Microsoft's Lack of Consistency for End Users is Frustrating

Thursday, March 22, 2012 7:24 AM
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Maybe it's just me, but the only thing I can think of since seeing the new UI for the beta of Visual Studio 11 and all the explanation the Visual Studio Blog puts out (specifically here & here) is how inconsistent the different divisions within the organization are and how they don't seem to reuse each other's research, specifically for end users. The first line in both of the posts I just linked to start with “We hear you."… don't get me wrong, that's great they are listening to their customer feedback that's rolling in after seeing the new UI. But what seems to have been missed is the “We listened to ourselves” …

Between Office 2003 & Office 2007 the Office team did a TON of research around the UI. They found people were taking 13 clicks to add tables to their documents when in reality it was only a total of 7 clicks (not exact numbers, I'm paraphrasing here). Their reasoning is that there were so many commands in a product like Word (1,300+ to be exact) that people couldn't find what they wanted. So they came up with this results-driven interface which showed you things you could do based on what you were doing. For instance if you didn't have a picture selected, you didn't get picture editing tools. The result of this is the Office Ribbon which is now not only in all the Office clients (as of Office 2010), but it is also in the fastest growth product in the history of the company (SharePoint) and we're seeing it now making it's way into Windows 8 (as in Windows Explorer). Surprise? No.. the guy who ran Office when the Ribbon was invented (Steven Sinofsky) now runs the Windows division & brought along his top UI guy Jensen Harris. But they wouldn't take something from one of the biggest revenue generating products for the company (Office), of which SharePoint is a sizeable piece of that, and put it into one of the other biggest revenue generating products (Windows) if it wasn't successful with end users.

Then you get the developer division… they show all this research about how they cleaned up the UI for Visual Studio 11. Frankly, I thought the one app that would benefit the most from the Ribbon was Visual Studio with its infinite menus, commands, tool bars and buttons. More specifically, Visual Studio is crying for a results driven user interface. They took the drab look and feel from Blend, tweaked it, and pushed it into Visual Studio. But maybe I'm in the minority here… I just don't get why when you see a ton of research into usability in one area, and watch it get implemented across so many products, why we don't see those same investments get reused in something like Visual Studio.

I for one was *very* disappointed when I saw the new drab & gray Visual Studio experience. I find the icons a hell of a lot harder to read and consume than before.

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