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I agree with this completely. It's a lot easier for me to read through a list of things in some category than it is for me to scan through a bunch of irregularly sized tiles for the icon and description of the configuration I need. For me, all of the pictures just lower the density of the information and cause it to take longer to parse every single time.

I also question the basic premise that the tabbed interface is somehow more intuitive for new users. Like many UI related assertions, absolutely no concrete evidence is being provided to support this point. I would think that it would be easiest for new users (as it is easiest for myself) to have options sorted into neat menus with uniformly sized elements where information is laid out in a vertical list (which is how lists are written in basically all left-to-right and right-to-left languages) so that it is easier to parse quickly.




> It's a lot easier for me to read through a list of things in some category than it is for me to scan through a bunch of irregularly sized tiles for the icon and description of the configuration I need.

I think you hit on something here with the irregular size of the buttons, probably moreso than the icons. The arrangement makes it difficult to just read through all the options left to right, because they're all jumbled.

A common/recommended design pattern for older Mac apps is to have a top toolbar of large icons, which is actually quite similar to the Ribbon in some ways. But there, the options appear in a single horizontal row. https://i.ibb.co/wd6MR9c/Screen-Shot-2020-07-10-at-11-58-37-...


Not only are they jumbled, but they also change size/shape depending on the width of the window. A large button when full-screened becomes a small button when in a smaller window. A large button in a smaller window gets expanded to show all sub-options when maximized. There is no visual consistency for the same button.


That was a feature designed to fit more options on smaller screens. I personally like it and find it helpful.


It messes up any attempt to recollect of the locations of certain features in the bar. Some iterations of the ribbon even fold groups into menus under single buttons, so the exact path to feature then depends on the width of the window. This turns the ribbon into a pretty inconsistent user experience.


I don't recollect the location of features by their spacial location, I recollect them by their place in a hierarchical ordering. The exact path to a function is always preserved, as the keyboard shortcut for that item is defined by that path.


Ribbons (in Office, at least) change that very hierarchy depending on window width. For example, take the Home bar in Word: the "Editing" and "Style" groups collapse to buttons with submenus before the width of the window is reduced to half screen width on my computer. This affects keyboard navigation in the ribbon bar, too, of course.


This doesn’t actually change the hierarchy of commands, as evidenced by the fact the keyboard shortcuts stay constant. I appreciate hiding these first before Font, since I use Font more than Styles or Editing.


What hierarchy is supposedly staying constant? Keyboard shortcuts have no hierarchy.


Keyboard shortcuts for functions in the ribbon map directly to their placement in the ribbon hierarchy. Tab, section, subsection, etc. You press alt and then a series of one or more letters that define the path to that item.


> I think you hit on something here with the irregular size of the buttons, probably moreso than the icons.

This would also explain why other icon based UI's like the tool palette in gimp don't seem to suffer from the same problem. A grid of buttons is about as "programmer UI" as they come but once you learn where everything is it's quick and easy.


Vertical lists can also work better with the wider aspect ratios of modern monitors. There's tons of empty space on the left and right in a typical Word document, but MS decided to suck up limited vertical space instead


> “I also question the basic premise that the tabbed interface is somehow more intuitive for new users. Like many UI related assertions, absolutely no concrete evidence is being provided to support this point.

Uh, yeah there was? Go dig through the wayback machine for Jensen Harris’s blogpost series about the design of the ribbon, or watch his MIX08 talk on it; he was the design team lead for the change, and the reason they did it was because the old UI was failing their users. There were usability studies done during the ribbon design which fedback into, and changed, how it worked to adjust to ordinary people’s expectations and needs.

> “I would think that it would be easiest for new users to have options sorted into neat menus

Like many UI related assertions, absolutely no concrete evidence is being provided to support this point.


There's never any shortage of cranky commenters on HN with eloquently written 4 paragraph posts about how some complicated interface from 1993 is the pinnacle of computing productivity, demanding peer reviewed studies to the contrary.


I mean, you could argue that some complicated interfaces like VIM's modal editing are the pinnacle of productivity for power users.

But power users and ordinary user's needs are world's apart, and the office suites have to cater to both of them. Thus the deep divide.


"There's absolutely no evidence for this" "yes there was, here's what to look for" "downvote". HN.txt.

Top level menus full by Word 95. Office 97 added command bars. Nested menus and toolbars full by Office 2000. Office XP added Task panes, full of features by Office 2003. "the Task Pane was the last attempt to find a way to scale old-style UI to programs as full-featured as Office. Although it was a successful stop-gap measure, it ran its course in only two versions." - https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/archive/blogs/jensenh/new-r...

> "The downside [of nested dropdown menus], however, was clear and eventually terminal: increased complexity. It's much more difficult for people to form a scanning strategy with hierarchical menus: you have to keep track at each moment which levels you've visited and which you've haven't. What was once a simple structure to visualize was now a more complicated, branching structure."

- https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/archive/blogs/jensenh/ye-ol...

> "As we watched more people use the prototypes, we started to understand more the scanning process that was taking place. Later on, we did eye-tracking studies to watch how people scanned the Ribbon"

> "I was reading a blog entry of someone who was kind of critical and dismissive about what we're doing and our designs. One of his criticisms was "how bad the usability of the Ribbon would be because it's got icons scattered all over of various sizes." What we've learned is actually the opposite. People can scan disparate patterns more easily than homogenous patterns. When we use more toolbar-like layouts--a bunch of equally-spaced, equally-sized buttons, people scan them less quickly than when each chunk has a memorable layout. So we actually try explicitly to vary the layouts between chunks--it helps people find the thing they're looking for more quickly. That's something we wouldn't have known if we didn't have a commitment to watch people work."

- https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/archive/blogs/jensenh/be-wi...

> "One of the concepts behind the Ribbon is that it's the one and only place to look for functionality in the product. If you want to look through Word 2003 to find an unfamiliar command, you need to look through 3 levels of hierarchical menus, open up 31 toolbars and peruse about 20 Task Panes. It's hard to formulate a "hunting" strategy to find the thing you're looking for because there's no logical path through all of the UI.

> Office "12" consolidates all of the entry points into one place: the Ribbon. So if you're trying to find a feature and don't know where it is, the scope of your search is drastically reduced. Click on the leftmost tab, and click across the tabs until you reach the end. That it. It's either there or it's not--there are no other "rocks" to look under, no other places we've hidden functionality. We've found in early tests that people find it easier to discover how to do new things in the Ribbon, and they're more apt to explore the UI looking for better ways to get things done."

Testing showed that people found the Ribbon easier, found more things, and were more willing to explore it. - https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/archive/blogs/jensenh/enter...

> "* Back in the olden days of designing software at Microsoft (say, pre-2003), design decisions were mostly supported by guesswork. [...] How much data have we collected? [in the Customer Experience opt-in program] About 1.3 billion sessions since we shipped Office 2003 (each session contains all the data points over a certain fixed time period.) [...] one of the biggest reasons that we decided to do the new user interface for Office 12 is simply that, for the first time, we have the data we need to make intelligent decisions.*"

- https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/archive/blogs/jensenh/insid...

And that's not even from the design blog, which appears to be offline and not in the wayback machine.

Totally wrong about people finding menus easier, totally wrong about there being no evidence based design behind the ribbon.


> It's either there or it's not--there are no other "rocks" to look under

Nit pick on this quote: every time I've used the ribbon, I need features that have been collapsed into a "more" list (hamburger menu?) for that section of the ribbon.

Also:

> you need to look through 3 levels of hierarchical menus, open up 31 toolbars and peruse about 20 Task Panes.

I'm really dubious that the ribbon is better in this regard. Those menus still exist, and I end up falling back to them with some regularity after searching the ribbons and not finding what I want (perhaps it is hidden in a hamburger menu). Furthermore, each option in the ribbon takes up far more screen real estate than an item in the drop down menu, and there are sub-dialogs still abound.


I really love good UI design and I'm convinced I don't have what it takes but I do keep seeing arguments and interfaces that seem quite weird to me. I would do it like this:

The desire to keep the document (or whatever it is) worked at on the screen during the "hunt" I consider a mistake. When mixing paint on a pallet the eyes are focused on what you are doing. You might want to look up to the canvas and back down again several times but there is never a need to do both.

I also feel drop down menus are a mistake. There (imho) should be a key on the keyboard to bring up the "hunting" screen (perhaps one that can be panned to the left right top and bottom with the arrow keys) and every "button" on that screen should be visually mapped to a key combination. F keys are great for this. First F key for the "button" group, second F key to pick one or a 3rd for 12 x 12 x 12 options.

When folder trees stop working because you have to much in them you should do tags (in addition) that can hold duplicates of the functionality. Then when tags also fail to scale you need a search feature. Each interface "button" or group should have a lot of hidden text by which it can be found. Typing cursive should highlight the italics "button".

It would definitely become a big mess but my gut says it can be sorted out and be equally accessible to people using it every day and first time or rarely users.


I’m an artist who works mostly digitally. When I am mixing colors I have the color dialog right there on the screen next to the art, with my changes being reflected live. How does this color work with the rest of the work? That’s what’s important.

The only reason traditional artists use a palette far away from their art for their paint is because that works in the physical world. Mixing my colors right next to my virtual canvas is a huge speed-up compared to painting a ton of thumbnails with different colors.


I see a problem - target user group.

I'm watching MIX08 The Story of the Ribbon [1] and trying to be objective. He is optimizing for 50% who paste with mouse. Essentially it is Microsoft Bob 2.0.

Office was done, "good enough" but some people complained, there was bad press. Microsoft added intellimenus, task pane - acknowledged mistake. Then ribbon. It could work for new users. Not for me. Now I better understand why.

The menu / toolbar / shortcut UI provides progression - from least often to muscle memory. Menu is hidden, fallback, toolbar provides customization, no need File > Save or Edit / Clipboard once I know shortcuts.

Ribbon is always expanded menu represented like task pane. They display text when icon is not enough. And group name ... because something. Information density is extremely low. Actual toolbar moved on the title bar.

Layout demo looks good. But as writer tool it is awful, clutter is still here, just behind a tab. Could be fixed with Firefox-like customization menu, not with their spaceship like-control.

I can see how he applied design tenets but in very specific meaning:

* a person's focus should be on their content - constantly changing UI, "content" is styling

* reduce the number of choices - no way to customize toolbar, select one of the tabs

* increase efficiency - of those who struggle with discoverability

* embrace consistency - among office, not OS

* give features a permanent home - even universally known

* straightforward is better than clever - no hidden controls, more visual clutter

* design tenets has to be religion - stick to decision, do not listen to users

Same tenets produce my layout, which is opposite.

[1] https://channel9.msdn.com/Events/MIX/MIX08/UX09

[2] http://sergeykish.com/side-by-side-no-decorations.png


So much bull crap stuff. The fastest way to find something is to search for it.

And...search for a menu item is a 2nd class feature on the OS. I wish I could click a text field on the menu bar and find stuff. I wish the actions were indexed with the documentation. Oh—and I wish that the keyboard shortcut for that was standard. Not on my Mac, but I’m pretty sure that I had to type it in from a Mac productivity magazine.


> So much bull crap stuff. The fastest way to find something is to search for it.

Faster to search for "save" or press Ctrl+S? Faster to search for "save" or click the save icon at the top of the screen? Searching is slower, clearly. Even if searching was always faster, it doesn't refute "bull crap stuff" because there was no claim that the Ribbon is the fastest full stop, it's a balance of discoverable and usable; search requires you to know the right search terms to use, and it suffers the problem of the old Office self-customizing menus - the results aren't always in the same predictable order - and if what you want is not in the top few results, you don't know if the feature doesn't exist, does exist by another name, or is in the hundreds of results you aren't going to read. And it has no way to surface features and make them discoverable.


You search the first couple times you need something, then you memorize where it is in the menu. If you keep using it repeatedly, you'll learn the shortcut, since it's displayed prominently every time the menu drops down.


On the Mac search for a menu item is almost always available as the very first item in the "Help" menu, and the keyboard shortcut for it is both standard and fairly easily guessable: Command + ? (e.g., Command + Shift + / on a keyboard where "?" is the shifted version of "/").

Not every program implements a Help menu, and not every program that implements a Help menu implements the standard shortcut. But in my experience, a large majority do. (Nearly all native apps do, but even some Electron apps get this right. Visual Code does both, for instance, and Slack at least has the Help menu with the search field in the first place.)


> Like many UI related assertions, absolutely no concrete evidence is being provided to support this point.

Microsoft did massive amounts of user testing, just because you don't know about it doesn't mean it's not there. This is a good starting point if you have about 20 spare hours: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/archive/blogs/jensenh/ They also backed their tests with a ton of data and metrics.


I remember back when Visual Studio 2012 shipped with black & white toolbar icons, and main menu in ALL CAPS. This was all backed by studies that supposedly showed how most users prefer it that way, according to the lengthy blog post about it.

Let's just say the community's reaction was not in line with those studies...


Testing and metrics can be wrong like in this case. A ton of data can be too much where we find patterns to reenforce what we want.


I'm not saying that you're wrong, but what Microsoft was doing is closer to science than what HN does every time an article somewhat related to the Ribbon is posted.

I'd bet on Microsoft's approach over these rants, every day of the week.


Each person who voices an opinion is a real value and a real data point. What Microsoft is doing may look like a science but they are not asking the right questions so they get misleading results.

Reminds me of when facebook pushed autoplaying ads. A/B metrics when through the roof. Sales never saw so much engagement. Every slapping each other on the back. Ask a user they didn't understand what was happening, there was a fear that was introduced around scrolling your own feed.

Science is great but only attempts to answers the questions you give it.


I recall the first time I used the new windows 8 UI. It was absolutely horrifying. There were 2 different control panels with different settings sometimes overlapping. The traditional UI in which you could start apps by clicking on desktop shortcuts and manage traditional windows but certain apps including the start menu put you seemingly randomly in the weirdo new app experience where the window took up the whole screen. This was also true of clicking a url link in a different app.

It was bar none the worst desktop interface that anyone has ever released for a computer.

You have asserted without evidence that MS's UI is driven by science and you are assuming that Microsoft's research is in fact any good. Based on consistently mediocre results I have reason to doubt that. To support your position I suggest you actually cite some research instead of assuming it has been done competently.


I read those blog articles as they came out, and bought into the same kool aid as you did, but when time came to use it, it just didn't work as well as menus.

The contextual toolbar is one of the better ideas though.


> It's a lot easier for me to read through a list of things in some category

this also creates a fixed 'path' cognitively since you are reading/naming the intermediate nodes on the way to any given task, and the intermediate nodes are consistently located in the same place spatially and in terms of the path. This is not the same as 'funky star button 2/3 of the way to the right and 1/3 down of the sub-scrolling subpanel of the customizable ribbon'




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