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The Results-Oriented User Interface: IA, Live Preview, and Micro-Templates

by David Sturtz

As usual, Jakob’s got everyone stirred up with his take on Microsoft’s new “results-oriented user interface” for Office 12, “R.I.P. WYSIWYG.” After watching Scoble’s interview with Julie Larson-Green, User Experience team leader* I see it as three key changes:

  • Information architecture – As Peter Merholz has posted, there is an improved information architecture to the menus/tabs and commands, or as Julie Larson-Green says, “it’s just organized in a new way.” This restructuring and the use of the “ribbon” and “mini-bar” or “floatie” to increase visibility of appropriate commands appears to work pretty well, although it will undoubtedly take some getting used to. It doesn’t appear to be an abandonment of menus and toolbars as much as restyling and contextualizing.
  • Live preview – While not a new concept (think Photoshop), I think this is a useful addition, provided it is responsive enough. The warning here is that users may come to expect similar responsiveness and instantaneous, non-committal feedback from other programs.
  • Micro-templates – The Office 12 interface takes the document template/wizard/project gallery concept down to the item level. Tables, headers, footers, block quotes, etc. can be instantly styled with micro-templates.

The interplay of these three changes Nielsen and Microsoft are referring to as a results-oriented interface. The commands have been safely hidden away from the user leaving only the predefined results for the user to select from.

Is it really a new thing? It seems to me that much of the puffy, neophyte-oriented software out there takes a similar (if less flashy) approach.

Is it a bad thing? The control-freak designer in me is concerned that it’s not so much the beginning of “What You Get Is What You See” as it is an enforced mediocrity of What You Get Is What Everyone Else Got (not unlike PowerPoint Templates or the ubiquitous Fax Cover Sheet). If WYSIWYG is truly dead, then so is the user’s full control over how items appear.

Taking a more realistic perspective however, learning how to manipulate all of the necessary variables to produce an aesthetically pleasing document is a lot of work even in an ideal interface. Most users could care less about fiddling with leading, indents, shading, and borders let alone understanding how styles work. If the Office 12 interface allows users to produce more attractive end product more quickly then where’s the harm? Microsoft is simply bridging the knowledge gap in a slightly new way.

*Wait, did she say Word will be the only e-mail editor in Outlook going forward?? Ack.

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