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.