Designing With Customers in Mind

Office 2010 User Research & Design

My name is Shawn Lipstein and I work in Microsoft’s Office Design Group (ODG) as a User Experience Research Lead. I wanted to take the opportunity in today’s post to both introduce ODG and share a bit about what we do. I’ll also give you a peek at future posts we’ll be writing.

Who is ODG and what do we do?

The Office Design Group is made up of both User Experience Designers and User Experience Researchers. Our job is to represent you, the end-user of our software products. We partner with product teams within Office to identify user needs and create compelling experiences. By understanding who you are and how you work we can build better software.

We identify user needs and create compelling experiences in a number of ways. For example, User Experience Researchers work to understand user needs early in the product development cycle using methods such as Field Visits. A field visit is when Researchers visit with users in their own environment and observe how they work with software to get their tasks done. Researchers also utilize methods such as Lab Studies (see image below) where we bring users into controlled lab environments and have them work through real world scenarios. While doing so, we use prototypes as primitive as paper drawings to actual working builds; depending on the phase we are at in the product development cycle.


The above image is a photograph of a Lab Study conducted using an early working build.

As another example, User Experience Designers work to solve difficult design issues in innovative ways by using methods such as Wire Framing where the basic idea of a design is blueprinted. Designers also produce many iterations of a solution using high fidelity drawings and even working prototypes to ensure that all possibilities around the interaction, visual look and feel, and animations have been considered.

The images below show an example of the ‘Office 2010 Backstage’ going from a sketch to a working build (click on the images for a larger version).



1. Early on in the development cycle Designers will develop a multitude of hand drawn concept sketches.



2. Wire Frames are made to explore layout and proportion as we begin to refine our ideas.

3. A high fidelity rendering is created to finalize the look and feel and to clearly communicate the design intent to the rest of the team.




4. A screenshot of the final build shows the accuracy that is achieved in relation to the high fidelity rendering.

As you’ve read above, the Office Design Group - made up of both Designers and Researchers - use a number of techniques to identify user needs and create compelling experiences. I’m excited to get feedback from a broader set of customers as we begin to make 2010 available. This feedback helps to ensure our software is intuitive and usable.

What is the Office Design Group (ODG) planning to post here in the future?

ODG plans to post more topics in a series on this blog about ‘Office 2010 User Research & Design.’ Some questions that my colleagues are planning to answer are:

  • What Research Tools and Techniques does ODG use? Find out about the different Research tools and techniques we used in order to deliver Office 2010.

  • What Design Tools and Techniques does ODG use? Find out about the different Design tools and techniques we used in order to deliver Office 2010.

  • What process does ODG go through to develop Visuals and Branding? Discover the process that we go through to ensure that we have a great visuals and branding story for Office 2010.

  • How does ODG Understand User Usage? The Customer Experience Improvement Program is one way that we understand how users are using the Office programs. Join us as we explain how we understand user usage which in turn helps us make design decisions as we develop Office 2010.

I look forward to reading your comments and questions about this and subsequent posts.

Comments (21)

  1. Anonymous says:

    I had to switch to Office 2007 in 2007 and I have been in the same boat as so many here: I hated the ribbon and would have switched back to the old menu structure in a heart beat… if that option had been available.  

    Then, in 2008, I had to work at a client site, on their computers, on office 2003.  And guess what, I hated it! I had to search for everything because it didn’t make sense anymore! And I realized that the ribbon, while taking some time to get used to, is a much more user friendly solution.

    Since then I tell people not to upgrade if they don’t want new features. And if they upgrade because they want them, then they shouldn’t complain about it…

  2. vincent paragone says:

    Have been using the Technical preview for a few weeks now. For the most part it is very stable.

    Two items. In receiving the preview, I received no instructions on reorting errors. I have been using the smile and frown to report issues, but they do not provide any feedback mechanism.

    Second, are there any updates to the original code I received?

    I don’t find any updates on the connect site and I’m sure some of the issues I have found must have been resolved.

  3. Malcolm leckie says:


    if the sketches had been on a touch screen then …..

  4. Ganesh Anand says:


    Good that we have the User Experience Team getting involved in this blog.

    It would be great to have some information in conjunction with the positioning of so called “File” button Vs. The Office 2007 Orb Button.

    It’s true that first timers might have had tough time (for a few minutes, may be?) to figure out what happened to the “File” menu! But it’s been a long time since people must have got adapted to it and found the Office Button to be more user friendly and easy to access than the “File” menu.

    However, it is natural that not ALL people will be adaptable to “changes leading to innovation and better evolution” but most people appreciate changes that are brought to enhance user experience.

    In view of this, I personally do not feel the current “File” menu is in anyway more “usable” than the Office 2007 Orb Button. Not to mention about the Orb that was initially found in your sketches and wireframes (which went missing all of a sudden in the final design). If you feel the re-invented “File” menu (which brings the backstage view), is bettre in terms of evolution in designing, please justify. Was there any survey conducted as to what’s more usable for end-users?

    If the point is to satisfy those who are finding it hard to migrate from Office 2003 to Office 2007, then the positioning of this crucial menu option (i.e. the Orb / the File menu) must be customizable. Users must have the option to choose and see what they want.

    Please have a look at this blog that I came across:

    For instance, in Windows 95 till XP we had the “Start” text in the Task Bar’s Start Button. Now that it’s become easier for people to recognize where the Start button is, you have removed the text and just put an Orb in the Task Bar of Windows Vista and Windows 7. That’s acceptable and is welcome. But the Orb feature in Office 2007 was a real cool thing – that it’s such a bad idea to remove that idea and go back to history!

    Hope this is listened to.

  5. sam says:

    One menu back per version is fine

    Why not just do this…

    At least you wont lose the market share

  6. Prefers the Orb says:

    I thought we had finally ridded ourselves of the dreaded File -> Exit misnomer in Office 2007… please don’t revive it!

  7. LGFN says:

    I don’t see much of a difference between images 3 and 4. Can anyone guide me to any?

  8. Vitaliy says:

    I am using very good presentation about Office 2007 design on my UI design courses.

    is it possible to make few presentations and short (up to 2 hours) video presentation about Office 2010 user interface design and polishing.

    One more thing. I see that Microsoft design guys made equation editing easear, but it is still quite bad for large number of equations. And only few design changes are required to make is almost perfect. if you are insrested to talk about this with guy who make UI design and types many equations, you re welcome to write at info dog pprog dot info 🙂

  9. Frank says:

    I’m waiting for your further posts, hurry up!

  10. Shawn Lipstein (Microsoft) says:

    Hello and thank you all for your great comments! I wanted to address some of the questions/comments that have been brought up in this post.

    Reporting Feedback/Errors:

    Yes, there are a few mechanisms that you can use to report feedback/errors. The Send a Smile Tool or the Give Feedback button within SharePoint are some options. Each product team (as well as all the researchers) review these comments on a regular basis so please keep them coming!

    Updated Build:

    Yes, there is an update scheduled to be available soon!

    Office Button vs. File Tab:

    This is a great question and one that many people have asked. For answers, I would begin by reading Marina’s post on Evolving the Backstage View. We are also preparing another post to drill into this subject which should be coming out soon. Look for that one on Marina’s post as well.

    Difference between the high fidelity rendering and the final build:

    As is noted, there really isn’t very much difference between these two images. What I am showing is that we put a lot of attention in developing our intended design.

  11. Ganesh Anand says:

    Thanks Shawn.

    Am pretty much looking forward for the “Office Button vs. File Tab” post. And more importantly, looking forward for a suitable design that would satisfy both worlds.

    Personally I will opt for the “Orb” to be back!! Let the Back Stage View be where it is… It can come up when the Orb is used!

    Looking forward to hear from the team again!

  12. Charles Whitaker says:

    i hope for the love of mankind you are putting in an option to have the menus/format UI look like the classic menus prior to 2007 version.  i have used office for years, and i have tried for several weeks to get used to 2007 version, and i ABSOLUTELY FRIGGIN HATE IT!!!!!.

    a bad analogy – the 2007 UI rework is akin to Ford/GM deciding to re-arrange the clutch, gas and brake pedals, with no option to have them in the original format – why?  Just because some dufus thinks its better.

    I can’t express the level of dis-satisfaction i have with 2007.  if 2010 is similar to 2007 in that regard, then i may be just one person, but i’ll be switching over to some other office sutie, and lay foundations with a different company, one that hopefully won’t pull the rug out from under its end-users, just because somebody thought it would be a good idea to put the steering wheel on the opposite side of the car, so to speak, just because they thought it would be a good idea.

    i used to LOVE excel and word.  was a daily, devoted user.


    good job.


  13. boe says:

    If they wanted to improve Office they SHOULD have –

    1. Made outlook open multiple e-mail accounts as full exchange -not an additional mailbox with some functionality or pop/imap with very limited functionality but two seperate exchange profiles simultaneously from multiple exchange servers.

    2. Full OLE support for pictures in access – umm wasn’t that functional with Office XP – why take that out? Why should someone have to code to add pictures to a personal database? Might was well use oracle or a real database if you are going to have to use code. Adding Office XP photo editor is the work around but why not just add photo editor back into office if that is the solution?

    3. Offer the old menu bar for people (most of my clients) who don’t want to learn the new menu bar. You can finally modify the ribbon to some extent in 2010 however my clients just want their old ribbon bar. Frankly I have no issue with the new menu bar but I’m one person and most of my clients don’t like it so prefer to stick with office 2003. MS could make money selling the new version if they just offered the old menu as a choice with the new ribbon.

  14. Chickpea says:

    I’m with Charles up there. I’m pretty good about adopting new s/w, and when I was forced years ago to move from WordPerfect to MSWord, I did it. But the DRASTIC UI switch from 2003 to 2007 was more than I could take.

    I bought a new computer in early 200 and had to go with Vista (sigh). I dutifully bought Office 2007. A week later I had uninstalled it and took the package back to the store, and got my money back.  

    At the time I was working on an hourly basis, and used Excel extensively. I opened my first file and took about an hour to figure out how to do something that took me 2 seconds previously. I was patient for a few days, and tried to learn, but no one paid for my time, and it made my productivity (and earnings!) take such a HUGE hit, I gave up.

    I reiterate the comments about not changing the steering wheel, etc. I’d have been fine with transitioning to the ribbon, if they had options to use the old menu (please, MS, it could not have been THAT hard to do!).  I hope 2010 will e a program that 2003 users can take on and adapt gradually. Personally I felt like I was pushed off a cliff with no chance to protest (buying 2003 was like landing in a net and climbing down a ladder).

    I agree with the poster who said that if MS does not make 2010 adaptable for users familiar with all the pre-2007 versions, I will absolutely give up and go learn a completely new s/w. If I have to spend time learning, I’d rather it be with a company I trust not to move my steering wheel.

  15. emile says:

    If Microsoft was designing with customers in mind, it would have either retained the classic toolbar as an option in the Office 2007 suite, or provided this as a download.

    Office 2007 was inflicted upon me at work.  I am finding it faster to get work done by reverting to Wordperfect, which I also have on my desktop.  I will not upgrade at home.  

  16. janet says:

    Hey Shawn, Thanks for posting about user research. Looking forward to more. Are you going to talk about surveys and survey tools and how they are used in your User Research? Thanks.

  17. Brian says:

    I don’t really see a way to make a feature request for Outlook other than posting here, so here goes:

    I’d like a way to “lock” the positioning of the folder tree inside of the Navigation Pane’s Mail Folders.  I’m not talking about a password protect lock – I’m talking about a positioning and modification lock on the folder tree.

    Several times a week when working with email, I accidentally move/drag mail folders inside of other mail folders.  It’s really easy to do, particularly when you have a multiple monitor setup like I do.  I’d simply like to request a lock that would prevent the moving or modification of folders in the tree.

  18. paul says:

    I’ve been asking everyone I know who might be connected to the Office development team for a new feature but so far no luck.  Maybe you guys can make it happen.  The idea is simple…If I make an appointment and set the Show As: to Out of Office make my out of office notification turn on with a generic message saying how long I am out.  Optionally you could have a check box that allows this feature to be selected for certain appointments.  The basic idea is that I don’t have to remember to set my out of office as a seperate step before I leave for an appointment.  Can this be done?

  19. amolk says:

    I couldn’t agree more with those who want the classic UI back. Does any one of the many bright minds at MS realize that using key sequences (esp. for those who have used Office products for a long time) is MUCH faster than using ANY pointing device?

    Eg. if I want to delete a row in an Excel spreasheet, I can type Alt+E, D, R much faster than using a pointing device. What’s more, I don’t even have to remember anything besides what I want lives in the Edit menu.

    If MS had a goal of alienating many long time Office users and have them start looking for other alternatives, they have a hit on their hands with the Ribbon. It is easily one of the most ridiculous ideas to ever come out of MS. The fact that someone at MS made the daft decision not to provide a classic UI alternative, show enormous arrogance on MS’ part.

    Do you have any idea how many people are stuck with the Ribbon because they’re forced to use it at work?

    Designing with the customer in mind? MS abandoned that concept with Office 2007 and the hideous Ribbon monster.

  20. ian_pick says:

    I have the same complaint as most people here regarding the disappearance of the menu bar. What a STUPID idea!!!! Not only that but there’s no option for making it reappear. I just loved the comparison that Charles Whitaker made about GM suddenly deciding to rearrange the clutch, gas and brake pedals, with no option to have them in the original format – why?  Just because some dufus thinks its better. What’s even worse is reading comments by morons like Ganesh or Prefer the Orb saying “I absolutely hated the old gas pedal, brake and clutch arrangements. I’m glad they changed them”. Another complaint I have is that the layout of the software looks cheap and low-budget compared to Office 2003. It was like switching from Terminator 2 to Reefer Madness. Can the idiots at Microsoft ODG get any dumber? I’m seriously thinking of taking it back to the store and getting a refund. I’ll stick with Office 2003.

  21. aprimo says:

    Has it occurred to you that your trusty user data is a small sample size?  Whenever any software asks me if I want to send data back to the company about how I’m using the software, I ALWAYS decline.  Why in the world would anyone with any computer savvy allow such an intrusion?

    My company only “upgraded” to Office 2007 in July 2009 and it has been a godawful experience!  Hours and hours of lost productivity per user.  Why in the world would MS not give the option of using the old menus, or at least make the ribbon customizable?  That quick launch bar (or whatever the heck you call it) is way too small, I can’t organize things the way I want, and not all functions are available.

    Worst of all, many things that I used to do all the time with a single click of my customized toolbar, now take three or four (or more!) clicks on your fancy new ribbon.  Believe me, at home where I have a choice, when I bought a new laptop I also bought Office 2003 Professional to install on it and ditched the trial version of Office 2007.

    I am an Office power user and can usually adapt quickly to new software.  But after nine months I still find Office 2007 to be incredibly frustrating.  My work is challenging enough already.  I’d like to beat someone about the head with a large blunt object for this fiasco!  Even if Office 2010 is better, no telling how many years it will take my company to adopt it.  I won’t be buying it for myself unless I am forced to do so.

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