Putting the Feedback to Work (Real People Study, Part 3)


Today’s Guest Writer: Rich Grutzmacher


Rich Grutzmacher is a Program Manager on the Office User Experience team. He helped coordinate one of the long-term, real-world studies conducted on early Office 2007 builds.

This is the third in a series of entries where I will share with you some of the lessons we learned by following a group of typical Office users for eight months while they used Office 2007 Beta 1 to perform their everyday work.


Last time, I discussed how exciting and encouraging it was to verify for the first time with users outside of Microsoft that they could quickly learn how to use Office 2007 to do their own work with virtually no training. Today I would like to share with you an anecdote that demonstrates how feedback obtained from participants using Office 2007 Beta 1 for an extended period of time was used to improve the product before Beta 2 was released to the public.


Those who frequently read Jensen’s blog will likely agree that designing the user interface for an application like Office can be tricky. Often, our most difficult design decisions involve how to make features both discoverable and efficient to use. Just imagine how annoying it would if every time you clicked on the Print icon a little balloon pop-up saying, “Did you know that you can use the print settings dialog to change from single-sided printing to double-sided printing!” I am sure that many people would find this unacceptable, but it would certainly score highly on the discoverability scale.


As designs that optimize for efficiency sometimes require a bit of learning, we were not only required to evaluate if new features in the Office 2007 UI were discoverable, but also if they were learnable. To effectively answer this question, long-term observation of participants using Office 2007 Beta 1 was required.


A prime example of behavior that required learning in involved locating the View commands. In Beta 1, the View Menu was located on the status bar in the bottom-right corner of the screen.



In Beta 1, View features were in a menu at the bottom of the window


We knew from our earliest usability studies that the View menu was not particularly discoverable with this design, but we believed that it would be easily learnable and would provide efficient access to the View commands. This design also fit nicely with the zoom and document view buttons placed on the enhanced status bar in Office 2007.


Unfortunately, our belief that the location of the View commands on the status bar would be learnable turned out not to be true. This was demonstrated best by one study participant in the extended usage study who sent us a Smile during her first couple days using Office 2007 to tell us how much she liked the new View Menu on the status bar.


Two weeks later, this same study participant sent us a Frown to tell us how frustrated she was because she could not find Split Window (a command in the View Menu).


This type of feedback concerning the learnability of Office 2007 could only be obtained through long-term, extended observations of people using the product to do real work. In this case, these observations played an important role in helping us make the decision to create a View tab for the Ribbon, which appeared in Beta 2.


This change greatly improved the usability of the product, because it matched people’s expectations that all features were found in the Ribbon. When we did follow-up visits with newer builds, we found that all of the previous problems accessing View functionality had simply melted away.


We found and fixed literally dozens of issues like this directly based on feedback from the extended-usage studies–issues we normally wouldn’t have found until we shipped and would have had to put off fixing until the next version.

Comments (8)

  1. Francis says:

    Interesting post! I am intrigued by the "Manage This/Multiple Window(s)" commands on the Beta 1 view menu. Did it assume the function of the document control menu? They remind me of a smile/frown report I sent a couple minutes ago:

    "The control menus do not really fit into the Office 2007 UI.

    1. The application control menu (ALT+SPACE) has no visible way (window control) to invoke it.

    2. The document control menu (ALT-MINUS) seems stranded. It’s situated between a lot of highly-used controls (Office button, undo button, Home tab, Paste, Cut). It is out of place here and will probably attract stray clicks. What is an iconic menu doing on a row of textual ribbon tabs?

    3. The document control menu and the View tab share similar functionality: New Window, Arrange All, Split, Switch Windows,and the remaining buttons on the Window group of the View tab could be on the control menu or vice-versa. This division is not logical. Given the presence of the Minimize, Restore/Maximize, and Close buttons right of the ? (Help) button also unnecessary.

    Why not remove the control menu and either:

    a. merge its functionality into the View tab (and let users invoke the View tab with ALT+MINUS, R/M/S/N/X/C to retain the old shortcuts)

    b. remove the control menu and assign its keyboard shortcuts to the buttons right of the ? button (so when the user presses ALT, a "- R" tooltip would hover next to the Restore button.)"

  2. Jeff says:

    Good post, Rich.

    In your example, it sounds like there is more going on than just what is discoverable and what is learnable. The subject seems to have easily discovered the View menu, but did not retain the knowledge of everything that was included within it. It’s probably true to say that she had learned where the view menu was, and even how to access view controls, but she did not seem to retain the fact that your initial design grouped the window management controls with the view controls.

    What I like about the long-term research is that it gives you the kind of data you need to look beyond the surface of a question like "Is having the View menu on the Status bar discoverable, or at least learnable?" The user’s initial response seems to indicate "Yes," but the longer time scale allows you to dig deeper to find out that the answer is more nuanced than that.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. A User says:

    I have been trying to keep an open mind about the ribbon, and not be hung up on doing things the good old way. Then I read David Gainer’s comment in a discussion on his Excel blog that he rarely uses the ribbon, and keeps it collapsed most of the time.

    http://blogs.msdn.com/excel/archive/2006/07/10/661506.aspx#662529

    When a key evangelist admits to just turning the thing off, clearly too great a tradeoff has been made for the sake of discoverability.

    Are we regressing to the good old days before drop down menus were invented!? I for one am not nostalgic for the time when the definition of a power user was someone who set aside the cardboard keyboard template (now ribbon) and memorized all the command key combinations.

  4. richardg says:

    Francis,

    The "Manage This/Multiple Window(s)" commands on the Beta 1 view menu mostly contained the controls you will now find in the Window Group on the View Tab.

  5. [ICR] says:

    Using keyboard commands is one of the most sensible and efficient ways of working. Most people only use a subset, so there isn’t a huge amount of commands to memorise. It then depresiates the tracking time when switching between keyboard where you are entering information and working and focused on what you are doing, and using the mouse and trying to navigate the UI.

    However, keyboard shortcuts aren’t for everyone, which is why we have UI.

    For people that use the shortcuts, which again is one of the most efficient ways of working, why do you need the UI? So just hide it.

    I have a huge interest in usability and interfaces, any software I design I make sure to focus a large portion of my efforts on the interface. However, I myself am a "power user" for alot of things. I use keyboard shortcuts all over the place. I rarely use the interface on alot of applications once I have worked out my little rut of workflow.

    I really don’t see what the problem is. If a key evangalist isn’t using the shortcuts all the time, clearly something is wrong with the shortcuts.