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 fourth 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 we used information gathered through extended observation to make changes to the product that address usability issues we normally wouldn't have found until we shipped the product and would have had to put off fixing until the next version. Today, I would like to share with you how we used the extended usage study to determine whether or not we achieved our design goals for the Office 2007 UI.

One of the primary design goals for Office 2007 UI was to help people discover more of the features that would help them get work done more easily, but that they simply can't find or don't realize exist in Office.

You may recall from reading Jensen's blog that roughly half of the Top 10 most-frequently requested features in Word already exist in the product. There is nothing more embarrassing to a Microsoftie than that Homer Simpson Moment when a friend or family member says, "You mean I can do that in <Insert Your Favorite Microsoft Software Here>?"

In our extended usage study, we found that nearly all participants stated without prompting that the user interface in Office 2007 exposed them to more of the depth of the product. One participant in the study went as far as to state, "Office 2007 helps me find stuff I'm not looking for."

All of the customers in the study commented that they were using features that they did not use in previous version of Office because they were now "more visible and easier to get to."

Customers reported finding the user interface as "more browsable" and "enjoyable to browse." One participant even said, "it's more fun to search when you can't find something." (I personally found that one hard to believe until I saw the video footage for myself.)

Given our deep understanding of how each participant used Office 2003, we were able to verify their statements about Office 2007 by having them show us how they are using Office differently.

An example of this finding was best demonstrated by two participants who never used Conditional Formatting in any of the previous versions of Excel.

With Office 2007, they quickly discovered Conditional Formatting and began using it regularly to perform their everyday work tasks. Over time, they came to depend on Conditional Formatting to do their work. Neither participant realized that Conditional Formatting had been in Excel for the past several releases of Office.

What was most striking about these conversations was how positive people felt about browsing to find new features. They stated that they could easily find and use features they needed most commonly, and then when they needed to use less-common features, they knew how to do so. The fact that the participants were continually discovering helpful features they didn't previously know about was just icing on the cake.

In the end, this study helped us validate that we achieved one of our primary design goals for the Office 2007 UI. The new user interface helped make many features in Office more discoverable and, as a result, people were able to use more of the power of Office help them perform their job.