UX Strategy Musings from Will Tschumy, Microsoft User Experience Advisor

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In advance of Windows 8, it’s good to look back at where the Ribbon came from…

August 30th, 2011 by Will Tschumy


Steven Sinofsky, President of Windows Division at Microsoft, has started a new blog, Building 8.  Like Engineering 7 (the blog that told the story of the development of Windows 7), there’s an enormous amount of information on what’s coming in Windows 8 (with a lot more to come week after next at Build).

One topic that’s gotten a lot of attention recently is the evolution of Windows Explorer, the file manager we all know.  As part of a reimagining of Windows, the team has integrated the Ribbon into the experience as a way to better surface functionality.

It’s always dangerous to look at any internet commentary (and particularly commenters on TechCrunch), but I think it’s worth coming back to where the Ribbon came from.  For that, let’s go back to Jensen Harris’ excellent presentation at MIX08.

Some key highlights from the design process of the Ribbon:

  • The genesis of the Ribbon came out of an analysis of 1.3 billion usage sessions.  Each one of these usage sessions had more that 6,600 data points
  • As the design of the Ribbon evolved, we did card sorting in both directions – we asked one group to sort functions into groups and name the groups
  • We asked a second group to take the groups from the first card sorting exercise and sort functions back into those groups – the sorting matched up (A ha! a trend!!)
  • We did two separate longitudinal studies with groups external to Microsoft

All this led to the most critically acclaimed, best selling version of Office, and then the same with Office 2010 (an evolution and refinement of the Ribbon in 2007).

As a designer / design strategist, it’s really exciting to see the same process and rigor that gave us the Ribbon brought to the next version of Windows.  I can’t wait to see all of Windows 8!

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