A few months ago, I made an attempt to give you a sense of the kinds of changes to the user interface you'd be likely to see between Beta 2 and the final product.
In particular, I guessed that we had made over a thousand individual tweaks to the contents of the Ribbon, although now I think that was probably a bit conservative. If you consider every command label we've cleaned up, every icon we've tweaked, every punctuation fix or label size adjustment or scaling behavior modification as a change, I wouldn't be surprised if the list totals more like several thousand.
That said, most of these changes fall into the categories of polish (what we call internally "fit and finish") and simple usability improvements based on feedback or a better understanding of the relationship between or the behavior of specific features. In other words, most of the changes are minor and you'd only notice them if you looked at Beta 2 and a recent build side-by-side.
Today, I want to explain probably the biggest change we've made in Ribbon content organization since Beta 2: a rethinking of the PowerPoint Home tab.
I'm going to go through the decision in great detail to give you a sense of the kind of thought process we use for every design decision around feature organization. We've spent three years repeating this process hundreds of times in hundreds of areas, trying to come up with the best possible organization of the thousands of features which comprise Microsoft Office.
Creating the right Home for PowerPoint
One of the longest-standing challenges we've faced is getting the PowerPoint Home tab right. We didn't feel like what we shipped in any of the previous betas was really right, and there were several ideas about how to fix it.
When you look through PowerPoint's functionality with an eye towards organizing the content into Ribbon tabs, it breaks down like this:
Then, we have three tabs that are generally consistent across the main Office apps, and PowerPoint is part of this consistent story.
Each of these six tabs work out well; the organization of them is clear, with three tabs specifically showing off PowerPoint-specific functionality, and three tabs showcasing features that are relatively consistent across the suite.
In addition to these core features, PowerPoint has a bunch of object-specific contextual tools, such as Chart features, Picture features, Movie Clip features, and the like. We have a consistent model for showcasing object-based features via Contextual Tabs, and so these features don't need to be accounted for in the core Ribbon tabs of PowerPoint.
So, with those decisions made, what features still need a home?
Working down the list, Group 1 is probably the most straightforward. Part of making Office easy-to-use is being consistent when possible, and from this perspective, the features in Group 1 really need to be on the Home tab.
Next up are the features in Group 2: basic font and paragraph formatting. These features are heavily-used, need to be accessed efficiently, and, to boot, they're already on the Home tabs of the other programs. So the Home tab for them as well.
The features in Group 3 boil down to four top-level commands: New Slide, Change Layout, Reset Slide Layout, and Delete Slide. Three of these features are used very often by many people, and the fourth one (Reset Slide Layout) is an extremely useful feature we hope people will find and use. The logical place for these features is also the Home tab.
In the end, we all agreed that features in Groups 1, 2, and 3 needed to be on Home tab. One could make arguments for individual commands one way or another, but by-and-large, these feel like part of the motherhood and apple pie of PowerPoint.
Given the average density we aim for in a Home tab, this meant that the PowerPoint Home tab was roughly 75% full. How to best use the rest of the available space?
There were three main proposals:
In their place, we add the tools for drawing, formatting, and arranging shapes to the Home tab (Groups 5 and 6.) As part of this proposal, we don't do the normal auto-switch to contextual tab set that occurs when you insert shapes from the Insert tab, so that you can draw multiple shapes directly from the Home tab with no tab switching necessary.
The one downside to this proposal: Fewer people would be exposed to the fancy text formatting possible through the WordArt styles gallery, and the commonly-used text formatting and the fancy, artistic text formatting would be on different tabs. This change also means that the Home tab of PowerPoint would look less like the Home tab of Word.
The Beta 2 Design
If you haven't guessed by now, Proposal 1 is what we shipped in Beta 2. Although it didn't really seem to work very well, we did a number of tweaks over the last year to try to make Proposal 1 better.
For instance, a well-known Office newsletter noticed that we moved the Insert Shapes feature to the far left side of the Insert tab in each of the apps between Beta 1 and Beta 2. They chided us because they felt that we made the change to try to advertise features we wanted people to use.
In reality, the left side of a tab is the only place where you can be sure that in every language a control will stay in the same place. We moved the Shapes gallery there so that after you draw the first shape from the Insert tab, your mouse could move to the same location on the Drawing Tools - Format contextual tab to insert the second shape.
By locating the gallery in the same place on both tabs, you didn't have to think about what tab you were in. We then changed Excel and Word to keep the location of features consistent between the three programs' Insert tabs.
We made many changes like this to try to make Proposal 1 more workable.
A Better Direction
During the lead-up to Beta 2, we decided that no matter how many tweaks we did to the Proposal 1 design, it simply wasn't going to be good enough.
So, a few months ago we redesigned PowerPoint's core tabs to implement Proposal 3.
Here's a list of the major changes we made as part of this design:
Here's a picture of the Beta 2 Home tab vs. the current Home tab at two different sizes:
The evolution of PowerPoint's Home tab(Click to enlarge)
As a result of this redesign, we ended up with something that feels way more natural and efficient to work with. You have a stable Home tab from which to do most of your slide authoring: adding slides, typing and formatting text, and adding, arranging, and formatting shapes. The most-used features are all in one place. I've been using it for several months now and I'm finally confident we have the right design.
From the beginning, one of our goals for the new user interface has been for each program to be better able to express what it's all about--its "soul."
In the case of PowerPoint, that "soul" is in helping you to quickly create a compelling presentation; we redesigned the Home tab to better enable you do just that.