Let’s MIX it up!

Just a short note to let you know that I'll be presenting a new session during MIX in Las Vegas on Friday, March 7 at 10:00 entitled "The Story of the Ribbon."

In this session, I'm going to present the story of the Ribbon--the customer problems that we were aiming to solve by designing a new user interface for Office, the prototypes we considered (but abandoned), the mistakes we learned from along the way, and the principles we used to create the Office 2007 user interface.

It will be informal narrative, with lots of pictures and screenshots--my perspective as a member of the team who worked on the user interface from day one until the day we shipped. My goal is to keep it light and fun, but hopefully also to share many of the lessons we learned along the way.

The session is part of MIX UX, a three-day user experience track which is new to MIX08.

I'm also going to be participating in a panel discussion on Wednesday, March 5 at 3:00 called "What's the Secret Formula?" This discussion will be focused on how to overcome the challenges seemingly inherent in creating software with a great user experience.  I'll be sharing the panel with participants from Mozilla, Adaptive Path, and elsewhere at Microsoft. It should be fun.

If you're at MIX, I'd love to chat, so please feel free to come by and introduce yourself. I hope to meet some of you in person either at my sessions or elsewhere at MIX!

More information about all the great MIX content is on the MIX08 web site.

Comments (26)
  1. Kirkburn says:

    He lives! 😉

    I look forward to hearing the reports!

  2. robin says:

    Somebody should also write an article about the customer problems you introduced with the new UI 😉

  3. thatguy says:

    Someone should also make sure robin never posts again…


  4. A User says:

    Good to know you are really "Not Gone." I miss your informative and insightful posts. Sorry I will not be in Vegas.

  5. Alex Railean says:

    Will the presentation be downloadable?

    It would also be great if someone could film and publish it, I am very interested in the stuff you want to share with us.

  6. gemini says:

    I agree with Robin’s response. I wonder if MS will ever release any data than indicates how many existing Office users didn’t like the ridiculous "Ribbon". I’ve been using Office apps for a long time now and the new UI is the main reason I’m now evaluating other (non-MS) options.

  7. robin says:

    Yes, actually the MS-known but non-disclosed bugs, compatibility issues and removed features seem even more annoying to me than the ribbon.

    It’s no good idea to start on the next release before the current release does things right.

  8. Dean says:

    To thatguy: Make sure robin never posts again?


    I completely agree with robin. Office 2007 is hideous. The UI is abominable.

    Google "office 2007 sucks" and see what happens … or should all those thousands of people not be allowed to post either?

  9. Francis says:

    Dean: you could make the same argument about most kinds of change. Complaints outnumber praise simply because people are more vociferous in complaining than they are in praising. Sure, Google may list 10,000 pages decrying the new interface, but are the authors of those pages truly representative of the entire userbase?

    Just because a group is vocal does not mean it’s the only one out there. There often are large, silent majorities that, if asked, would voice a different opinion.

  10. gemini says:

    Francis, read my earlier post. I’d like to know the actual numbers myself.

    BTW, I notice my post from yesterday, re the 3 criteria Jensen himself had stated for the UI design, hasn’t appeared here yet. From my perspective, none of those three were fulfilled by that ridiculous "Ribbon", esp. the third one. I wonder if the posts here are being censored!

  11. Daniel says:

    Gemini and robin,

    Most people that I have came across hate the ribbon because they hate change.  After using the ribbon for a while I find features much quicker then I did in prior versions of Office and I am definetly not a beggining user.  I do however think they need to modify the ribbon but it is the first version.  Also, Robin please tell us what features they removed?  I don’t know of any.

  12. gemini says:

    Daniel, I dislike the Ribbon because it affected my productivity adversely. It takes more clicks to get things done than with the classic UI. Per Jensen Harris, that one of the criteria for success, i.e. get things done with the same or less effort.

    I welcome change when it improves matters, which the Ribbon decidedly hasn’t done. Why would I want to invest resources in learning the new UI when it offers absolutely zero benefits (to me) over the classic UI?

    If MS provides users with an alternative, classic UI and THEN measures how many users are using the Ribbon UI, that’ll indicate how well the Ribbon UI has been received. As of now, many users don’t have a choice and have the new UI basically shoved down their throats. As a result, it’s very easy for MS to claim "success".

  13. robin says:


    Well, I’m a power user, too. Actually if we roll out O2K7 I’d have to tell some hundreds of people why things are slower, not working or missing in O2K7.

    One missing thing is "Send for review". Actually it’s still there but you have to put it manually into the QAT. And no, I don’t want to be forced to adopt Sharepoint Services with all consequences just to use something like this. MS signals that this feature might not be in the next Word version anymore. I guess they won’t care if some millions of people (behind a company firewall) still want to use this feature.

    Another actually missing thing is, it O2K7 does not open ppt files from Powerpoint 4.0 anymore. When trying, it doesn’t even tell the reason to the user – it just says the file is unreadable.

    For a more complete list have a look at the ORK article "Differences in the 2007 Office system"


    Many things get slower done with the ribbon. I.e. try to draw many forms (arcs, lines, circles, etc.). In the toolbar-versions of office you could stick the toolbar with the forms to the screen being available all the time while drawing. Now you have to click each time Insert/Forms. Even putting this into the QAT is slower than having the forms all the time on the screen.

    Or click on a picture. With previous Word versions the picture command bar automatically appeared. With Word 2k7 you have to click the context tab to do adjustments to the picture.

    Even the new way to choose styles seems not as good to me as the old Combo Box.

    I agree with you the O2K7-Ribbon isn’t completed.

    Further missing things in Excel are "Copy as Picture" (Edit/Shift+Copy) which IMHO is the only way to get a chart reliably and identically as displayed over to Word.

    Another thing which got much harder with the Ribbon (while not impossible but try to locate this function yourself) is to insert a picture from a scanner. In previous versions it was Insert=>Picture=>From Scanner. This was a quite logical place for it, wasn’t it?

    On compatibility to previous versions we don’t have to talk, do we? Someone published a great slideshow on this:


  14. robin says:

    Sorry, wrong link above.

    "Differences in the 2007 Office system" is currently at:


  15. jensenh says:

    Anytime you make a substantial change that affects a large number of people, some people are going to like the change, and some won’t.

    In the case of Office, we have over 450 million customers. So, even in a hypothetical case where 99% of people like something, that’s still nearly 5 million people who don’t.

    And as we all know, people tend to be most vocal when they have a negative opinion (especially online.)  🙂

    That said, overall the new UI has been a success (and not just theoretically, given the fast market adoption of the product.)

    In the most recent independent research that was done of people who have had Office 2007 for at least 3 months, 84% reported that the UI makes them "more productive" and 82% reported that they found it "easier to use" (vs. Office 2003.)

    Overall satisfaction for the UI change across the board is in the mid-80’s–honestly higher than I would have guessed possible given the magnitude of the change. Negatives are in the mid-single digits.

    At the same time, I certainly appreciate that people will always have valid, differing viewpoints about what works well and what doesn’t in software. We continually monitor feedback about the Office UI so that we can continue improve it in future versions.

    On Robin’s detailed feedback:

    The features cited were removed because of astronomically low usage or compatibility issues. Insert Picture from Scanner was removed because it didn’t work with virtually any modern scanner or OS. Copy and Paste as Picture are still there–on the Paste dropdown on the Clipboard group. Send for Review was taken out of the default UI because it didn’t work dependably on most infrastructures, and had extremely low usage.

    In the case of Picture Tools, when you insert a picture, the contextual tabs are automatically activated–no extra click is necessary. When you want to use the tools again, you can double-click the picture to bring forward the tools, just like in Office 2003.

  16. gemini says:

    Jensen, I do agree that when substantial changes are made, some will like it and some won’t.

    However, I refer you to the three criteria for success you mentioned at the BayCHI presentation on 12-13-2005. Based on my personal experience, none of those three hold with the Ribbon, esp. the third one, as it takes more key/mouse clicks to perform the same tasks. Ergo, the new UI is decidedly less efficient.

    Other other sites, such as TechRepublic, there have been plenty of users with less-than-positive opinions about the Ribbon. The posts from sysadmins are particularly interesting. One stated that after evaluating both Office 2007 and OpenOffice, the company decided to abandon Windows Vista & Office 2007 and move to Linux & OpenOffice. I’m personally evaluating other alternatives, such as OpenOffice & Zoho. Whereas their UIs are different, they’re a sight more logical than the Ribbon (IMHO, of course).

    To me, investing the time & effort to learn the Ribbon UI, merely so I can continue with my daily tasks, is a very low ROI proposition. BTW, I’ve been using Office apps for more years than I care to remember. I’ve never had any issues with the changes (UI or otherwise), until this one.

    It’ll be interesting to see the composition of the user base used for the survey you mentioned. How many of those were "captive" users, those who have to use it at work and don’t have another choice? A more accurate measure, IMHO, would have been to provide users with a choice between the Ribbon and the classic UI and see how many choose the Ribbon of their own free volition.

  17. robin says:


    Ok, you’ve cleared out some of the points out for me now. Thank you for that. Nevertheless Office 2007 needs improvements to keep up with previous versions in some areas.

    To put "Copy as picture" to the Paste dropdown seems strange to me but not harder than Shift-Edit/Copy.

    The graphics tools appeared in previous Word versions with a single click AFAIK. In Word 2007 single click to get the context tools works for tables but not for pictures. This is an inconsistent experience for users.

    To remove features from Office because of compatibility issues seems a bad idea to me. Anyway getting a picture from scanner is still available but deep buried in Office in the clipart organizer. I’m sure it will have the same compatibility issues there. However removing features because they caused trouble with some small percentage of hardware or OSes is not the way to go.

    Furthermore removing features in general is no good idea. Companies might rely in their workflow on them maybe for things that are important but get havily used ony once a year. And if I tell some users to do something in a certain way I actually want to rely on that the feature is still there in the next Office versions and I must not invent the wheel and figure out for them how to do things then.

    In other words: IMHO there’s not too much great improvement in Office 2007 Standard over previous versions. So why should companies buy it when even useful features got removed?

    Send for review worked for infrastructures using Outlook just fine. So I wonder which are the "most infrastructures" where it didn’t work.

    I also doubt MS got much real data from companies in their usage statistics. Big companies where you would also expect power users of Office will definitely stop sending Office products statistics data out via their company firewall and/or GPO.

    And just because a feature is only needed by power users which are a small percentage you should not remove it either! Or does MS not have the power users in focus any more – only the big mass?

    Most urgent issue however is anything which is buggy or inconsistent regarding compatibility to previous Office versions. And PUBLIC DOCUMENTATION of known issues. I also put a dozen issues to MS support a long time aga which are still NOT in the MS KB.

    I’m sure compatibility/interoperability during roll-out is one of the main reasons why companies do not upgrade to Office 2007.

    So if you did not already please have a deep look at the compatibility issues described in the slide show. Here’s the link again:


    Any compatibilty/interoperability issues should definitely get fixed in Office 2007 and not in the upcoming releases.

  18. gemini says:

    Jensen, I appreciate the issues you faces, having been a software consultant for quite while now. That’s involved some rather unusual UI work as well.

    I’ve used Office products for many years now. I’ve been using the trial version of Office 2007. I use Excel very heavily. It’s been crashing with no provocation at random. The Ribbon has been very counter-productive, to say the least. I also found it quite non-intuitive.

    On 12/13/2005, you mentioned three criteria for the new UI at the BayCHI presentation. From my perspective, none of those three criteria are fulfilled by the Ribbon, esp. the third one, as it takes more mouse/key clicks to perform the same tasks.

    To me, it appears learning a new UI in order to continue doing the same work as before, is a low ROI proposition. What would my incentive to invest $$$s in buying the new Office suite and then investing the time & effort to learn the new UI?

    BTW, it will be surely interesting to see what kind of users contributed to the poll. From the responses I’ve seen, experienced Office users have had a much harder time adapting to the new UI. Based on posts on the TechRepublic site, the overall projected costs (purchase as well as training) have prompted some to move away from MS Office suite entirely.

    If MS were to provide the classic UI as well, despite the fact some functionality may not be exposed, and allow users to choose which UI they want, that will provide the real test. Right now, some users don’t have choice but to learn the new UI, eg. in situations where the employer has chosen to upgrade to Office 2007.

  19. Fred says:


    1.  Will your MIX presentation be available live or as an ‘on demand’ one afterwards?

    2. Someone mentioned that you’ve moved on from leading the effort on the Office ribbon.  If so, what have you moved into now for work effort and what does it mean to the Ribbon in Office?  (i.e. MS Office has a history of one or two version ‘new cool things’ or product introductions that just as you get to the point of using them widely are suddenly gone or ‘no longer being worked on’.

  20. gemini says:

    Jensen, sorry for the redundant post. Since the first one didn’t show up for over a day, I figured technology was playing one of its tricks. Hence the second one!

  21. MaSala says:

    (Please excuse all grammar and spelling errors, as English is not my native tongue, and it’s pretty late at night here in Germany right now :-))

    First of all, Jensen’s session is up and downloadable at the MIX website: http://sessions.visitmix.com/ – select the UX track "tab", and there it is, currently on page 2. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work with Firefox (portable), even with Silverlight plugin installed. I really like the presentation style and content (I was surprised it had so much sound in it, something I haven’t witnessed often in the last 5 years).

    I found it very interesting to see more of the prototypes: very fresh ideas in there – some of them pretty radical -, and I believe Fluent UI got the best of those implemented. It was nice to hear Jensen say (I don’t wanna use the word "admit") that the UI takes up a lot of space. Because that’s clearly an issue, at least in Word. (The number one reason standard users who have been working with Office 2007 for quite a few time ask me for help is related to features that involve the ruler.)

    I was disappointed by some euphemisms… like painting the "somewhat disagree" column of the Forrester Research findings light green instead of light red and labeling them "independent" — I hope I remember correctly that these numbers were from the Forrester papers) and not losing many words on the current usability issues (some of which I describe below).

    The fact that you only get the SQM data from people who agree on this is a valid argument imho. Even more when you take a closer look at it:

    Do you have any numbers on what kind of people agree, and what kind of people disagree on SQM? That is, how is the external validity of those data? I would bet it’s a inversely proportional function of usage time or generalized PC expertise. With an asymptote. That is, if 95% of the people who use the apps 10 times more frequently than the average user dismiss the SQM question (and are less prone to participate in any kind of feedback in general), you might vastly underestimate the usage of some functions, the proportion of keyboard shortcuts or accelerators, etc etc. Of course, you approach this issue by longitudinal tests, but you will never be able to know how skewed your data are unless you act as unethically as other companies do and make the SQM agreement a very tiny checkmark during the installation process that is checked by default.

    Unfortunately, as you also state, the ribbon/Fluent UI isn’t good for every application. In fact, the bigger a product is (i.e.: The bigger the benefits of a good ribbon interface would be), the harder it is to *adequately* pack the features into ribbons. Very few companies invest as much thought and evaluation in their UIs with eye tracking, or at least video surveillance, or at least card sortings, or even conducting any user testing.

    A screwed-up ribbon probably is much worse than a screwed-up standard menu, as people still are accustomed to the standard menu layout.

    Don’t give too much on usability evaluations of system administrators or all kinds of power users. If you are a system admin or power user yourself, don’t trust your judgement on whether a UI is good or bad for standard users. As Jensen has stated repeatedly (and many good usability researchers have proven repeatedly): If you’ve been working with a product long enough and used most of its functionality, of course it makes perfect sense to you. But that says nothing about a standard user. How someone performs with a new program/UI within the first few usage hours also might say very little about how he’s gonna perform after, say, 20 hours of usage. If the learning curve is steep enough, substantial performance losses (a flooded tech support hotline in a company) might quickly convert into substantial performance gains (a lot of coffee breaks for the tech support guys)! Evaluating the usability of software is a very hard thing to do, and the people who are programming the software should under no circumstances be the only people who evaluate it when the software is for normal users!

    For me, a few of the bigger usability issues are:

    1) Horizontal resizing is very sophisticated in O12, but still bad, since the look totally changes… I know that today most people only use their app in full screen, but that changes as computer displays are getting bigger. Unfortunately, 16:10 displays are dominating the market, worsening this issue (Pivot is very rare). I really wonder how this is being worked on.

    2) The Office button. Probably was a demand from some Vista design folks. Has been improved by the usability team as much as possible with Fitt’s law and "hi-click-me-blinking", but remains totally unintuitive. "File" imho would be a great name for the set of features the Office Button now contains.

    3) LiveView not for all features.

    4) The help system. I can only speak for the German help system, but that one is horrible. Without online content, it’s pretty much pointless. But the worst thing is that all the little help buttons in dialog boxes are non-contextual: They *always* bring you to the start site of the help system!

    5) low-contrast design with color gradient. Overall, this probably is not a huge issue for many people, but it is (unnecessarily!!) hard for (older) people who don’t have perfect vision. My parents stopped using O12 because it is just too exhausting for them to scan thru the ribbon. This could’ve been so easily prevented. (At least do it similar to O11: Select classic style in Windows makes available a classic style in O12, too)

    6) As someone said before: Drawing a lot of forms or lines in PowerPoint is something many people I know commonly do, and therefore it is something that annoys people a lot.

    7) Bugs. Number one bug annoyance (in the German version, SP1): spell check doesn’t work correctly: If you add a word to the user dictionary, the red-squiggle line doesn’t go away. Right-click the word again, and it does in fact go away. Additionally, if you change a word or a phrase in a sentence to another language (say, an english literature reference in a German text), Word just ignores your choice. Do it twice, do it three times – Word still ignores it.

    So, to rap it up, this is all beefing and nagging on a very high level. After almost 18 months of using Office 2007 (especially Word and PowerPoint), as a usability researcher, I still am positively overwhelmed by the ui. So many great ideas, so well implemented. Personally, I don’t benefit that much from the ribbon, as I knew most feature locations by heart and had very well-individualized toolbars. But from a neutral stand point as well as from my experiences with normal users, it’s just great.

    What strikes me the most is that of all companies it was Microsoft that came up with it (although a few things, like liveview, was known before). That it was Microsoft that was willing to take this risk. That the usability guys had the power to (probably) overrule the programmers. That research had so much influence. Wow!

  22. BigUser says:

    I work for an organization with an enterprise agreement for MS Office for over 200,000 seats. Jensen sites millions of users with high adoption by the market.  We’re probably included as a adopter because we have the rights to upgrade.  But we haven’t upgraded.

    The ribbon is a productivity killer for experienced Office users.  I’m a power user and 8 months after installing, I still fumble extensively, remain frustrated and feel inept.  My Quick Access toolbar has over 30 icons. Our plea’s to have the old toolbar restored resulted in responses that MS will not make a change.

    Bottom line is, take what they offer or get another product.  

    Somewhere along the way, Microsoft lost sight of the customer.

    Jensen, how can someone get a copy of the independent research report you referenced?

  23. jensenh says:

    It was asked if I have, indeed, turned comment moderation on.

    I have for the time being, but only because the blog has been recently inundated with adult content comments and other spam. I had to delete over 100 auto-generated spam comments last week. That’s no fun!

    I do not moderate out any on-topic comments (even if they’re negative), but it does occasionally take me a little while to find time to approve comments (especially if I’m traveling, such as I was last week.)

    Sorry for the inconvenience!

  24. Hi,

    Also would appreciate a link to the independent survey you mentioned. I am also interested in knowing, if that is on-topic here, and you are allowed to answer such questions, what percentage of he 450 million people you mentioned are using which versions of Office. Any publicly available statistics on Office users would be of interest to me.

    thanks, Bill

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