Breathing New Life Into Old Features


One of the most startling and consistent pieces of feedback we’ve received from the early deployments of Office 2007 Beta 1 (and Beta 1 Technical Refresh) has been: “It’s great that you added the drawing tools to all of the Office programs! Now I don’t need to create the drawings in PowerPoint and copy them into Word/Excel/Outlook…”


Surprised? I certainly was.



While the drawing and graphics engine has certainly been massively improved in Office 2007, the same basic drawing capabilities have been available in Word/Excel/PowerPoint since Office 97. Yet, again and again we hear stories about people assiduously creating drawings in PowerPoint and copying them over piece by piece into their Word or Excel document. I remember during a site visit watching a man create a simple flowchart in Excel which should have taken 3 minutes actually take 15 minutes because of all of the cross-application, clipboard, and windowing work it took to keep moving shapes between the apps.


Why do many people believe the drawing tools are only in PowerPoint? Quite simply, PowerPoint is the only application which shipped with the Drawing toolbar turned on by default.


Of course, one could access the Drawing tools in Word or Excel in a couple of different ways: there is an unlabeled 16×16 icon on the Standard toolbar which toggles the Drawing toolbar on, for instance. Or, if you happen to be poking in the Picture submenu of the Insert menu, you might come across the AutoShapes command which floats the AutoShapes toolbar on top of your document content. Or, you could manually turn on the Drawing toolbar from the View Toolbars dialog box. or by right-clicking a different toolbar and clicking Drawing in the popup menu.


The result of these tools being split up and buried in so many places in the UI? Many people don’t find them.


Furthermore, because the Drawing toolbar is on by default in PowerPoint but isn’t in Word/Excel, some people intuit that the features don’t exist. (After all if they did exist, the toolbar would be there at the bottom of the screen, right?)


With that in mind, I shouldn’t have been shocked to hear from people pleasantly surprised to stumble across the drawing tools in the Office 2007 UI.


In fact, because there’s less UI to scan through (just six tabs to click on), we expect that a lot of people will find new features that save them time. And when we get feedback from people raving about “new features” that were actually added a decade ago, we know we’ve achieved one of our goals of helping people get more out of the capabilities that are already there.


The drawing area is unique in a few ways, and it’s one in which we’ve received a lot of feedback.


Tomorrow, I’ll discuss some of the tweaks we’ve made to the drawing UI along the way (and for Beta 2) based on this feedback.

Comments (24)

  1. Gabe says:

    As I recall, one of the reasons for breaking file format compatibility with Office95 was that the new format was needed to allow things like drawing directly integrated into the application (as opposed to OLE objects). It’s nice to know that the feature will now finally be obvious.

  2. Ollie says:

    Jensen, another GREAT blog entry

    I’m still on Easter break from my school so I’ve been sifting through various Office 12 blog sites and this is by far the best and most comprehensive, so congratulations =D

    Any news on the release date of Beta 2? I’m all signed up and eagerly awaiting it, so please try and give a ballpark date…(by the way, i don’t consider "sometime in the 2nd quarter of 2006" a ballpark ;))

    Anyway, keep up the great work!

  3. Jon Peltier says:

    I use PowerPoint or Excel to do my drawings, then paste them into Word, because the Word drawing canvas thing is not at all easy to understand. So much easier to draw the graphic in the other programs, then paste it inline as a picture or grouped object.

  4. Markus says:

    You can do drawings in *Excel*??

    [I do all my drawings in Visio, exporting them as WMF/EMF before including them into Word. Why? Because the Acrobat PDF plugin can’t reliably create PDFs from Word documents with embedded Visio Diagrams. Every other while, visio text elements will get get scrambled all over the page. In earlier versions, the color palette was sometimes mixed up when printing or PDFing.]

  5. LeMel says:

    I would agree with Mr. Peltier above about Word’s drawing canvases being dificult to work with.

    I think the reason people glom onto PowerPoint for drawing is that it presents the entire page as a canvas, which is more in keeping what people expect when they select a drawing tool.

    Of course that model doen’t jibe with the flowing text of a word processor, but why should a user have to know that to put a box where they want it to be?

    Anchor behavior often suprises people, and is not easily changed (buried under properties, layout, advanced…whew!)

    I find that Word is not always predictable in the way it accepts drawings pasted in – for example, sometimes it creates an automatic canvas, sometimes it doesn’t.

    Also, I find that PowerPoint seems to accept bits pasted out from FreeHand (and Illustrator) much better. From there, I can do whatever I want.

    Can’t wait to see the improvements!

    LeMel

  6. Guido D says:

    I tend to use PowerPoint instead of Word when pasting vector drawings (e.g. from Flash) because Powerpoint lets us ungroup them and therefore convert them into Office drawings while Word annoyingly lacks the ungrouping functionality and manages them as if they were bitmaps (even though they still are kept as embedded vectors, but you can’t change them at all)

  7. Comrade Ghorkov says:

    You say there’s 6 tabs to choose from, so the drawing tools will be easily found.

    That may well be the case, but remember not all the tools and options are shown if the window’s horizontal size is reduced. How does the new UI account for that?

  8. Tim says:

    @Comrade: The window scales in such a way that the tabs are still available, and groups shrink down to a single button which pop up their contents.

    For sure it’s easier when you see it on a larger window, but everything is still a click away.

  9. Just this morning a user with years of experience with Office asked me if you can draw lines on an Excel graph. She had the Help window open on her screen, but evidently it was little help. When Help is unhelpful, what’s the alternative? Look through promising menus. Unfortunately, when one is thinking of object-modifying actions such as "draw a line," View seems entirely irrelevant. Text-less toolbar icons are routinely uninterpretable by naive users, so, no, she didn’t find the Drawing toolbar control. Its icon is a letter and a couple solid shapes; what could *that* mean? Well, then there’s right-clicking the toolbar. Oh, seriously.

    Text-labeled menus can work very well for discovering features, but only if the menus are properly organized. Icon-labeled toolbars suck at discoverability. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that features only available through toolbars are unknown among many users. Thankfully, Office 2007 will address this issue.

  10. Andrea says:

    Well…its not exactly true that Word has the same drawing features as Excel and Powerpoint, at least not in the Beta 1 Technical Refresh.  Word still seems to be using something that looks more like the 2003 support for drawing objects, rather than the new ones found in Excel and Powerpoint.  

    For example, compare the shape of the heart, or the fact that the teardrop doesn’t exist in Word.  Also the default fills/lines/effects are different.  Even the way they are stored in the file are different.

    Will Word eventually give up on the old shapes and switch to the new ones like the other two apps?

    On the other hand, the canvas appears to be gone and for that I’m happy.

    BTW I love your blog!  Always something new and interesting.  I just wish the Word and PowerPoint blogs were as active.

  11. Francis says:

    It’s wonderful to hear that the drawing capabilities will be excavated from the depths of the UI.

    Will the same go for features that have been, until now, ONLY accessible via the keyboard? What does your usage data say about these features (probably neglected?)

    In Word, these include field (F9 key plus modifiers), formatting (e.g. CTRL+SHIFT+J), and editing functions (e.g. the indispensable SHIFT+F5.)

    Similarly, in Excel, there are scores of poorly or altogether undocumented shortcuts. Compare MS’s rather paltry list at:

    http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/assistance/HP011116591033.aspx

    with this:

    http://www.ozgrid.com/Excel/ExcelKeyBoardShortcutKeys.htm

  12. Francis says:

    It’s wonderful to hear that the drawing capabilities will be excavated from the depths of the UI.

    Will the same go for features that have been, until now, ONLY accessible via the keyboard? What does your usage data say about these features (probably neglected?)

    In Word, these include field (F9 key plus modifiers), formatting (e.g. CTRL+SHIFT+J), and editing functions (e.g. the indispensable SHIFT+F5.)

    Similarly, in Excel, there are scores of poorly or altogether undocumented shortcuts. Compare MS’s rather paltry list at:

    http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/assistance/HP011116591033.aspx

    with this:

    http://www.ozgrid.com/Excel/ExcelKeyBoardShortcutKeys.htm

  13. Francis says:

    It’s wonderful to hear that the drawing capabilities will be excavated from the depths of the UI.

    Will the same go for features that have been, until now, ONLY accessible via the keyboard? What does your usage data say about these features (probably neglected?)

    In Word, these include field (F9 key plus modifiers), formatting (e.g. CTRL+SHIFT+J), and editing functions (e.g. the indispensable SHIFT+F5.)

    Similarly, in Excel, there are scores of poorly or altogether undocumented shortcuts. Compare MS’s rather paltry list at:

    http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/assistance/HP011116591033.aspx

    with this:

    http://www.ozgrid.com/Excel/ExcelKeyBoardShortcutKeys.htm

  14. TechRec says:

    I agree with the points above.  Word’s drawing functions are terrible.  After so many versions it seems that some of these features have gone backwards in 2003.

    When you insert a textbox or another drawing object the default should be to anchor it to the nearest text object and insert a break in the text flow to accomdate the users drawing.  Instead we get this (apparantly) random layout changes that causes such a problem when doing some even basic diagrams.  

    If nothing else is fixed, I hope this one is.

  15. Según el blog de <a href="http://blogs.msdn.com/jensenh/archive/2006/04/24/582154.aspx" target="_blank">Jensen Harris </a>, la gente suele creer que sólo en PowerPoint se pueden hacer gráficos, y luego hay

  16. Michael J. says:

    So, by and large, besides cooler-looking graphs and live preview, new Office (Word in particular, since I rarely use other Office apps) is made for reading-challenged ones who are too lazy to look into the online help system?

    And by the way, the help system has been degrading since Office 6.0. Word 2002 has (or seems to have) a reference-like pocket version of real good old documentation. Maybe this is another reason for users’ unawareness of Office features?

  17. juergen says:

    the main reason why I am using the drawing tool in Power Point is: I can save my drawing as a .png file. which app did you use to create the drawings for your blog: word? power point? paint?