Beware of false prophets…

Causing a buzz among folks who design websites and software is Jakob’s latest Alertbox “RIP WYSIWYG.” The coming Microsoft Office User Interface portends the move from the What You See Is What You Get interface popularized by the Macintosh, toward a What You Get is What You See model, also called “results-oriented UI.”

Now, I am not qualified to criticize the new Microsoft Office interface, as I haven’t seen it fully, and, more importantly, I haven’t used it.

What not mentioned until the very end (after the conetnt) is that a Design Research Lead is speaking at the User Experience event on the Results-Oriented UI. By not mentioning it at the outset, it feels like Jakob is marketing Microsoft in his Alertbox to promote his workshop.

And I strongly question this part:

If anybody else introduced a new user interface paradigm, it would probably remain a curiosity for years, but Microsoft Office has a special status as the world’s most-used interaction design. We know from user testing that users often demand that other user interfaces work like Office. When you’re used to one style most of the day, you want it in other applications and screens as well.

If the new interaction style works as well as early predictions indicate, users will quickly expect many other user experiences to provide the power of a results-oriented design.

Is “most-used interaction design” really true anymore? Are web browsers and lightweight email apps (NOT Outlook) not more-used? Particularly around the world?

Wouldn’t mobile interfaces be the “most-used interaction design”? I guess there’s no single mobile UI with the dominance that Microsoft has on the desktop, but I need more proof of Microsoft Office’s “special status.” And I’d also like to see trends.

Also, “results-oriented design” doesn’t make sense to me. From the description, Office is now even *more* monolithic. The idea of “results-oriented design” only plays into the user-as-victim model that plagues user-centered design… The poor user can’t handle things, so we’ll try to do all the thinking for them.

The problem is, there are infinite desired results… How will Office be able to accommodate them? And, given their past UIs, why should I not simply fear that their attempts at making it “easier” will only confound and frustrate me?

The last thing I find puzzling about RIP WYSIWYG is that, well, WYSIWYG remains pretty well intact in the new Office interface. I try to make the thing on the screen look exactly how I want it, so that I can then print it. There’s no great paradigm shift. At best, the introduction of the Ribbon is not about results, but about tasks. It’s akin to iPhoto’s interface. Others have also labeled it “task-based.”

Also, this new interface is solidly WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointers). Remarkably, WIMP has remained the standard paradigm, even though the fundamental ways that people use their PCs have changed. And as long as WIMP remains so prominent, it’s hard to claim any paradigm shift.

Before signing off, I wanted to mention that I’m enjoying Jensen Harris’ Office User Interface blog. My comments above notwithstanding, clearly, the UI of Office is a big deal, and will have a significant impact. It’s refreshing to see its story told in such detail.

Update: I’ve just finished watching a 40 minute interview that Robert Scoble conducted with Julie Larson-Green, where she walked him through the new UI. If you’re curious, this is probably the best source of info.

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10 thoughts on “Beware of false prophets…

  1. Well-put. I think the comparison to iPhoto is appropriate—though I’m still not entirely clear as to how replacing menus and palettes with the Ribbon suddenly makes things no longer WYSIWYG.

    I agree with you that Jakob’s logic and reasons for publishing the article in the first place are rather questionable…

  2. The problem is that the ribbon is not a task-based interface, but a half-hearted attempt to graft a task-based interface onto a tool-based one.

    I wrote a more detailed piece on the new UI from this perspective.

  3. On further reflection, I should have said more about the above link. My main point is not about tools vs. tasks, but about ability vs. intent, and I think it agrees with and clarifies the confusion you express above with “results-oriented ui” (which is not the same as “task-based ui”).

    The debate over WYSIWYG, in my mind, should be framed around questioning whether what the user thinks they want is what they really want. I use the example of changing fonts. Sure, you can change the font and see what it looks like, but does the look you’ve chosen match what you were trying to say? Call software that tries to help you with that “intent-driven ui”.

    Granted, it’s dangerous territory for software to tread on, but experts in various fields make those decisions every day, and it’s why we have experts – in many things, there is actually a difference between “doing something” and “doing something right”. It’s a hard thing to say that software should force you into the latter, but I think it should at least try to encourage it where it can.

  4. Here’s one thing that concerns me–it seems like we already struggle with the tendency to develop/produce things that are derivative and that it’s very difficult to create things that are truly original. This interface seems to suggest that everything that can be done inside whatever software program you’re dealing with is inherently derivative so there isn’t a danger/downside to an interface that takes the building blocks principle one step further. *Is that the case?* Microsoft is definitely going down that road–when you work in Visio now there are so many pre-set document types (org charts, maps, flow charts) — but I haven’t been able to decide whether having them do the “thinking” about the nature of an org chart such that I just fill in the blanks is good, in that it frees me up to just think about the roles *or* whether it’s problematic, because it encourages me (maybe even limits me) to only think inside the parameters of what is provided.

  5. A pale shadow of the original Anti-Mac.

  6. Samantha – you’re seeing the powerpoint problem, of course. It’s so easy to make presentations in a particular way that it takes extra effort to not do that.

    There’s a balance to be struck between having the software encourage you to organize your output and having the software do your thinking for you.

    I’m primarily a software architect by trade, and my criteria for judging a good development framework follows similar standards. First, it has to be easy to use. Not necessarily easy to learn, but easy to use. Second, it has to do as much work as it can for me. It has to make the easy simple cases I’m going to use all of the time as little work for me as possible. Third, and most importantly, it has to get out of the way when I know better than it. If I have to break the framework in order to do something complicated that it didn’t predict, it’s a failure.

  7. WYSIWYG = What you see is what you get. I fail to see how anything in Office 12 has anything to do with what you see on the screen is what you get on your printer.

    Yes, the interface is changing, the results, meaning both screen and printer are the same as always and consistant between eachother. Any other use of the term is a really stupid bastardization of something that was never intended.

  8. Jakob Nielsen’s Love for Office 12 Comes At A Price

    I was looking at Blogdex when I came across Jakob Nielsen’s latest Alertbox article: R.I.P. WYSIWYG – Results-Oriented UI Coming. In the article, Jakob Nielsen asserts that WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interfaces are now dead, and…

  9. Death of WSYIWIG didn’t quite make sense to me either. When I work on a document in Word and take the time to design it – design it to look online the way I want – for aesthetics and readability I expect the same result printed – and it generally works out that way. Otherwise why spend the time crafting it!?! Give me a manual typewriter with the Courier font ball instead then!

    The UI/tools/tasks/results whatever you want to call it gives me the “way” to write and design a document to look and print the way I want it to.

    Task based vs Results based – in the end you have to tap into what users want to accomplish – this includes how they “think” about what they need to do and how the interface maps to that. This involves tasks and expected results – how do I do this to get the “result” I want.

    UIs also suggest how I might “think” about getting the “result” I want by virtue of the way they work or force me to work.

  10. Hogwash! — Jakob Nielsen’s claimed WYSISYG replacement is WYGIWYS, which more fittingly stands for What You Get Is WoefullY Shortsighted from Nielsen. This man’s view of UI is clearly biased towards M$ who has always trailed the leading edge.

    You never promote creativity by limiting choices and just because M$ can’t figure out what features customers most want, and thus bury them deeply, they are still there for people of normal intelligence to find and use them.

    Long live WYSIWYG.

    tedd