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Author Topic: Ribbon UI - is it really THAT good?  (Read 11424 times)
DmitriPopov
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« on: November 29, 2011, 12:45:40 AM »

Hello, everybody!

As you might know I develop and sell a help authoring tool targeted at software developers that document their creations themselves (tech writers usually use more complicated and expensive tools).

The big problem I have right now is what UI concept I should follow. For years my tool had "classic" text processor UI, defined by MS Word versions prior to 2007. But then it was switched to the Ribbon (which I personally hate a lot) and it became a new standard for word processors. Users of my program are divided almost equally into 2 groups - those who like classic UI and say that it is my competitive advantage, and the other group that says they miss Ribbon very much.

I'm afraid that absence of Ribbon becomes a more significant disadvantage over time, because it becomes more and more popular and widespread thing. Redesigning UI will take a lot of time and I'm not sure right now that it will pay back.

So, what do you think? I know, it's a controversial thing, but I just need to hear what other developers think.
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Renegade
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« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2011, 01:15:37 AM »

I think this is really another one of those "holy war" issues. i.e. There is no answer other than "I like chocolate" and "I like strawberry". Whatever you like to use is best.

That being said, you might want to consider adding both in, then letting people select which they want to use. Yeah... It means maintaining 2 distinct sets of UI wiring, but it's not like any functional code will change.

You might want to make it a very prominent choice by actually putting a toggle menu item for it in the menu itself. By making it obvious, you won't end up with people used to the old UI screaming, "Oh man... the new version blows hard chunks of whale vomit..."

In most of my software, I generally try to have a few different ways to do things. I try to avoid menus as much as possible though... Long story. (I think I posted a Cynic.me blog about that...)

Anyways, just my $0.02 on UI design.

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Ath
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« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2011, 01:45:29 AM »

This MSDN page gives help in making a decision whether to use a ribbon or not: http://msdn.microsoft.com...ows/desktop/cc872782.aspx
This (MS) Blog entry is also quite useful, and more geared toward the Office 2010 (IMHO improved) Ribbon: http://blogs.technet.com/...king-the-ribbon-mine.aspx
Maybe that helps.

The main separation that I make is:
  • Is the application document-oriented, like Word or Excel, (or help-authoring for that matter) then a Ribbon can be quite productive.
  • Is the application data-centered where there are a lot of selections to make and field-based data-entry then Ribbon UI doesn't help much, and a Menu and/or Toolbar based UI would work just as fine, and save quite a bit of screen real-estate too.


But that doesn't mean that I can always do it like I think it should be done tongue
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DmitriPopov
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« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2011, 03:47:24 AM »

You might want to make it a very prominent choice by actually putting a toggle menu item for it in the menu itself. By making it obvious, you won't end up with people used to the old UI screaming, "Oh man... the new version blows hard chunks of whale vomit..."

I don't like this approach, from the developer point of view any duplication means double work and possible inconsistency. But of course it's the most suitable way of UI change from the user's point of view (opposite to what Microsoft did).

Is the application document-oriented, like Word or Excel, (or help-authoring for that matter) then a Ribbon can be quite productive.

I've heard a lot of people saying things like that, but I haven't seen any operations that could be done faster with Ribbon. Actually in my app all the required controls are always in the field of view and the number of controls shown depends on context. In fact, I did Ribbon-style UI without Ribbon smiley

Thank you very much for the MSDN links  Thmbsup
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40hz
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« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2011, 06:51:29 AM »

FWIW I haven't seen any serious scientific study to support the contention that a ribbon interface (at least as has been implemented by Microsoft) is more effective or productive than the classic drop-down menu system.

And in the case of MSOffice, I'm firmly convinced the decision to do one was primarily a marketing move. Something along the lines of: "If you can't make it better, at least make it look radically different!" Otherwise how do you get your users to buy yet another expensive upgrade they really don't need - and probably wouldn't benefit much from unless they're also tied into a corporate network that hosts an Exchange server?

And I think most Microsoft customers suspect as much.

What users do appreciate, however, is a well designed interface. And there's nothing to show them a ribbon is superior. So I don't think the absence of a ribbon is any disincentive for your customers. I have yet to hear any reviewer recommend not buying an app just because it didn't have one.

I'd humbly suggest you make whatever interface you design as elegant and efficient as you can possibly make it, and not worry too much about whether or not to go with "the ribbon look."

Because that's all it really is at this point - a 'look.'

And when push comes to shove, function trumps form every time. Cool

(Unless you're Apple. tongue  Grin )

« Last Edit: November 29, 2011, 07:04:06 AM by 40hz » Logged

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mahesh2k
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« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2011, 07:24:46 AM »

Ribbon interface is more confusing for people like me and moreover each word processor has it's own placement issues. On the other hand standard file|menu type of toolbar at the top has less clutter than ribbon interface.
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« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2011, 07:33:17 AM »

I also find the Ribbon UI to be confusing -- in the few places I've seen it, I felt there was too much to sort through at once.  What I didn't know until today is that an appropriate double-click will minimize it smiley
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jgpaiva
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« Reply #7 on: November 29, 2011, 07:35:16 AM »

FWIW I haven't seen any serious scientific study to support the contention that a ribbon interface (at least as has been implemented by Microsoft) is more effective or productive than the classic drop-down menu system.
I remember when they were designing the new interface, Microsoft did a series of extensive tests which have shown that the ribbon is easier to use. I know there was a very long video (2h or something like that) showing how they tested it and why they settled for this interface.

Because that's all it really is at this point - a 'look.'
IMO you are seriously undervaluing how important the user interface is. Apple has repeatedly shown how important the look and feel of stuff (software and hardware) is for people.

What users do appreciate, however, is a well designed interface. And there's nothing to show them a ribbon is superior. So I don't think the absence of a ribbon is any disincentive for your customers. I have yet to hear any reviewer recommend not buying an app just because it didn't have one.
That I surely agree with you. IMO what you must decide is if the ribbon is good for you, as it isn't good for every type of app. I think Ath's links should be very helpful with that, at least I found them very interesting.

Also, but this is only personal taste, please avoid at all costs non-stantard interfaces smiley (and I hate what MS has done with the title bar of windows in office :/ )
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Darwin
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« Reply #8 on: November 29, 2011, 08:52:35 AM »

Speaking strictly as an end-user, after four years with the ribbon, I like it. Using apps that do use the older style interface, like SoftMaker's Office 2010/2012, seems awkward and the UI cluttered. As others have noted, this is more about UI design: do it well and it doesn't matter whether you have the ribbon or not.

FWIW, I've used some 3rd party apps that went with the ribbon and hated the experience. I think MS have done the ribbon well, but then, the older UI in Office 2003 was fine, too. 40hz may be onto something with this comment:

And in the case of MSOffice, I'm firmly convinced the decision to do one was primarily a marketing move. Something along the lines of: "If you can't make it better, at least make it look radically different!"
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40hz
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« Reply #9 on: November 29, 2011, 09:08:48 AM »

Quote
author=jgpaiva link=topic=28892.msg269565#msg269565 date=1322573716]

IMO you are seriously undervaluing how important the user interface is. Apple has repeatedly shown how important the look and feel of stuff (software and hardware) is for people.

Not at all. Interface design is an obsession of mine. Something I've put a huge amount of personal research and study into. (Having a GF with a graduate degree in cognitive psych as a resource doesn't hurt either.  mrgreen)

What I'm saying is not to let yourself get too distracted by one company's approach to interface design such that it blinds you to doing something better or more intelligent.

It also pays to remember that Microsoft has long been thrashing around to come up with a look to rival Apple's. So the ribbon design is far more motivated by marketing decisions than it ever was for productivity concerns.

Regarding Microsoft's study, I've seen the video you mentioned and read all the write-ups. I'm not impressed. It started with a bias in favor of the need for a completely new interface and went from there. Hardly good science.

There was also an article that somebody (not Microsoft) did about a year later where they took the classic menus and 'fixed' them to remove many of the complaints and inconsistencies. IIRC the people they tested it on were even more productive than they were with the ribbon despite the fact this study used the same methodology and criteria Microsoft used to justify their new interface. Go figure.  Grin

I think what emerges is that Microsoft, on its own, decided a completely new interface was needed and went about creating one. What they came up with might be arguably "better." But only as long as you ignore data that contradicts the notion the ribbon is vastly superior and preferable to any other alternative.

Anytime I see a publicly realeased  "study" or white paper coming out of a corporation's R&D department I have to remind myself it's being released to support a decision already made. Because all the really breakthrough stuff sure as hell sports a "Company Private" stamp - and is likely locked up at night!

And Microsoft is not above fudging a study or twisting results to support their contentions and inject some FUD into the discussion. They've done it before. They'll do it again if they think they have to.

So have many other businesses and those with vested interests.

I'm not going to get in a roll about Apple. Suffice to say Apple is not so much about design or technical excellence (both are a given if you want to survive in this business and Apple holds no monopoly there) as it is about "belonging" and boosting your self-esteem by owning and using an Apple product.

If you look beyond the hype and really look at Apple's "insanely great" designs you'll find equal amounts of brilliance and just plain wrong thinking. Apple isn't as smart as they think they are. Their real talent is not being afraid to introduce something, have it do an epic fail, then go out and do it again. I've been with them since the Macintosh SE running System 6.0.4 and Finder so I've got a lot to base my opinion on.

Having a loving, blindly forgiving, and monied userbase let's them get away with it. But what the heck. It's a cult so who cares?  cheesy

-------
Note: I regularly use Windows, OSX, various flavors of Linux, and BSD. I use just about every major interface from the command line - all the way up to that latest "disaster waiting to happen" called Gnome3 - with stops in between for Aero, Apple, and annoyance. And I'm writing this post on my iPhone! (Not recommended btw.) I mention this only to show I have no strong personal biases for any interface as long as it works enough to let me get something done with it.   Grin

« Last Edit: November 29, 2011, 09:45:37 AM by 40hz » Logged

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wraith808
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« Reply #10 on: November 29, 2011, 10:49:18 AM »

as long as it works enough to let me get something done with it.

That's the big thing.  If it works, and your user base is split, assess based on what ribbon will do for your application, and its usability and maintainability from your perspective.
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« Reply #11 on: November 29, 2011, 11:46:37 AM »

I played hell finding thing in the old MS Word UI, and I still play hell trying to find things in the new Word ribbon UI. For both I tend to fall back to using as many keyboard shortcuts as I can remember. While the ribbon does make it bit (and I mean just a bit) easier for me to find things on a normal desktop, I do think it is a step in the right direction for (finger world) tablet based computing.
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« Reply #12 on: November 29, 2011, 05:17:46 PM »

I, for one, still prefer applications with a clean, minimalistic GUI; even if there are ribbon applications with more features.
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« Reply #13 on: November 30, 2011, 02:53:21 AM »

I prefer the ribbon as well, at least in MS Office, which are the only applications which I use that have ribbons. I think learning and understanding its concepts helps seeing its advantages and getting used to it. For the power users amongst you: ribbons have not replaced keyboard shortcuts Wink

the video mentioned above can be found here:
http://blogs.msdn.com/b/jensenh/archive/2008/03/12/the-story-of-the-ribbon.aspx
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« Reply #14 on: November 30, 2011, 03:11:53 AM »

Thanks for the link smiley
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ewemoa
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« Reply #15 on: November 30, 2011, 06:49:59 AM »

FWIW, at around 1:18:40 in the video, there is a question regarding when is it good / not good to use the Ribbon UI, followed by the speaker's answer.
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« Reply #16 on: November 30, 2011, 04:34:47 PM »

I, for one, absolutely LOVE the ribbon. If the standards for the Ribbon UI are adhered to, I.E., shortcut keys for each action on the ribbon, this can lead to a much quicker way to learn the UI and increase productivity. I had several users at my last organization who had issues with the ribbon. However, after showing them the shortcut key setup they were quick to thank me and explain to them that it is now easier to use their everyday functions.

Like others have said, the ribbon is either a "love it or hate it" item, for some reason. I, for one, look at it as a sign of progress and despise the old-style menu systems I had used for close to 20 years. This is far more intuitive and easy to use.
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DmitriPopov
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« Reply #17 on: December 01, 2011, 02:03:06 AM »

Thank you all for your opinions and useful links. To sum it all up, I need Ribbon because it's a marketing trend, but if I fail to do it right it will ruin everything smiley Perhaps I should create a series of demo/test versions to test the idea first... It's a long way to go.
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« Reply #18 on: December 01, 2011, 08:18:53 AM »

Dmitri, I know you aren't enthusiastic about the idea, but I liked Renegade's suggestion: "you might want to consider adding both in, then letting people select which they want to use."   Greg Kochaniak offers this dual option in version 7 of his screen capture program, HyperSnap.  He might be a useful person to talk to.
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« Reply #19 on: December 01, 2011, 08:50:05 AM »

Dmitri, I know you aren't enthusiastic about the idea, but I liked Renegade's suggestion: "you might want to consider adding both in, then letting people select which they want to use."   Greg Kochaniak offers this dual option in version 7 of his screen capture program, HyperSnap.  He might be a useful person to talk to.

+1 - Especially in the test versions as it would make comparison between them easier. Test users could smoothly gravitate towards the one they were most comfortable with.
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« Reply #20 on: December 01, 2011, 10:16:47 AM »

Like others have said, the ribbon is either a "love it or hate it" item, for some reason.

Let me add my $0.02. The ribbon looks totally awesome, but I would argue that it less usable and in the long run more annoying than menus and toolbars.

First of all, you can navigate menus with the keyboard much easier than the ribbon. You can just browse the menu, and discover keyboard shortcuts in peace. IN the ribbon, accelerators only show up when you press Alt, and when they do, the labels obscure big parts of the buttons, so it's really hard to see what is what. Otherwise keyboard shortcuts are only displayed in mouseovers. Menus 1, Ribbon 0.

The ribbon, at least in Office, tends to be dynamic. When you're focused on a table, an additional page may be shown with table-related commands. I hate that truly, because after two years of using Word and Excel 2007 I still cannot find important functions I often use. Sometimes I cannot find them because they are simply not there - they only show when Word thinks I need them.

The ribbon does take a lot of space, and if you watch the MS presentation, the crucial point there is that they only decided to go with the ribbon when it became clear they could not fit any more stuff into the menus and toolbars, and when they knew users did not even know about a lot of fearures and so they never used them. OK, I buy that. But to day you often see applications that have a ribbon with only one tab, like this. Now that totally makes no sense. Clearly the author went for the Aaah! cuteness of the ribbon without anything close to the need for it that MS originally had. There are plenty of apps like this, and to me a design like that indicates the author wanted to entice users with cool-looking interface, but at a price in ease of use and convenience (and screen estate). When I see that, I am very unlikely to buy the product, because I know the author doesn't care much about how the app is actually used, only that it looks good.

(The same BTW goes for anything .Net based - same reason, except there's not even the visual reward there).

My rule of the thumb is, if you have enough UI to fill half a dozen tabs on the ribbon, then maybe  consider it. But if you're going to have a whole huge ribbon with only one tab and six buttons on it, then that's exactly what the ribbon was not designed for.



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« Reply #21 on: December 01, 2011, 11:05:06 AM »

Like others have said, the ribbon is either a "love it or hate it" item, for some reason.

Let me add my $0.02. The ribbon looks totally awesome, but I would argue that it less usable and in the long run more annoying than menus and toolbars.

First of all, you can navigate menus with the keyboard much easier than the ribbon. You can just browse the menu, and discover keyboard shortcuts in peace. IN the ribbon, accelerators only show up when you press Alt, and when they do, the labels obscure big parts of the buttons, so it's really hard to see what is what. Otherwise keyboard shortcuts are only displayed in mouseovers. Menus 1, Ribbon 0.

The ribbon, at least in Office, tends to be dynamic. When you're focused on a table, an additional page may be shown with table-related commands. I hate that truly, because after two years of using Word and Excel 2007 I still cannot find important functions I often use. Sometimes I cannot find them because they are simply not there - they only show when Word thinks I need them.

The ribbon does take a lot of space, and if you watch the MS presentation, the crucial point there is that they only decided to go with the ribbon when it became clear they could not fit any more stuff into the menus and toolbars, and when they knew users did not even know about a lot of fearures and so they never used them. OK, I buy that. But to day you often see applications that have a ribbon with only one tab, like this. Now that totally makes no sense. Clearly the author went for the Aaah! cuteness of the ribbon without anything close to the need for it that MS originally had. There are plenty of apps like this, and to me a design like that indicates the author wanted to entice users with cool-looking interface, but at a price in ease of use and convenience (and screen estate). When I see that, I am very unlikely to buy the product, because I know the author doesn't care much about how the app is actually used, only that it looks good.

(The same BTW goes for anything .Net based - same reason, except there's not even the visual reward there).

My rule of the thumb is, if you have enough UI to fill half a dozen tabs on the ribbon, then maybe  consider it. But if you're going to have a whole huge ribbon with only one tab and six buttons on it, then that's exactly what the ribbon was not designed for.


I'm not buying those.

The ribbon gives you a flexible toolbar. Looking at the example you gave there, that's what it looks like. You just don't get that nice, compact UI with most toolbars. A ribbon with 1 tab can do that. And that is what I'm seeing there.

Sure, the tab could go, but other than that, I don't see a problem. It's neat, compact, and gives you everything in 1 shot. It's easy to look at, and I think that's what most people need.

Yeah... I can see it being overkill... But it seems ok at a glance, and likely much better than burying them in an older menu style with flyouts.


As for screen real estate... Not buying that either.

If you can't fit in an extra 80 pixels or so at the top when you have monitors at 1920 x 1200... You have a real problem. It's not the software taking up 80 pixels that's the problem.

If you can't afford a monitor with a modern resolution, then the solution to me seems to be to use older software that's designed for small resolutions. But don't blame the software author for taking advantage of newer technologies that most people have.

10~15% (give or take a bit) of the vertical resolution for a toolbar or ribbon isn't unreasonable.

You can't even easily get 15" or 17" monitors anymore. Laptops regularly have 1600 x (whatever) resolutions now, or higher. The small laptops have 1200 x (whatever).


As for .NET. Who cares?

Quite frankly, when I use some software, I couldn't care less if it's written in Erlang or Fortran or .NET or C++ or Delphi or whatever. I only care that it does what I need it to do. Language is irrelevant.

Well, that's not always true... Some languages are better at some tasks and others excel at other tasks. e.g. C# for general productivity or anything, C or assembler for very low level networking, F# or Erlang or another functional language for computation, etc. etc.

But for general software, languages are irrelevant as a consideration for most users.


As for when it is appropriate to use a ribbon... Meh... Whatever works. I think it's all case-by-case.

For keyboard shortcuts:



That seems to work fine.

I don't see what the resistance to the ribbon is. It's just another way of doing things, and for most people, I think it's much easier than farting around with menus and flyouts.


At the end of the day there is 1 and only 1 and exactly 1 consideration that matters: What will make life easier for the people that use the software? Nothing else matters beyond that. Nothing. If a ribbon fits that, then so be it. If not, then that's the answer.



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« Reply #22 on: December 01, 2011, 11:11:03 AM »

My rule of the thumb is, if you have enough UI to fill half a dozen tabs on the ribbon, then maybe  consider it. But if you're going to have a whole huge ribbon with only one tab and six buttons on it, then that's exactly what the ribbon was not designed for.

Which is exactly the advise the this ribbon guy gives in the video under the location pointed out by ewemoa above.
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« Reply #23 on: December 01, 2011, 11:14:21 AM »

Also don't forget that the ribbon is more than just a menu / toolbar replacement, e.g. the Galleries are a new concept, which I think is very powerful.
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« Reply #24 on: December 01, 2011, 02:15:17 PM »

Also don't forget that the ribbon is more than just a menu / toolbar replacement, e.g. the Galleries are a new concept, which I think is very powerful.

Yes, the part where you hover the mouse over a font or style selector and the text in your document temporarily assumes that style - that part is awesome. But although it came together with the ribbon, it does not require one. You could just easily have that kind of "live preview" with a menu or a toolbar.

On the other hand, Office 2007 had these tiny semi-buttons:



I wonder how many people ever figured out you can click those. I personally know a few who never have. And these are pretty important buttons - you can't get to Font or Paragraph properties without those. Why not allow users to click the whole lower bar where the "Font" and "Paragraph" labels are? Now that would be intuitive and easy to click. Seems like no-one at Microsoft has ever read Joel Spolsky's essay on affordances - or they have read it and decided to do the opposite out of spite.

And although you can navigate to these tiny thingamajigs with the Tab key, try doing that in Word 2007, it takes at least twice as many keypresses as Alt+F (Open Format menu) and three or four Down Arrow (to navigate to "Paragraph..." or "Font..") used to take. And really, even if you see them, there is no indication of what they do. They seem to still be there in Office 2010.
« Last Edit: December 01, 2011, 02:55:57 PM by tranglos » Logged

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