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I have been trying to gather objective feedback/response on the design of the Fluent UI ('Ribbon') interface. Apart from one study by Forrester which was commissioned by Microsoft anyway, and various rants or opinions on every blog or website imaginable, I haven't really seen anything specific or objective about the design from a usability or long term productivity evaluation. This website gathered some survey on Excel 2007, but I couldn't get any meaningful usability analysis or whether it was just a short-term effect of getting used to the change.

Also, other software developers are also adopting the ribbon UI as a result of the Microsoft interface design change (e.g. Nitro PDF, Autodesk) and therefore now it is also a case of trying to conform to a known standard rather than purely based on UI research and analysis alone. Is there any objective research in this area that can be referenced at all that anyone knows of?

I feel like from a professional point of view, there still hasn't been any definitive study on this that allows an objective decision to be made about implementing the design, or any follow-up to gauge the impact of the change. Furthermore, comparison of productivity between new computer users starting from the ribbon interface versus people who started from the traditional menu interface is not available either even after such a long time. I think this shows the lack of objective research when it comes to this topic.

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You are not alone. Is there even any literature telling a user the expected workflow. Mores the point, should there have to be? I always tie myself in knots with in Word. –  Gusdor Aug 19 '13 at 7:22
Perhaps no study has been published because there is little practical application of the results of a study. (1)Microsoft does its own research. External research would not influence them. (2)Companies adopting the Ribbon for their own products can rely on the 'people are familiar with it' rationale because (3)Office products are taught in school thereby providing a trained population of Ribbon lovers (4)The Ribbon is not applicable to mobile design and less applicable to web app/site design-Office 365 excluded. Both mobile and web app/site design are where most design work resides today. –  user1757436 Aug 20 '13 at 17:02
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2 Answers

Martin Dostál conducted a study of the Ribbon interface focused on evaluating user acceptance of the new mechanism. He surveyed 117 participants of varying demographics and experience with computers and office software with the following hypothesis:

Our hypotheses were as follows:

H1 Ribbon user interface is received better by younger people.

H2 Less experienced users consider a switch-over to the Ribbon user interface as more difficult.

H3 More experienced users are less satisfied with the Ribbon user interface in comparison to less experienced ones.

H4 Intensive users of Word 2003, OpenOffice.org or another Word 2007 predecessor are less satisfied with the Ribbon user interface.

They found hypothesis H1 to be "partially supported", H2 to be unsupported, H3 to be supported, and H4 to be unsupported. In general, we could say that expert users did not happily accept the transition to the Ribbon interface.

In a review section, Dostál commented on how users criticized the "visual clutter" of the Ribbon, pointing out one participant's comment:

"I don’t like it at all. From a modern civilisation back to pictograms and hieroglyphs."

This is an interesting study, but please note that it was focused on user acceptance of the new interface in the context of transitioning out of the old Office interface, and as such, it is not a general study of how usable the Ribbon interface is in isolation of user prejudices, etc.

(1) Martin Dostál. 2010. User acceptance of the microsoft Ribbon user interface. In Proceedings of the 9th WSEAS international conference on Data networks, communications, computers (DNCOCO'10), Nikos E. Mastorakis and Valeri Mladenov (Eds.). World Scientific and Engineering Academy and Society (WSEAS), Stevens Point, Wisconsin, USA, 143-149.

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I have read this paper, but it is based on an online survey so we know the limitation of the analysis for this type of study. Also, if this has been such a dramatic and important change, I would have expected at least a few papers on the subject. –  Michael Lai Aug 19 '13 at 22:10
@MichaelLai I agree, but this is all I could find in the ACM / IEEE libraries. It looks like an under-researched topic. –  Joshua Barron Aug 19 '13 at 22:20
Just wanted to make sure it wasn't through a lack of trying that I couldn't dig up anything. With more people adopting the ribbon UI, it will become even more difficult to know the answer for sure since it will probably become the de facto standard in the next couple of years. I couldn't really face another question about the ribbon UI without being able to put up any meaningful research or analysis on its usability :p –  Michael Lai Aug 19 '13 at 22:23
As the author of the study I want to update the info about online survey. Of course, online studies have limited validity if the sample is uncontrolled. However, this was a controlled survey. –  user35355 Sep 7 '13 at 6:31
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Jensen Harris posted a number of articles explaining the design rationales behind the new (2007) Office experience, including the move to the Ribbon interface:

Why the new UI?

In episode 7, specifically, he discusses the data that went into the redesign. This isn't a usability test, specifically, but does give some insight into the thought process.

There's also the story of the ribbon, which gives a slightly different summary.

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Yes, I have gone through the presentation, and realize that a lot of thought has gone behind the scene with the design. However, it is one thing to do all the testing but another to see how it is in fact used and accepted out in the real world. Still curious why there hasn't been more studied done... –  Michael Lai Aug 19 '13 at 22:11
I would bet that there are lots of studies about this, including the hundreds of hours of research that the Office team themselves put into this, but that the studies are proprietary. Since it's clear that you've got the study(-ies) you want in mind, perhaps you should conduct the study(-ies), write up the results, and get your paper(s) accepted to a conference so that others who come along can have this question answered. :) –  nadyne Aug 20 '13 at 19:56
If only I could have time and budget allocated to this. It is interesting that when design decisions have to be made without solid research results behind it, the first thing that people tend to do is go with their gut instinct instead of conducting a suitable research. –  Michael Lai Aug 22 '13 at 2:23
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