Category Archives: Redesigns

Office and the beast

The recent post by Phil Barrett, Using the Microsoft Ribbon without anyone getting hurt, reminded me of my first experience using Microsoft Office 2007.

I was in remote New South Wales conducting field research (almost literally!) and had been given a laptop on which to conduct the research. It is always a joy not using your own equipment, but I was running usability tests on a working prototype and needed a machine with a server in a hurry, so I was given “the beast”!

The beast

The Beast

The beast doesn’t look quite so beast-like in this thumbnail, but let me explain…

The beast is an Acer Aspire Gemstone Blue 8930G. It has the byline “Wider than Wide!”, a more accurate description of the product would be “Heavy as Hell”. Light it isn’t.

(it feels like quite a liberty to call something with a 18.6″ screen and that is difficult/impossible to find computer bags for a laptop – maybe if I was a giant it would be both portable and fit on my lap!)

Besides the weight, there are a couple of other issues with the product (this is even before I got to using MS Office 2007):

  1. The laptop has a bizarre trackpad that provides no tactile feedback as to the edge of the trackpad area. This meant that my fingers kept on brushing the fingertip recognition scanner that is oh so handily placed just beside the trackpad. Brushing the scanner causes a “fingertip recognition has not been set up on this machine” message to come up every time – quite disrupting when you’re touch typing – grrr!
  2. Every second time I started the machine rather than the Windows environment I was placed in some Acer multimedia environment that enabled me to select between the different modes the machine can operate in. Unfortunately there was no obvious way (not to me anytime) of exiting the environment and booting into Windows – so I invariably ended up rebooting the machine and hoping that it would just magically boot into Windows rather than the multimedia environment (never will anyone have been so pleased to see Vista starting up!).

So to MS Office 2007…

Where did Save As go?

As the above description of the machine I was using suggests, I wasn’t exactly working at maximum speed anyway, but then I started using MS Office 2007.

I understand (or at least think I understand) the supposed logic of the MS Ribbon, i.e. exposing the most likely functions a user may require based on the task they are undertaking. But for a product like MS Word with such a variety of tasks is it really possible to do this? Can you really second-guess all the things a user may want to do at any point in time? It certainly failed me.

The task: I was updating my “on the road” notes and wanted to save the document I was working on with a new name, i.e. Save As.


Where has the File menu gone? It took over 10 minutes before I managed to locate the feature (clue: you find it by clicking on the circular Office logo in the top left corner – intuitive eh!).

The combination of the Acer laptop and MS Word 2007 reduced my productivity considerably. What should have taken me 15 minutes, ended up taking around 45 and included much, much frustration.

I like Phil’s note that there are products you can buy that remove the Ribbon, personally I’ll be sticking to Word 2003.


Amazon: a messy alternative to tabs

It feels like a momentous occasion in Internet terms – and long overdue in my opinion. Amazon‘s latest redesign has got rid of those tabs!

As acknowledged by Amazon themselves in their explanation of the redesign, the expansion of their product range made it difficult for navigation tabs to support the breadth of their product range.

Despite applauding their move away from tabs, I am less than impressed by the navigation solution they’ve ended up with. The expanding navigation requires mouse dexterity that will leave many users frustrated, and this is further compounded by the fact that the department headings are not themselves links.

It is fine to use expanding navigation, it enables users to get greater context of the contents of an area before clicking, but you should always make the navigation label a link. This enables less dexterous users to progress without having to perform mouse gymnastics.

Amazon say the redesign is a result of much customer consultation, I only hope they get some usability testing done with users with average to poor mouse skills sooner rather than later.

The BBC homepage: this time it’s personal

The concept of personalised homepages just doesn’t go away. Just about every media company/portal seems to have tried it once and the BBC is back for a second go with the the new BBC Beta homepage.


Despite all the hullabaloo, the first wave of personalised sites failed. The failure was partly that the technology didn’t quite live up to the CMS company hype and partly that people wouldn’t invest the time in personalising the site.

So will things be different this time? I think it is a question of how well the site can automagically learn what I like without me having to tell it. If it works in a brave Amazon recommendations type way, I think it could have something in it, but if the system sits their timidly only recommending things that match exact phrases I’ve already searched for, I think it is only a matter of time before it goes the way of My BBC.

My BBC (2000 – 2003)

Richard Titus, Acting Head of User Experience at the BBC, has blogged about the project (A lick of paint for the BBC Homepage). Well worth a read and a healthy set of passionate comments from the viewing public.

I have great faith in the BBC and the guile of their staff. If anyone can make personalisation really sing on a media site it is them.

Flow’s site redesigns

My friends at Flow have finally launched their redesigned site. It is looking good too – though I am hopelessly lopsided in my opinion. I will declare that I was partially involved in the project management, IA and design of the site (I even did a bit of usability testing on it) in the early to mid stages of the project last year.

I am very pleased to see that the site is finally live. It gives what is a vibrant, UCD company a far more representative online persona. The new content (especially the case studies) give a truer reflection of the stature of the companies Flow is working for – and the approach with which they tackle projects.

Sadly many of the online pioneers have Flow NDA-ed up to the hilt – there are many more great stories about the clients Flow are working with. But the case studies that are there tell a really compelling story about the benefits that UCD can bring.

  • Increasing traffic to the Guardian Travel by 55%
  • Exceeding business targets for Standard Life by 75%
  • Increasing online sales for the Early Learning Centre by 33%

I’d be interested to hear what you think of the redesign (I’m sure Flow would be too).

True Local auto-suggest

I’ve recently been doing some work on the business listings site True Local. The site has just launched an auto-suggest feature for keywords and business listings.

To me this seems like a good way of funnelling users to information the site actually has – and thus reducing the chances of zero results. Obviously it is as reliant on the effective use of synonyms as any search engine, but I’m surprised that few (if any) other business listings sites seem to use this technology.

Are True Local innovating or are they (and I!) missing out on some logical reason for not doing this? redesigns

Yellow Pages (UK) has redesigned.

Though I like the simplicity, I think spasmodic explosion of activity that occurs when I role over the Maps, Shopping or Food & Drink links is likely to make me pull the remainder of my hair out in a very short amount of time.

Whatever possessed them to do this?