081. First Feedback and a Surprise
As the demos show, the most obvious departure from the past is that menus and toolbars are all but wiped out. —Jakob Nielsen (Nielsen-Norman Group)
We’d been working on Office12 for almost two years and the product had made enormous progress. The team was buzzing, and everyone was very excited. This product was different. We were building something we could all feel. It was a product that was good for individuals, not just organizations. Still, no one outside the company had seen it or knew of the monumental changes we were making. The user interface in Office was not just a user interface for the PC, for many many people for the past 15 years it had been the interface for the PC. We were quite confident. JulieLar was confident and prepared. This was a big moment, the first public showing and then the first feedback.
The first lesson of interface redesign: Do not unveil the design with static pictures.
The second lesson of interface redesign: Do not unveil the design with static pictures.
At the 2005 Professional Developers Conference (PDC), Chris Capossela (ChrisCap), Corporate VP of Information Worker Marketing, joined BillG on stage for a sweeping demonstration of Windows Longhorn along with the first public reveal of Office “12” (the quotes with a space became the official way of writing the name). ChrisCap and the marketing team zeroed in on the positioning of “Better results, faster,” while also pointing out that Office was “New, but feels familiar.” The demonstration zipped across Excel, Word, and PowerPoint, showing all the elements of the redesign and dozens of new features, along with many others previously undiscoverable. I was sitting anxiously in the very back of the room gauging how people reacted. I did not have to listen too carefully as during the demo someone shouted out to the stage, letting everyone know how they felt.
“Ship it!” they yelled.
We were still two months away from the first public beta, but this felt good. Only afterwards watching the tape did I realize we were being made fun of. Chris inadvertently missed a beat in the demo. His words describing what should happen did not match what was happening on screen. It looked like a bug and “ship it” was a classic Microsoft reference to shipping something with bugs. Nevertheless, the reception for the demo was quite positive.
The excitement spread through the industry.
Technorati, a tech news site that measured the important or high impact blogs on what was then called the blogosphere, was the place to be seen in the press. Our redesign made that home page, a first for plain old Office.
Despite the excitement of the moment, we learned a good lesson.
The video of the keynote was posted, but in 2005 not everyone was hip to consuming video. That meant that the still images (from Treo phones and the like), screenshots from the event, and JensenH’s later session made their way around the blogosphere. That proved to be a mistake. The spread of simple static screenshots for such a major change in user interface was not the way to communicate the redesign.
Almost immediately we were confronted with a wave of comments proclaiming the Ribbon to be too big and that it took up too much of the screen—assertions made by comparing screenshots to the current version of Office and making snap judgments. Attendees at the developer conference were counting pixels but not considering the full scope of the design or the experience. Besides, there really was the same amount of room for content—that was a key point of the design.