Good article written by Jakob Neilsen over on http://www.useit.com, discussing the history of the graphical user interface (GUI), and the reality that the current method of WYSIWYG (whizz-ee-wig: What You See Is What You Get) menus is going past its sell-by date. Jakob then discusses the work Microsoft is doing with the new Office 12 UI, and coins the term WYGIWYS (wig-ee-whizz: what you get is what you see). One of the main reasons Microsoft has decided to redesign the UI is that a ridiculous percentage of feature requests are for features already in the product, suggesting that people can’t find the tools they are looking for…

I fell into IT back in 1991, when Word Perfect led the word processing world (on DOS) and Lotus 1-2-3 was the spreadsheet to use (on Windows 3.x). In those days, a WYSIWYG menu was easier to access from the keyboard than the mouse. As a bit of a spreadsheet queen, I could update a formula, format the results and send the file to the printer in less time than it would take to move your hand over to the mouse. When I discovered macros, it just got easier 🙂 You entered the commands once inside curly {} brackets, assigned a short-cut key and hey presto! Those were the days…

As desktop applications developed, it became more difficult to stick with the keyboard – so many extra key strokes were required, it was easier to just use the mouse. But the mouse was still not as efficient as those early days with the keyboard.

Radically changing the UI of such a well known application is a brave move. I’m still a bit of a spreadsheet nut, and when I first saw the O12 UI demonstrated… well… I hated it. Sure, the actual demos using data then looked very cool, but my initial reaction, when Excel was first opened, was Yuk! I was pretty disappointed with myself – I’m normally the one advocating change and here I was, hating the thought of it… So, with an Excel 12 phobia rapidly developing, I installed the code last week (note: the code is not publicly available, I work for Microosft). With trepidation, I launched Excel…. yup, same reaction. I absolutely hated looking at it. Bring back my menus I thought, I want my customised toolbar. I started to enter some data, started experimenting with formulas to play with the new visualisation capabilities (very slick), but still there was some serious animosity towards the new ribbon that has replaced my beloved menus… and then I closed Excel. I just didn’t want to play with it any more. This is the worst reaction I have ever had to a new software feature.

Why am I writing about all this? For one simple reason. I will learn to love the new UI, and when I do, I’ll find it easier to work with Excel than before, and I’ll wonder why I had such a problem with it in the beginning. But I need to remember and record this initial reaction, because I know I’m going to see it again, in the not-to-distant future. I’ll be analysing my own learning curve hopefully to make it easier amd smoother when others react like I did. Conveniently, my mom’s a bit of spreadsheet queen too, so I’ll have a volunteer to test the process on.

Back to those early days… In 1993, the company I was working for decided to switch to none other than Microsoft Word, and I was tasked with migrating the secretaries from Word Perfect (v5, still running on DOS – that’s the old blue screen version, for those who remember it). Well… Hell hath no fury like a secretary losing a customised Word Perfect menu system. You would have thought I was forcing them to switch to stone tablets. They absolutely hated Word, with a passion. I remember spending an entire weekend migrating their blessed menus, macros and short cuts to the nearest equivalents I could muster in Word. And my name was still mud for at least 6 months! I couldn’t go near one of them without receiving a lecture about why I was ruining their ability to work, how much longer it was taking them to do anything, how awful this weird GUI thingy was, yade, yade, yade. The list went on and on… But they did finally get used to it, and then they started to do stuff they couldn’t do before. When, 2 years later, it was everyone else’s turn (email had arrived and the need to swap files led to standardising on Microsoft Office – let’s not start that argument), they were the advocates who helped train everyone. Oh how they would laugh if they could see my reaction today. I seem to recall I wasn’t too sympathetic to their cause at the time…

Moral of the story: When we don’t think or realise a system is broken, we will be incredibly reluctant to change it for something unfamiliar, no matter how reasonable the argument for change is. Understanding that feeling makes working through it a whole lot easier…

Category:
Blog
%d bloggers like this: