One of the special pieces of the Office 2007 user interface is the entry point to the help system.

Unlike in Office 2003, in which there is a Help menu, the main entry point to Help is a single, right-aligned "international help" icon under the caption buttons. It does not change as you switch tabs in the Ribbon, and it remains on the screen even if you collapse the Ribbon.

The Help icon in the upper-right corner of the window

While this might seem at first blush to be not prevalent enough in the UI, it turns out that this actually works quite well in practice. In the usability tests we've done, 100% of people are able to find Help as easily as they could in previous versions. Despite that it's represented by a single icon, the placement and design of the icon is "right" enough that there's been no drop-off in the accessibility of help between versions.

Some of the reasons why we went with this design:

  • People tend to look for Help on the right side of the screen. (Remember in the olden days of Windows, the Help menu was actually right-aligned in the window!)
  • The icon stands alone, has an immediately recognizable and obvious design, and is in a memorable place.
  • Based on our instrumentation data in Office 2003, over 75% of users access Help through pressing F1 (or the key labeled "Help" on many modern keyboards) and not by using the Help menu. This means that a bigger button would be overkill for most people.
  • In many non-English versions of Office 2003, the Help menu is actually translated as "?". That's right, a single question mark. We decided to formalize this design in its better, iconographic form for Office 2007.
  • We believe that the fact that help is built into tooltips will provide a more contextual route into help--one that requires less searching and brings up the relevant article straight away.

The very high discoverability numbers from usability have us satisfied that every user who needs a little help will be able to find it.