I got a great question recently, very timely because I'm in the usability lab this week looking at something in Word:Mac and PowerPoint:Mac. Here's the question:
What kind of users do you have participate in your usability studies?
The answer is dependent upon the study that I'm running. For the vast majority of the studies that we here in the Macintosh Business Unit do, the minimum requirements are that participants must be Mac users, they must use their Mac at least 20 hours per week, and they must use either Tiger or Leopard.
Additional requirements are study-dependent. For example, for the study that my team is conducting this week, we have some additional requirements. They need to be Mac users at work, and they need to use a Mac at least 20 hours per week at work. Additionally, they need to share files frequently with other users at work.
My previous study was an Entourage study. In that study, I was also looking for users who use their Macs at work at least 20 hours per week. For that study, I recruited users who were deeply into personal information management: they needed to use mail, calendar, and address book. We had a mix of users of various solutions. Some were Entourage users, some were webmail users, some used other clients, some used a mix of all of the above.
In any case, the users that we bring in for studies are dependent upon my research questions. For each of these, I was considering features that were most likely to be used in a business setting, which is why I recruited for users who use their Macs at work. For the Entourage study, I had several in-depth questions about calendar usage, so I needed users who are currently using some electronic method of keeping up with their calendar.
When I look at the job titles for the people who are taking part in my study this week, I see a range of people and professions: a teacher, a couple of small business owners, a project manager, a HR manager, and more. We get lots of different people in the lab who have varied experiences, which ultimately helps us build better products.
I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that you can sign up to participate in our usability studies. Microsoft User Research announces some studies on twitter here and on Facebook here (these are for all studies, not just the Mac ones!), and I also announce some studies via twitter here.
Let's turn away from Office and Mac matters for a bit, and answer a question that I got via email about how to get into user experience.
I recently found out about usability engineering. It seems to be a spur off the human factors psych field. It looks like a great field. My question would be then, how does one get into a user experience field.
First, I'll say that I don't have a psychology background, although I have many peers who do. My background is computer science.
There's a few things that you can do to start learning more about usability and user experience. I recently saw a blog post from a UX designer, Whitney Hess, titled "so you wanna be a UX designer". It lists many resources for getting into the field. It's a great list. Definitely start with the first two books -- if you like those, then continue with the next three, all of which are absolutely excellent.
Career-wise, without either experience or training in the field, it's going to be difficult (especially in this economy!) to move into a position that gets you where you want to go. Here at Microsoft, we rarely hire UX people who don't have an advanced degree. Whitney's post also lists a couple of the top UX programs in the US; there are others (Georgia Tech, U-Wash, etc), but that will give you a starting point.
I can't speak a lot for other companies, but one position at Microsoft is the Program Manager. This isn't a technical position, per se -- we don't expect people to have CS or engineering degrees. It's the role of the PM to help design features, write specifications, and do the necessary cat-herding to get those features into the product and get the product out the door. Some PMs focus more on back-end stuff, some are more on the front end -- so there's plenty of room there for you to learn more about UX there and have a hand in what that looks like, while working with UX researchers and designers to make it all come together. One of my colleagues here in MacBU wrote a blog post about what it means to be a PM.. His post is from the viewpoint of an MBA, not a hardcore geek degree.
If this looks interesting to you, Microsoft does hire PMs with BS/BA degrees. For information about our current job openings and other perspectives on options here, check out our career website.
Back at Macworld Expo in January, we announced that we were going to release a standalone app to help SharePoint users have easier access to their SharePoint and Office Live Workspace documents while using their Macs. At that time, we'd already been working on it for some time, and I had already completed my first usability study of a prototype version of it a few months earlier.
Let's back up and identify a problem: Mac users in a corporate environment with SharePoint or Office Live Workspace couldn't easily access documents stored there. Our goal with the Document Connection was to help alleviate some of that. We quickly decided that the fastest way to make this available to our users was through a standalone application, and then add hooks to that standalone application to Word, PowerPoint, and Excel.
We started sketching out ideas, and those ideas came together into a prototype. Using that prototype, I conducted a usability study of it. Since this was a very early prototype, and I wanted to test it with existing SharePoint users to see if they understood what we were trying to do, I turned to the Mac-using community within Microsoft to show it to them. (Remember, MacBU isn't the only group of Mac developers in the company! My colleague Nathan Herring is one of those non-MacBU Mac developers.) There are drawbacks to using internal Microsoft people, such as the fact that they're quite tech-savvy and are more likely to know SharePoint better than the average user, but we learned a lot from that first study: we needed to clean up the interaction to make it faster and require fewer set-up steps.
As a result of that study, we made changes to the app. We went out in a limited beta, and learned more from that beta. Taking those learnings, we decided to make some more changes and head back into the usability lab. I conducted another study, this time with external users who weren't necessarily familiar with SharePoint. The results were improved over the first study, and we made a few more changes to the application that is now a part of Office:Mac 2008 SP2.
I've noticed a couple of reviews of it out already. Here's one from The Apple Blog: hands on with Microsoft's new Document Connection tool, which includes plenty of screenshots.
Let us know how this is working for you. If you've got ideas for how this could work better for you, submit a suggestion here.
If you're using the Entourage for Web Services beta, do not install SP2. You should continue to use Office 2008 12.1.5.
We're putting the final polish on the bits now, and will have it ready to go soon. When we do, I'll post instructions for what the beta users will need to do to use the final release.
Edited on 17 August 2009: The final version of Entourage for Web Services is now available, so you should update!
Today, we have released Office:Mac 2008 SP2. What's in it for you?
PowerPoint: In a lot of ways, this is the star of SP2 for me. (Of course, it helps that I'm on the PowerPoint team. :) In SP2, we have added two highly-requested features: the ability to create custom path animations and the ability to define your own custom default theme. It also brings a feature that I advocated for: double-click anywhere on the slide, and you get a text box to type in.
Word: Look for improved launch times here. There's also performance improvements throughout, with a special eye towards improving scrolling speeds. You're most likely to notice this when you're working in a big document in Word. In Outline View, scrolling is up to 10 times faster.
Excel: Excel has a bunch of performance improvements, with lots of them in the area of calculation performance. If you're a heavy-duty Excel user who does lots of in-depth stuff in your spreadsheets, this update is for you.
Entourage: Entourage now supports proxy auto-config (.pac) fies. We've also updated our account set-up code for MobileMe and to handle Hotmail's change to POP support.
Document Connection for Mac: That's the other star of this release for me, also possibly because I worked on it. :) As we announced back at Macworld Expo, this is a standalone app that better enables Mac users to work with documents stored in SharePoint and Office Live Workspaces.
Open XML File Format Converter: This has some improvements to its support of the XML file formats (.docx, .pptx, .xlsx, etc). For more information on the release, you can read the Knowledge Base article.
In addition to this release, the Office Live Workspace team has done some improvements to their Mac support. They've expanded their Mac browser support to include Safari and Firefox (all the way back to 2.0, which means that users still on Jaguar can use it!).
The update is live now. You can either download it from Mactopia here, or you can fire up Microsoft AutoUpdate by opening up any Office app, going to the Help menu, and selecting "Check for Updates".
Additional details are available in the official Mac Mojo blog post Announcing Office 2008 for Mac Service Pack 2, as well as in the Knowledge Base article. There's lots to be found in SP2, and the KB article is the best place to get it.
Got questions? Use the comments thread on this post, or you can follow me on twitter here.
Edited at noon PDT to add in the Entourage changes (and I'm embarrassed that I forgot that!) and a link to the KB article.
MacBU's friend Dennis Liu did it again with Office 2010: The Movie. Spell check this, baby. The video answers the question of who loved Clippy.
Mac fans should remember him for his pretending to work and the 'Again and Again' videos.
I've been a Safari user for ages. I'm not a Firefox fan (just don't like the UI, plus the fact that it doesn't honour my Locations ( we use a proxy at work, but I don't use one at home) annoys me). I've tried various other browsers at various other points, but they've never been enough to make me want to give up Safari. But now might be the time. Here's my list of things I don't like about Safari 4:
A few months ago, I mentioned that we've been adding video help for Office:Mac 2008. Today, we've added a new video. This time, the video features Peter Walsh talking about how to be better organised with Office:Mac -- build a better budget with Excel, create a family schedule in Entourage, etc. Check it out!
Teach Yourself Visually Office 2008 for Mac is now available. I forgot to mention this earlier. I happened to see a copy of it this weekend, which reminded me to post here. It joins Office 2008 for Mac for Dummies, Office 2008 for Macintosh: The Missing Manual, and Microsoft Office 2008 for Macintosh: Visual QuickStart Guide at fine booksellers everywhere.
I'm an Inbox Zero kind of girl. Inbox Zero doesn't hold up when you go on vacation. I just got back from Kaua'i . I didn't check my email or do anything at all work-related while I was gone, which is quite impressive for me. (The posts that came up here were written and queued up before I left.)
I use rules extensively to manage my mail. My goal is that only items that are directly addressed to me end up in my inbox. When I got back into the office on Wednesday, my inbox had 482 unread items in it. That, of course, wasn't all of the unread email that I had. My total across all of my folders was north of 2200.
I spent Wednesday and Thursday digging out from that email. I'm not done yet, and it'll probably be towards the middle of next week until I get back to Inbox Zero. Right now, my inbox has 37 items in it which need my attention. To get to that point, I used all of my usual tricks for finding my way out from all that email.
 If you're interested, I posted a bunch of pictures to my Twitter feed. This picture is the first one I took in Kaua'i, and that links you to the other ones that I posted too.