In response to my previous blog post The Microsoft Office 2007 ribbon, Ian Palangio kindly posted a link to this illuminating video on the development of the Office 2007 Ribbon.

It was a nice insight into the whole design process. It answered a lot of the questions behind why certain design decisions were made. Including Condescending Clippy, the “Un”Intellimenus, and the space hogging Task Pane.

The design tenets are great! The goals are great! The way they continually enforced those throughout the long design process is great! “Design tenets have to be religion” Brilliant!!
The passion and the dedication are admirable and enviable.

I have amazing respect for the effort and thought that has been vested in the development process. I can imagine the impassioned discussions, the coffee-fuelled late nights… Hey I would have enjoyed being part of that process! I know it can be very easy to stand outside of that process and be critical of the outcome. No disrespect for the hard process and process is intended!

All that aside, I remain unconvinced for the moment as to the usability of the Ribbon for myself. Perhaps the history is holding the team back? Perhaps the data-driven and analytical design approach is an obstacle in itself; a form of rear-view mirror driving. Although I admired the way they have data and research to support their decisions.

It is always harder to remove features than to add them. Microsoft clearly know this. The weight of all those features added over the history of the product may yet make it impossible to simplify the product significantly. Ah the baggage of history…

One of their prototypes reminded me of Apple’s long-abandoned OpenDoc technology. Essentially you have a core simple application, and selectively add specialised features as required. Perhaps that would make better sense as as most people never use most of the features of Office anyway.

It is hard, or more likely impossible, to come up with something that works for everyone. The Ribbon may well empower a new generation of Office users as the research is bearing out. But I do resent that fact that it disempowers me.

“People have an emotional relationship with their computer.” Damn right I do. Stop frigging around with the tools I am familiar with! After years of fighting and customisation, I have come to terms with Word 2003. It now more or less works perfectly for me. And I do not want to change again for minimal gain.

Maybe it’s me not wanting my tools to change? Which brings to mind the question: should the UI/UX of tools change radically? Now that is a topic for the next blog post!

Meanwhile I will stay away from Office 2007 until someone comes up with robust customisation tools and when I have some time to do the customisations.