Joe Wilcox of eWeek spoke to Julie Larson-Green, who joined Microsoft in 1993 and has worked on user-interface design for her career there.
Larson-Green played a pivotal role in the development of the new Office user interface, which main element is the ribbon. Now as corporate vice president for Windows Experience Program Management, she is responsible for taking some of the concepts introduced in Office 2007 and applying them to Windows.
Here is the excerpt of their conversation:
Shifting Design Priorities
The process for revamping Office's look and feel started about the time version 2003 shipped three years ago. The Office team faced two ongoing problems: Customers continually asking for features that had been in the software for years and upgrade resistance from perceptions little substantially changed version after version.
Microsoft would have to rethink fundamental design concepts before looking to the user interface as solution to these two problems.
Consistency was "in the fabric of our team," Larson-Green said. For previous versions, consistency was the top design principle. Microsoft sought to create consistency across Office applications and maintain it version after version. While the Office user interface evolved from its Windows 3.1 heritage, the basic design principles remained largely the same until version 2003.
Larson-Green was among the Office team members advocating change. Microsoft spent months and months conducting research and formulating concepts for a radically new user interface. The design priority shifted from consistency to empowerment.
"We wanted people to have a sense of mastery" using Office "and feel confident that they could get the job done," Larson-Green said.
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