We decided to adopt the key elements of the new Office user experience in early spring 2006 as Microsoft Office 2007 was in the last phases of completion. The ribbon was one of the key elements of the updated Office experience we decided to look into.

The ribbon looked scalable and promised a better way to organize features in a more approachable fashion than overwhelming toolbars and task panes.

The Dashboard Designer is a different kind of application than the core Office applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. We have been able to adapt some of the key aspects from the Office applications - but certainly not all.

The Dashboard Designer has some unique propositions, which mean that we needed to rethink the design of the ribbon while still maintaining consistency with other Office applications. Usability is never something you get for free no matter which user interface paradigm you decide to use.

This blog entry provide an overview of the ribbon as it is today and discuss why we ended up with the current design.

Especially relevant for early adopters of the product, we will be discussing the changes we have made with the latest design update to the ribbon for Performance Point Dashboard Designer.

For more general discussions on the history and concepts behind the Office 2007 Jensen Harris' blog is a very good resource.

A Little Background

The PerformancePoint Dashboard Designer is an object based application. Everything you do in the application relates to an object such as a dashboard, scorecard, report etc. Each object has its own set of features that only makes sense in the context of that specific object. We call this context sensitivity.

We have a MDI (multiple document interface) based application. This means that the individual objects (aka. Document) opens within the same shell and not as individual windows. You can only have one object open at the same time in the Dashboard Designer.

When we started working on the Dashboard Designer the intention was first to update the Microsoft Office Business Scorecard Manager 2005 (Hereafter BSM 2005). We did a lot of work to map the existing BSM 2005 functionality into an updated experience.

We then decided to add additional functionality as dashboards, analytic reports etc. on top of the BSM 2005 functionality.

Besides controls for editing the individual objects, the ribbon also surfaces common controls for all objects and to the list views within the application.

The ribbon has been adapted to meet all of these requirements.

Where Did My Functionality Go?

The ribbon has been through much iteration before we locked on the design. Unfortunately, for our early adopters we have not been able to change the ribbon code as gradually as we could have wished towards the final design. We have implemented all the major changes with the last early release (CTP 4).

Biggest change was to removing the two tabs, Export and View. We reorganized the functionality into the remaining three tabs.

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The "Export Tab" as it looked in CTP 2

In the case of the Export Tab we removed the much loved export to PowerPoint and Excel functionality from the application. Why did we decide to remove popular functionality like this?

Part of the answer is that the application grew from being a scorecard centric application to have dashboard as the main vehicle to publish all other objects.

With the dashboard came a much more powerful consumer experience for users of the end-result. We decided that export options would benefit a lot more people if we included them in the published dashboard instead of only providing them to the users of the Dashboard Designer.

When a dashboard is deployed to SharePoint users can export to PowerPoint and Excel from the individual web parts as export is no longer restricted to scorecards only.

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The Export options for a deployed dashboard. Shown here from a scorecard

Scorecards, analytical charts and grids, pivot and trend charts and strategy maps can be exported to PowerPoint. For Excel export we support reporting services in addition to the objects mentioned above.

The deployment to SharePoint moved to the edit tab for the Dashboard object so the user no longer have to go to multiple tabs to switch between editing and reviewing the result.

Previously we had export to "ASP.NET" which has been renamed "Preview". We have made both options available on both the workspace list for dashboards and for the individual dashboard when the edit tab is selected.

The SQL Reporting Services option has moved to the scorecard edit chunk. SQL Reporting Services only makes sense in relation to a scorecard so we felt it made sense only show this option in the context of the scorecard.

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The "View Tab" as it looked in CTP 2

We removed the "View Tab". The (list) view controls moved to the home tab - to locate all the universal controls in one place.

The show and hide options for the workspace and detail panes relocated to the "Office Options" dialog. You can access this by clicking the Office logo in the upper left corner and then clicking the "Options" button.

We know that changes like these can surprise if you were just getting used to the organization of the ribbon. We are also fully aware that the ribbon has a learning curve as a new paradigm to many.

We apologize for any inconvenience for users of our early technical previews when controls have moved. We are doing it for are reason since we are sure that we will improve the user experience for all new users of the V1 of the Dashboard Designer.

The Updated Ribbon

With CTP 4 we provide 3 tabs on the ribbon:

· Home: Universal tasks

· Edit: Context sensitive to selected object or list

· Create: Creation of all objects supported by the application.

This is the design we plan to ship in the V1 release of the product.

The Home Tab

The Home tab contains the general tasks shared across the objects and lists. There are not object specific controls on this ribbon.

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The "Home Tab" (open for minor changes as time of writing).

Starting from the left you have the "Clipboard" chunk. The clipboard works like in other Office applications with text. You can copy and paste objects from the workspace browser using these controls as well. Standard Windows keyboard short cuts (CTRL+ C for copy, CTRL+V for paste) has also been added for these commands.

The "Actions" chunk contains all the tasks related to managing the objects between the local workspace file and the connected PerformancePoint server. These tasks can be considered general or universal since they are impact all object types. For the same reason we have placed the list view controls on the home tab.

It is worth mentioning that the two buttons most frequently used, "Refresh" and "Publish All" now also are placed in the quick access toolbar in the application title bar. This is to avoid clicking on the home tab when editing.

The "Changes" chunk helps managing the local vs. server side versions of the objects

Finally, the "View" chunk is for handling the list views in the application. The "Toggle" control switches between the two list views we provide in the application, the folder view and the flat view.

The Edit Tab

The "Edit Tab" has become much more of an edit mode with the ribbon update. The best ways to demonstrate this is by clicking on the edit tab and then navigate through the different objects and lists using the workspace browser. The ribbon will change as you select the different objects and lists.

We believe this will improve the overall work flow when using the Dashboard Designer by reducing the amount of clicks needed to access the needed controls.

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"Edit Tab" for a dashboard object (open for minor changes as time of writing).

For the Dashboard object we have reduced clicks by placing "Preview" and "SharePoint Site" deployment with the other editing tasks. These are also available from the workspace list view

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The "Edit Tab" for a scorecard object (open for minor changes as time of writing).

The scorecard edit tab is the most populated ribbon in the application. We had issues with overfilling it in previous iterations, which became an issue when localizing the Dashboard Designer because of the text labels. So we spend a long time reorganizing and regrouping the tasks for the scorecard editing experience.

The Font tasks were separated from the Format commands to be more consistent with Excel.

The "Format" chunk is a unique experience to the Dashboard Designer since format in the context of a scorecard means data format and layout. For example, the roll up functionality, where a value for a KPI rolls up into an objective, is placed in the "Format" chunk. This indents the selected KPI in the scorecard but most importantly, it invokes the roll up feature.

The "Scorecard Editor" chunk holds the important "Update" control. The update button updates the entire scorecard after user changes to the layout or calculations of the scorecard. The manual update button ensures that large scorecards only updates when triggered by the user due to the potential performance issue with large data sets.

Similar to the what-you-see-is-what-you-get editing on a scorecard the analytic chart and grid provide users with a similar experience.

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Edit Tab for an analytic grid report object (open for minor changes as time of writing).

The font options are similar to the scorecard. In addition, we provide controls for the layout of numbers in the analytic grid.

The "Format" chunk allows the user to easily switch between the different analytic report views we provide as well as choosing layouts and view options.

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Edit Tab for an object list in the workspace.

The edit tab exposes bulk editing when on the workspace list views feature. Select multiple objects and the feature will become active. Bulk editing only works on objects in the workspace to avoid potentially permanent damage on the objects saved on the PerformancePoint Server.

The Edit Tab Summary

We have not discussed all available edit tab options for the Dashboard Designer in this blog entry. What is important to remember is that everything related to editing a given object or list will be available in the edit tab.

For certain report types and for data sources editing tools are not available. In these cases we don't show anything in the edit tab. In these cases we can either not provide meaningful controls or the object does not originate from in PerformancePoint Server.

The ribbon is a new paradigm in Office and it is certainly new to the world of business intelligence applications. With our organization of tools, object context sensitivity and overall edit mode we believe that we have created a UI that is easy to learn for new users, as it will be effective for experienced users.

The Create Tab

The create tab is a launch point for creation of all the objects within the Dashboard Designer and has essentially stayed unchanged since we first implemented this tab.

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We have organized the objects in two basic chunks. The objects are for what we consider the basic objects. Except for the Dashboard object, all of these are similar to the objects used in BSM 2005.

The reports are objects on an equal level as a scorecard - but the reports provide a wide range of functionality, so we decided to split them out in their own section.

The reports most often used are in the ribbon. The less used reports are located in the "Other Reports" which triggers a selection dialog.

Final Words

We hope that we will help organizations gaining insight in their businesses by monitoring and analyzing their business data. The focus should be on the goals of the business, not on the tools that help you gain insights. We hope that we have taken a step towards easier business software, but only you, our users and customers can tell us.

This is our first release and even so, we have received a tremendous amount of quality feedback from our early adapters- we can only keep listening and improve what we have. So please, contact us, comment on this blog, tell your sales person or consultant what you like or what you would like to see change.

Nothing beats real users doing real work.

Thank you for your time.

Peter Birkedal Peterson, UX Program Manager, PerformancePoint Dashboard Designer