A Focus on User Experience

David Pogue of the New York Times looks at the redesign effort behind the upcoming release of Microsoft Office. I thought it was interesting how Microsoft took the rare step (for any company) to truly rethink the purpose of the program suite, and look at its usage from a users perspective, instead of a features perspective:

“After a radical redesign, Word, Excel and PowerPoint are almost totally new programs. There are no more floating toolbars; very few tasks require opening dialog boxes, and even the menu bar itself is gone. (Evidently, even Microsoft saw the need for a major feature purge. “We had some options in there that literally did nothing,” said Paul Coleman, a product manager.)”

They did this by focusing on what usability experts have been saying to do for years: focus on what the majority of your users need each day, and bury the rest. Is it difficult for a product designer to come up with a really cool feature, and then hide it, even though only 2% of users actually use it? Sure. But throwing every feature in front of users, as if it were advertising for the feature itself, does not equal a great experience. The result of the redesign? Well, for commonly used features:

“What was once buried four layers deep is now arrayed before you in a big software smorgasbord.”

In a similar vein, Fred Wilson describes an almost religious shopping experience at the Apple store. The reason: the store’s ability to focus on the customer’s needs, and forget about everthing else. No long sales pitches on upgrades, other features, processes, or things that are inconsequential to anyone but the store itself. No handing you off to a specialist, or putting you in that weird holding pattern as they try to fit their process with your needs.