Thursday, July 16, 2009

Microsoft Office 2010 Engineering : Microsoft Office Backstage (Part 1 – Backstory)

Some interesting insights into the development of the new Office 2010 Backstage user experience – excerpt:

Before getting into the details of the Backstage View, I’d like to talk about the thinking that led us to the design.  And to do that, I have to start way back in the fall of 2003, before we started designing the Ribbon.

The Office User Experience Team is responsible for providing the UI platform for the rest of Office, so it was our assignment to tackle the following two problems.  First, we knew from user feedback that people had a lot of difficulty finding, using, and understanding the vast feature set in Office.  Second, we were struggling internally with the fact the menus, toolbars, and task panes were collapsing under their own weight.  Those UI concepts were designed for much simpler programs, and could no longer handle the volume of commands in the mature Office applications.

So, we spent a lot of time looking at entire the Office feature set.  We thought hard about how new features should be built and we made some predictions about the types of features we’d need to build over the next several versions.

One of the first things we identified was that there were two distinct types of features within the applications.  We called the two types IN and OUT features.

The IN features are the ones most people are more familiar with.  These are the features that act on the content of the document and show up on the page. Examples include commands like bold, margins, spelling, and styles.  These are the features that make up the heart of the application. When using these features, you need to be able to view the document content and often need to have a selection or blinking cursor somewhere in the document.

The “Out” features help people do something with the content they create.  Examples include Saving, Printing, Permissions, Versioning, Collaboration, Document Inspector, Workflows, etc. The Out feature set includes a wide ranging and surprisingly long list, but they all have a lot of similarities.  The primary characteristic is that they don’t act on a specific point in the document, and their effects don’t appear on the page.  In fact, you could easily imagine using one of these features without even opening the document to look at it (for example, setting permissions on the file or sending it as an attachment).

Unfortunately, the other thing the OUT features have in common is that they almost all suffer from low discoverability and poor usability.

Microsoft Office 2010 Engineering : Microsoft Office Backstage (Part 1 – Backstory)

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