person’s bias. We do try to hire people with a good “sense” of how the software is used–but this is most powerful when combined with the real data to back it up.

We’re hard at work mining data from Office 2003

OK, time for the big moment. The data set I’m pulling from is all Word 2003 users who have opted in to the program. We could slice the data based on, perhaps, CPU speed to try to get more power users. Or 800×600 screen resolution, to try to get more home users. But in this case, we’re looking at the entire data set of commands executed through any means (toolbar, menu, context menu, or keyboard shortcut.)

Top 5 Most-Used Commands in Microsoft Word 2003

  1. Paste

  2. Save

  3. Copy

  4. Undo

  5. Bold

Together, these five commands account for around 32% of the total command use in Word 2003. Paste itself accounts for more than 11% of all commands used, and has more than twice as much usage as the #2 entry on the list, Save.

Paste is also far-and-away the number one command in Excel and PowerPoint, accounting for 15% and 12% of total command use, respectively.

Beyond the top 10 commands or so, however, the curve flattens out considerably. The percentage difference in usage between the #100 command (“Accept Change”) and the #400 command (“Reset Picture”) is about the same in difference between #1 and #11 (“Change Font Size”) This is what makes creating the new UI challenging–people really do use a lot of the breadth of Office and beyond the top 10 commands there are a lot of different ways of using the product.

Here’s an example of where we used this very data to help make a decision in Office 2007. Early on, we were toying with the idea of not having buttons for Cut/Copy/Paste in the Ribbon. Everyone “knew” that people mostly used CTRL+X/C/V to do most clipboard actions (which was true.) And that mouse users used the context menu to access these clipboard commands (which was also true.)

What we didn’t know until we analyzed the data was that even though so many people do use CTRL+V and do use “Paste” on the context menu, the toolbar button for Paste still gets clicked more than any other button. The command is so incredibly popular that even though there are more efficient ways of using it, many people do prefer to click the toolbar button.

The data kept us from making a crucial, stupid mistake. One which we might not have caught during the beta due to the high expertise level of our beta users. Once we recognized the importance of the Paste toolbar button, it was promoted to the first big button on the left side of Word’s first tab.

A few people asked in comments about the top “actions” done in Word 2003. Here they are: Cursor Right, Cursor Left, Cursor Down, Backspace, Cursor Up. Even the last of these (Cursor Up) is done about 8 times more than Paste, so people are doing a lot of cursoring around in the document (as you’d expect.) We don’t collect letter and number presses, but I expect you would find that they line up along expected frequencies

So, without further ado, the winners of the contest:

  • Grand Prize: “herzi”, for guessing “paste, copy, save, print, undo” That’s 4 out of 5, with #1 guessed correctly as Paste.

  • Second Prize: “John C. Kirk”, for being the first one to guess Paste correctly as the #1 used command.

  • Third Prize: “Step”, for being first to correctly guess 4 out of 5.

Congratulations to all three winners! Your frame-ready award certificate is ready to be picked up.

To everyone else, thanks for playing and better luck next time.

Comments (36)

  1. Too bad I wasn’t here the first time the article ran. I might have put them in a different order, but that’s definitely the five I would have picked.

    Where was Cut?

  2. This is the eighth part in my eight-part series of entries in which I outline some of the reasons we…

  3. Nektar says:

    What annoys me a  lot is that you do not and have not clearly and in detailed explained the Customer Experience Improvement Program to your users. When people look at the option to sign up, nothing is explained on what will be collected and how and nothing is done to aleviate users’ privacy fears except a very general comment that no personally identifiable information will be collected. Please explain to your users what the program does ie. it collect the commands impoke in Office and the key presses except letter and numbers. In this way, perhaps more users might be willing to sign up. This is the issue with all of your Customer Improvement Programs, they never say what they collect and when Microsoft is asked they say that it is too technical for normal users to understand but that we shouldn’t be worried about our privacy. Be more specific please. Not because you have to but also simple becasue you can, they is no reason, technical or not, to prevent you from being open and honest on this process.

  4. <blockquote>

    Once we recognized the importance of the Paste toolbar button, it was promoted to the first big button on the left side of Word’s first tab.


    This seems to me to be disregarding another important attribute of the design of clipboard UI since at least the Mac: the sequentiality of Copy and Paste.  There are many reasons that C is the key-equivalent for Copy, among them are the ease of typing Command-C (less true of Ctrl-C, but still…) and the sequentiality of C and V on US keyboards.  Copy directly precedes Paste in the traditional Edit menu; I personally think putting the clipboard commands on toolbars is stupid – but Copy and Paste are adjacent and in order on toolbars, too.  A couple.

    Users must Copy (or Cut) before they Paste; because they can Paste the same clipboard contents repeatedly it is natural that Paste would have a higher usage count than Copy – but the logic of putting it in first position based on usage count, to my mind, does not come close to the logic of putting it after the action that is its necessary predecessor.

    I think this is a mistake.

  5. Tim Dennell says:

    I’m an IT trainer working with seniors every day teaching computer basics.

    One cause if much confusion is between Past button and Format Painter. The latter is a Paste Brush so it’s what people intuitively think will be the Paste button.

    In your redesign you could do with looking at how people interpret symols. And it needs changing. Even the words Cut, Copy & Paste if necessary.

  6. Joe says:

    I was kind of disappointed, though not too surprised, that bold was so high.

    From what I know, bold is normally used to create headings (as well as highlight/emphasize text within a sentence). It is popular because of the simple ‘B’ button and the ctrl-b keyboard shortcut.

    For headings, while this helps for visual purposes, I think this violates basic accessibility. While it looks like a heading it is not, and screen readers etc have a tough time conveying this to their users. The style gallery helps, but from what I have seen of the demos of the new Office, that seems hidden away. Indeed, looking at a video at I could not see it at all.

    Given accessibilty is a legal requirement in many countries, I think you should do more to encourage good document structure, as that is fundamentally what is key to accessibility. You can do this without sacrificing cool design, if you can find a way to encourage use of headings, e.g. by playing an H button or something like that next to the B button.

    If bold became popular because of its ease of discoverability, make headings popular as well.

    People do things that are easy and also accomplish their goals. But the software also determines what users do. If you never provided bold to be so easy to find, people would have found ways to do it no doubt, but it would not have been as widely used… So, while user needs drive your software, remember that you also deterine some user behavior. It is therefore partly your responsibility to encourage good usage.

    Headings is a great example of where that is important…

  7. Andy Prior says:

    Visio must have realised that copy/paste was very frequently used as they added the excellent ‘Duplicate’ command to the context menu.

    So what have Microsoft done in recent versions ? – removed it!! I have refused to upgrade my copy once I noticed this vandalism.

  8. I really enjoyed having a beer with Andy Bounds last night. Andy is an inspirational communications coach

  9. I really enjoyed having a beer with Andy Bounds last night. Andy is an inspirational communications coach

  10. Programming says:

    .kbd {font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;padding:5px 3px;white-space:nowrap;color:#000;background

  11. Paste is officially the most used command in Microsoft Office ( based on data from the Customer Experience

  12. Paste is officially the most used command in Microsoft Office ( based on data from the Customer Experience

  13. Vilfredo Federic Damaso Pareto was born in 1848. During his notable career in the field of micro-economics, he observed that 80% of the income in 19th century Italy went to the richest 20% of the population. This became known as the Pareto prinicple,