In an earlier posting on Usability 2.0 I complained that user interfaces don’t yet cater to cognitive styles. Now it seems that Office 2007 and Vista do exactly this in a decisive, courageous way. They take sides for one type of users that can roughly be referred to as left-brainers (see my #118): focussed on a narrow context (see my #117). Perhaps the market analyses say that right-brainers are lost to the competitor, anyway?
When I tried out the beta previews of these two, I noticed soon (besides many undoubted improvements) that my difficulties with the new interface were not only the normal ones, like unfamiliar places for accustomed controls, or surprising hover preview effects, or the normal imperfectness of the beta and its translation, or the poor performance on my computer which is way too small for the resource eaters. Rather, the intent of the new design philosophy becomes soon apparent, and unfortunately it is one that I don’t subscribe to.
- In Office, everything that fits in the current context is easily reachable on the topmost layer of the ribbon, e.g. Word Art or readymade textbox styles with pretty fill effects, but everything beyond that is hidden behind additional controls such as tiny triangles of dropdown panels or even galleries to be scrolled. For example, making a line dashed (previously accessible from a pop-up on the Draw bar) takes me the following steps: selecting > switching from tab “Home” to tab “Format” (which is available only in this selection context) > dropdown-triangle next to “Shape outline” (translation?) > lines. Or, repetitively inserting new textbox shapes costs me another “insert” tab each (previously clicking on one icon).
- Obviously, the hierarchy-haters have won: instead of the omnipresent (sub- sub-) menus, a variety of galleries within groups within tabs, special form icons (file), special place buttons (options), and super quick bars occupy the real-estate that I would rather like to have for my content, if I had younger eyes or/and a larger screen.
- Macro-navigation/ major jumps such as switching from one query to another in Access is significantly more cumbersome because the individual queries are no longer separately available in the system task bar, and the central home-like “database window” button is abolished for a left-pane (which needs hide and show) offering/ requiring a filter of all my objects instead of clicking on “queries”.
- Similarly, in Vista, the hierarchical button of “up one level” in the folder window has disappeared, and also the parent folder icon on the task pane that could be used for dragging. There are replacements, but too many of them, such that I have to think before I click. For instance, the parent folder is included in the full path of the breadcrumb trail.
Probably my use of Office was not the most typical one (e. g. I praised Powerpoint as a great thought visualization tool rather than for its 7-bullet slide “cognitive style” of Tufte’s critique). But I have never been so decided to save my old copy and postpone the new version as long as possible.