Did the MS Office ribbon work?

One of the major design goals for Microsoft Office 2007 was making features easier to discover. A study had shown that about 90% of the feature requests for Microsoft Office were for features already in the product. People just didn’t know what was already there.

A major part of Microsoft’s response was the “ribbon” interface. More controls are on display rather than being hidden behind a deep hierarchy of menus. According to Katherine Murray, the user interface changes achieved their goal.

Data is showing that the redesign of Office really did reach this goal — Word 2007 and Excel 2007 users are now using four times as many features as they used in previous versions, and for PowerPoint, the increase in feature use is a factor of five.

The quote above was taken from First Look: Microsoft Office 2010. I’d like to see more details, but the book is a sales brochure and not a statistical report. Still, if you take these figures at face value, it seems the ribbon and other user interface changes were very successful.

Many pundits hate the ribbon. But most of the 500 million people who use Microsoft Office are not pundits.

12 thoughts on “Did the MS Office ribbon work?

  1. While 1) I think Ms. Murray’s numbers seem too good to be true, and 2) the ribbon caused me some anguish, searching for the new location of things, I would have to agree that this redesign made life much easier for the average Office user. For Microsoft, this was a rare, relatively bold change.

  2. I’m a little torn on the ribbon. Anything that makes it easier for my mom to use the computer is a good thing… But the ribbon is a huge disservice to the top 10% of office users. My productivity has really taken a hit since going to the ribbon (which I did just 4 months ago). I have to stop and google things all the time just to figure out where to find them. It took me 2-3 minutes just to figure out how to turn on access to the VBA interface. Every time I use Excel I feel agitated. It’s like having sand in my underwear. It doesn’t stop me from getting things done, but it sure does chafe.

    What I wish MS had done was keep the old interface, but make the new one the default. Then more seasoned users could turn the old interface on and be happy. Newer users could hunt and peck and discover new features. Given Microsoft’s penchant for backward compatibility, I’m surprised they didn’t do it that way.

  3. I think jd has a good point. While I think the redesign was good for most, I spent 10 minutes yesterday with the Outlook 2010 beta trying to find out how to turn the Out of Office auto-replies on. And another 10 trying to apply templates in OneNote 2010. Maybe there’s just a need for an added “Expert” ribbon tab that just gives you the Great Big Bucket O’ Features…

  4. Thanks for this great post! Mark your insight on Outlook 2010 and OneNote 2010 is quite interesting. I wonder what the public and expert reaction will be to the interfaces in Office 2010.

    MSFT Office Outreach Team

  5. My experience of the ribbon has been positive.
    1. Any substantial change to an interface is likely to temporarily slow down users of the old interface.
    2. You can still press Alt and various letter combinations to access anything on the ribbon via the keyboard.
    3. The previous menu driven approach had the frustrating default option of hiding many features. The option to customise the menu also led to inconsistencies. The ribbon has a consistent interface, which is important for helping users reach automatic behaviour.

  6. Wonderful blog, discovered from Slashdot today, so glad I found it. Spent some time reading your probability/statistics postings (a subject that I teach).

    One thing I experienced when having to teach MS Office for the first time this semester is that it’s almost impossible to communicate to someone else — verbally or in written text — where to go for a particular operation on the Ribbon. This being because there’s no linear sequence of landmarks you can identify, the Ribbon only exists in geometric space and nowhere else. You simply must look at the ribbon itself and wind up gesturing like a caveman (GUI on steroids, as it were). Seems like a big drawback to me.


  7. No, it does not work; at least for me. After using office 2007 for 2 years, I still think ribbon UI is very stupid. I have ground to say this.

    I am now producing a PPT. I added a textbox. I would like to make the background black and the text white. In ribbon UI, I had to choose Format tab first to change the background. Then, I had to choose the Home tab to change the color of text.

    From an user’s perspective, changing background color of textbox and changing color of text are two staps of ONE “action”, they are integrated. The ribbon UI just sees this as two steps and fragmentizes this action into two seperated tabs. The ribbon UI just ignores the psychological habit of user.

    So, what is the problem of ribbon UI? Ribbon UI is just a classification of functions, but not human-machine interface.

  8. I find the figures laughable. Speaking recently to someone who works in Microsoft, I asked about their experience with Office 2007 and in particular the ‘ribbon’. Well, I’m told that MS are still on 2003 and have not introduced 2007 to their own work environment. I of course asked why – anything to do with productivity etc., but I was not answered. Out of curiosity then I enquired as the performance of Office 2003 on the Vista platform. They didn’t know as they were still on XP and have since gone straight to 7.

    For me, the previous layout became second nature. It had taken a while but I was at the point where I even designed the ads for our small company with WORD. Even after some time consuming concentration on learning the ribbon, I continued to find difficulty with it as my ‘second nature’ dominated to the point that I would first think ‘File, Edit, View…etc’. Then my brain would tell where it was in 2003 format and having mentally translated all of that to ‘ribbon language’, 50% of the time I would need a reminder where it was.

  9. The ribbon has permanently slowed me down. Every time there’s an update to Office, they shuffle some of the features around. This is annoying when you have to go look for a feature and the shortcut keys have changed. As an example, in the past, when I wanted to edit the header, I would press Alt, then O, then E, I believe. Beginning with Office 2007, I had to go a search for the feature and found that it was under “Insert” on the ribbon. I liked it better when I had a single row of buttons that I could customize to show me just what I wanted to see and I could use shortcuts for anything else. If Microsoft wanted to make an improvement, they could have a feature to use old shortcuts and the old icons at the top, avoiding the ribbon entirely.

  10. Been using the ribbon for almost 10 years daily….still am less productive than the non-ribbon versions of all the office products. At home I have office 2000. I use it two or 3 times a month. I admit for the first 1 to 2 minutes I’m slower after coming off the ribbon, but after that I start moving quicker than I can with the ribbon. When I realized this is still that case after the 8th year of using the ribbon on a daily basis, I finally loaded a virtual machine and put the old non-ribbon version of office on it so I can be more productive when creating large office documents. Excel and PowerPoint are the primary packages I use. I rarely ever use Word any more.

    I have no reason to upgrade my old home version of office. Why would I want to be less productive??

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