Friday, 12 October 2012

The "Ribbon" User Interface

Update: someone suggested this article has appeared five years too late. Clearly not a Raymond Chen reader.


We have added the Microsoft Office 2007 "Ribbon" style of User Interface (UI) to a number of our products in recent years. The results have ranged from the frankly perfunctory, in the case of our internal or consultants' tools, to the very professional, as with all of our high profile market offerings. In this process, we discovered a great number of troublesome issues, difficult decisions, points of contention, and design dilemmas. All of which, I hasten to add, are a good thing.

This is not a conversion that can be approached lightly, since - particularly by comparison with traditional menus and toolbars - the Ribbon UI:
  • takes away so much of the user's freedom;
  • eliminates "multiple ways" to execute actions;
  • removes the comfortable familiarity a user has built up with your app over the years;
  • occupies a bigger chunk of valuable screen real estate than the scheme it replaces.
For some people, myself included, just this short list of disadvantages has been enough reason to avoid ribbons, or at least try to, for years on end. If you are still in that category, then may I suggest that watching the following video. It might just win you over to what Microsoft tried to do in 2007. Yes it's as long as a football match, but it's absolutely fascinating, full of insights, sly ironies and unexpected twists. It's worth the price of admission just to play the archaeologist, to marvel at the long trail of rejected early prototypes. If you have any involvement at all in crafting the customer-facing surface of your app, then you owe it to yourself to let Jensen Harris walk you through the surprise-filled design process behind what was possibly the last ever WinForms, non-touch UI revolution of its size:

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