With each release of Office we are offered the opportunity to introduce feature improvements and exciting new innovations.  One area that I am really excited about is our next generation Office 2008 User Experience.  For those already familiar with existing Office for Mac, you will find yourself at home --- you will still find the familiar toolbars and drop-down menus, only that they’ve been further evolved to reflect the latest UI trends on the Mac platform.  At the same time, you will also discover entirely new suite-wide user interface elements that again, have been designed from the ground up to reflect the visual and behavioral qualities unique to the Mac.

As the User Experience Lead Program Manager, I am excited about many aspects of the new Office 2008 UI and look forward to sharing our design philosophy, goals, and processes.  For those familiar with many excellent blogs from elsewhere in the company, my role is similar to Jensen Harris on the Office for Windows team – and I look forward to discussing our UI in a similar level of breath and depth through future blog posts.  Also, I will be providing screenshots of the product --- so when you see a link, click away!

There is much to talk about but today I will start with our most noticeable new addition to Office 2008 ---  the Elements Gallery. In this post, I will also touch upon other new user interface feature improvements, many of which are “coming attractions” that I will discuss in greater detail in future posts.  So stay tuned!   (An earlier post from our very own UX Researcher Nadyne is also an excellent read --- so take a look!) 

So, what is this new Elements Gallery?  Well, it’s a visually rich gallery that allows you to quickly find commonly used, but often times hard-to-create elements.  For example, many users know that you can create beautiful tables, charts and diagrams in Office, but not everyone knows where to find or create them.  The Elements Gallery is intended to unlock the power of Office by making our rich functionality more discoverable and accessible.   No longer do you need to search through hierarchical menus and tunnel through dialogs only to find another sea of commands.  With the Elements Gallery, you can focus your time on exploring and perusing the collection of professional and attractive designer content.  “Great looking Office documents made easy” is an important pillar of Office 2008 and the Elements Gallery is a cornerstone to this effort. 

So, what can you find in the Elements Gallery? Well, it depends on which application you’re in, as shown here.  In addition to the previously mentioned tables, charts, and diagrams, all of which are available across Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, you can find features that are unique and specific to the respective applications.   For example, in Word you can insert a Cover Page, a Table of Contents, or even a Bibliography with a single click.  Also, when working in the new Word 2008 Publishing Layout View, you will find a collection of professionally designed templates, including newsletters, flyers, menus, brochures, among others.  In Excel, you can insert a “Ledger Sheet” that contains all the necessary formulas that help you manage your personal finances.  Last but not least, in PowerPoint, you can easily apply one of the many newly designed slide themes, layouts, or transitions.   While the Elements Gallery takes on different functionality depending on the application, you can be sure to see it working consistently across all the applications.  The Elements Gallery was designed as a platform with UI consistency in mind --- much like the Formatting Palette, if you’ve learned how to use it in one of our applications, then you’ve learned how to use across Office for Mac. 

Now going back to how we designed the Elements Gallery.  One of the fundamental design tenets of Office for Mac has always been delivering inviting and engaging Mac-like user experiences.   This means capturing both the static and dynamic aspects of Mac OS X and complimenting them with visual qualities unique to Office for Mac.  You will be able to see this not only with the Elements Gallery, but also throughout our new UI, which I will discuss in greater detail in future posts.  From the moment the Elements Gallery opens, you’ll see that we’ve employed subtle transitions and effects for a fluid and intuitive user experience that is the hallmark of the Mac OS.  As revealed in our early PR screenshots and booth demo at MacWorld Expo this year, Elements Gallery also reflects the visual qualities of glass which works beautifully with the visual language of Mac OS X (and has recently become the trend, in Apple’s new wave of hardware products).   

Another important design goal is also provide a great level of customizability, and more importantly, do so by adhering to the familiar and established conventions on the Mac.  For example, users can customize the ordering of not only sub-categories by simply dragging around the sub-category “pills”, but also the actual thumbnails themselves.  Users can also change the color of the Elements Gallery from the application color to Graphite.   Transparency and hover-over magnification of thumbnails can also be turned on/off or further adjusted to individual tastes from the Elements Gallery Preferences.   Last but not least, the Elements Gallery can be collapsed when not in use --- and when collapsed, the Elements Gallery becomes color-less and quietly awaits until you summon it again.

While not directly related, already we have been asked why didn’t Office 2008 adopt the “Ribbon UI” from Office 2007 for Windows.  The answer is actually a simple one: we’ve designed our UI for the Mac.  Mac users (that’s us too!) are very passionate about the very qualities that have drawn us to the Mac and expect no less from Office for Mac.  Simply, Office for Mac is to look and behave like a great OS X application.  Menus, Toolbars, and Palettes still play an important role in defining the Mac experience so we’ve continued to evolve in these respective areas, while complimenting the core Mac-like UI with innovations like the Elements Gallery.   In Office 2008, Toolbars are now nicely docked within the application window (per Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines) and sport the new unified toolbar appearance.  The Formatting Palette, which broke new ground with the idea of contextual sensitive formatting, has now been merged with the Toolbox to form one single unified palette.  And drop-down menus --- they’re still there.   Our goal is to allow users feel the sense of new possibilities while feeling at home with the new and improved tools.

In upcoming posts, you’ll learn more about the Elements Gallery and how it’s used in the context of application-specific features and user workflows.   With new UI innovations like the Elements Gallery, we hope that you will also discover a new yet familiar Office for Mac --- and be more productive than ever!