Results tagged “usability” from kwc blog

Beyond Menus and Toolbars in Microsoft Office
Jensen Harris, MS Office UE Team

Office 12 is an upgrade I wouldn't mind paying for, that is, assuming that work didn't let us get free copies. Those are big words for me, considering my "I Hate Microsoft" series of blog entries. I can imagine making documents faster with Office 12, or at least I can imagine making better looking documents in the same amount of time. Excel, which has been less functional for me than the spreadsheet program I used on my Apple IIe, looks like it will be come a useful tool for data analysis.

I felt that Harris made a convincing case as to why they are doing the UI revamp, that it's more than a marketing trick. The conventional wisdom out there is "Everything I need was in office [95, 97, 2000]." (For me it was Word 95). They collected a ton of data (including over a billion Office sessions) that told a different story. On a list of the top ten most requested features for Office: four of them were already in Office. Their conclusion was that "Office is good enough in that people have made peace with it." Another observation from the data was that the average user spends more time with Office (2.6 hrs/day) than they do with their spouse (2.4 hrs/day). When you take 400 million users * 2.6 hrs/day, it seems worth improving that experience. Harris rhetorically asked, "Have we reached the pinnacle of software that people use to get their job done everyday?"

It was also clear from the evolution of the Office design that a revamp was in order. The number of toolbars and taskpanes was getting out of control: they were create user interfaces to manage their user interface. There simply wasn't a good menu+toolbar paradigm for managing programs with 1500+ commands.

My notes are in the extended. I transcribed a lot of the new Office 12 elements, but text doesn't do a very good job of describing user interface. Overall, it's a more visually oriented interface: large gallery icons show what a command does and hovering over the icon gives you a preview of the result, e.g. if you hover over a font, your select is shown with that font. The UI is also much more contextualized. What you think of being on your right-click menu is now the focus of your toolbar menu. One of the most important design constraints introduced is that the UI is confined to a fix region of the screen and doesn't do any of the silly auto-hiding or auto-rearranging of Office past.

If you're really curious about the Office 12 UI I recommend visiting Harris' blog. You will find out that yes, they fixed the stupid start presentation button in Powerpoint. Also, new fonts!. Death to Times New Roman!

Summary tidbits: * "Is it worth taking this pixel away from the user?" * You must remove to simplify * Is there a classic mode? No. * They were trying to figure out what some of the commands in Excel did. Found out some options in Excel weren't hooked up into any code: "They didn't do anything!" * On Office 2000's 'auto' features: "The computer looks at the things you use the most and moves them around all the time." * On Office 2002 task panes: "New features aren't being invented, but I bet they will if we create a whole new rectangle"

Results-Oriented UI


I didn't realize that the style of interaction in the upcoming Office 12 had a name: "results-oriented user interface." I learned it's name and more from Jakob Nielsen's alertbox column on What You Get is What You See (WYGIWYS). According to Nielsen, Word 2003 has over 1,500 commands. A results-oriented interface says screw these basic commands that you can't locate anyway -- you tell me what you want and I'll put together the variety of commands necessary to do that. The Office 12 screenshots are my first exposure to this approach and I've liked what I've seen so far, but full judgement comes when I can actually play with it.

Good design - Weber


I just used the Weber Web site to order some replacement parts for a grill and I have to say I was impressed enough to write this short review. The highlights:

  • They have a simple pictoral guide to help you figure out what model you have.
  • You're also given the choice of ordering the replacement part online or finding a nearby dealer.
  • When you click on an individual dealer it shows what they models of grills they carry.

Tag clouds are teh suck


Zeldman discusses several of the problems with tag clouds, but I thought I'd hit on a couple of more from a different viewpoint.

First, as a primer, a tag cloud (as seen on my Flickr account, but also seen on sites like (experimental) and 43things):

 700   animal   ape2005   architecture   armstrong   beach   bike   bird   blue   boulders   bridge   buddha   bunny   cacti   california   castro   cave   chaparral   child   christinethornburg   christmas   cliff   condor   contrail   cute   cycling   deyoung   ekimov   endangered   evil   flight   flower   football   gate   gehry   getty   goldengatepark   green   halloween   herzog   house   incredibles   iris   japanesemaple   japaneseteagarden   lamb   lancearmstrong   landscape   leaves   licenseplate   lights   lizard   losangeles   maple   metaldetector   meuron   momiji   moon   morganhill   mountain   nationalpark   nerd   orange   pagoda   paulmccartney   peligro   pinnacles   pipes   rabbit   race   railing   red   richardmeier   robonexus   rock   sanfrancisco   sanfransciscograndprix   santamonica   sfmoma   sidewalk   sign   silhouette   sonoma   spiderman   spire   spires   stonelantern   stones   sunset   tattoo   teagarden   tmobile   tonybennett   tree 

Tag clouds follow a very basic principle: the font size of the word is scales linearly with the number of times the tag has been used.

At first glance, there appear to be several things right with this sort of display. You can see, for example, that I have a ton of photos tagged "Richard Meier", and that I have a lot more "architecture" photos than "ape2005" photos. IMHO, however, this is all fluff -- it's has the appearance of being a statistical visualization but instead conveys information crudely and inaccurately. For example, for each of these pairs, answer the question, "Which do I have more photos tagged with?"

  • japaneseteagarden or goldengatepark?
  • richardmeier or architecture?
  • sanfranciscograndprix or house?

With close examination you will probably get these right, but my point is that it takes a bit of thought (and you have the chance of getting it wrong). One of the fundamental problems is that the "tag cloud" display is using the size of the word to convey how many tags are associated with it. However, the size of the word is related to (a) the number of characters in the word (sanfranciscograndprix vs. house) and (b) the font size of the word, which grows in two-dimensions. Instead of trying to convey:

size of word ~= (# of tagged items)

we instead have the relation

size of word ~= (# of tagged items * length of word)2

So as a statistical display, it's bunk -- appearing to help you understand relative tag distribution, but not in an accurate manner.

Aesthetically, in order to try and convey this pseudo-statistical information, it completely throws the list out-of-whack: lines grow to arbitrary heights, one's ability to scan quickly across the entire list is lost, large words are constantly drawing your attention from smaller words, etc..., and, to borrow from Zeldman, navigation skews towards popularity rather than findability.

The fact that "richardmeier" is one of my most prominent tags entirely relates to the fact that (a) I took a ton of photos of the Getty one day, and (b) I was testing out my new Flickr Pro upload limits. They are not my "best" category of photos, I don't frequently take "richardmeier" photos, and they are not the photos I most want people to see. But the tag cloud design dictates that visitors will forever feel "richardmeier"'s gravitational force (that is, until I go crazy with another photo upload).

My own tag/category display could use some work, but I offer it here as a comparison (feel free to critique in the comments):


Peter Norvig, Google; Ken Norton, Yahoo!; Mark Fletcher, Bloglines/Ask Jeeves; Udi Manber, A9; Jakob Nielsen, NN Group

I went with bp and Neil to a BayCHI talk on "Recent Innovations in Search." I agree with bp's sentiment -- there were some interesting moments, but the talk was short on revelations or insights. I guess that is to be expected as the title of the talk is past focused ("Recent Innovations") rather than future focused ("Future Innovations"); it's hard to believe that the panelists would give away yet unrevealed technologies they were working on. I'm going to try and save as much effort as possible, given that bp posted his notes. In fact, as I am going to crib from his notes, or just omit what he already has, you should just go read them instead.

Package tracking + Progress bars


From John Maeda's blog I learned that progress bars make you perceive time at a faster rate. This bit of trivia came up in a discussion with parakkum about an order we're having shipped from the East Coast via ground rate.

Packaging tracking is a form of progress bar for your packages, but, as currently designed, it's somewhat broken. Instead of smoothly incrementing from start to finish, a package tracking progress bar quickly jumps to 20%, pauses there for four days, and then moves through the remaining 80% in the final 24 hours. Rather than creating a sense of movement for your package, the scene imagined is a box encased in ice, sitting ignored in the back corner of a warehouse, where a postal worker on a smoke break suddenly discovers it four days later and re-expedites it on its way.

For the OCD crowd, those of us whose compulsion is to build emotional attachment to our online orders by following their travels from postal hub to postal hub, I believe it would benefit us for package tracking to be reimplemented to create a smooth sense of movement over time.

There is a mapping problem between the actual design of the system (the package is in fact sitting in a single warehouse for four days) and the desired "smooth movement" perception, but that can be solved by rethinking the notion of "location" to be much more granular (i.e. specifying a specific location in a warehouse). Tell me that my package has moved from "Jacksonville, FL Shipping Dock" to "Jacksonville, FL, Northwest Sorting Facility" to "Jacksonville, FL, Upper package belt." Regale me with tales of how my brave package has criss-crossed across conveyor belts -- up, down, left, right. You can even go as far as to equip your scanners with low-quality cameras and post photos of my package alive and well, happily exploring your new high tech sorting facility -- I've seen video clips of a package sorting facility, and there is quite a bit of movement, quite a bit of drama, to be elicited. If Monsters Inc can create an action scene using the movement of doors through a sorting facility, why not utilize the same sense of movement for my packages?

If that is technologically unfeasible, or if the package is still sitting still, lie to me if you must. Up until the moment the package has arrived, or is late for the scheduled delivery, it really doesn't matter what tale you tell me as long as it's interesting, and non-static.