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genuine question for seminar I am preparing...

Does anyone else find the workflow and interaction with microsoft word incredibly confusing? For example: the seemingly random autoformatting of fonts on carriage return; the nightmare of aligning images with text...

If you use Word, do you find it user-friendly. Why? Conversely, you might find it as hard to use as I. Why?

as an aside, would i be correct is saying that the degree of usability with Word is down to the fact that it is 1. a 'legacy system', each refinement built on previous iterations and 2. an 'expert system'; a large number of functions are aimed at expert users, familiar with previous iterations?



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closed as not constructive by JonW Mar 28 '13 at 14:48

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Two theories: 1) MS has never made UX a major part of its business model. 2) Office often tries to be 'everything to everyone' which makes it bloated. –  DA01 May 1 '11 at 18:32
For the Office team at least, UX is a major part of their "spend" - see Jensen Harris for one starting point. –  Bevan May 1 '11 at 23:10
I can't trust any UX group that would allow the removal of the FILE menu from a wordprocessing app. ;) –  DA01 May 2 '11 at 5:15
Do you have evidence that people (N > 1) indeed find MS Word so hard to use? –  André Mar 28 '13 at 15:14

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I don't find Word to be at all confusing or illogical.

That said, I've been using it for a long time, first on Macintosh and then on Windows, and I'm good at "internalising" the model of an application, so it may be that I'm merely used to the problems.

From my own experience, and from observing other people using Word, I'd suggest that a significant part of the issue is this:

Any software embodies opinion - opinion on how to achieve a certain end result, opinion on how it should be used.

This is true whether were talking about Word (as we are here), an accounting system (try looking up how your favourite system handles accruals) or a programming language (like C# or Java).

If your own opinion on how to "get things done" matches the opinion of the software, it's like the software reads your mind and helps you finish by giving you just what you need, as you need it - like an experienced theatre nurse who has every tool to hand just as the surgeon requires it.

On the other hand, if your approach differs, you find the reverse - it can seem the software is actively getting in your way.

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It's called a mental model (the user's opinion in your words) and a conceptual model (the actual way, or, practically, the developer's opinion). –  Vitaly Mijiritsky May 2 '11 at 7:38
@Vitaly I'm familiar with the term - I just don't think it's a very good description of what's actually going on. From what I've observed, only power users seem to end up with anything like a model in their heads, for most users ("perpetual intermediates") it's more a case of "keep poking at it until it's good enough". –  Bevan May 2 '11 at 7:56
there's probably no point in discussing whether opinions qualify as models :). I just think that if you're describing something that has a well-established professional term for it (or very close to one), the term should at least be mentioned. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky May 2 '11 at 8:31
I too, have used word since around 1993 and I still can't get my head around some of the interactions :) –  colmcq May 2 '11 at 8:48
Everybody has a 'mental model' in their heads. Power Users just have better models. –  PhillipW May 3 '11 at 9:13

Two thoughts:

1/ Wordprocessing is a more difficult task than using websites. Using websites generally involves nothing more than pointing and clicking and using the back button. Wordprocessing involves the more difficult concept that each part of the empty white space of a document can actually be formatted differently. Wordprocessors are also built around an analogy of a typewriter to make them easier to use. The trouble is most people will now never have even seen a typewriter.

2/ Word is really complicated / full of useful functions (depending on your viewpoint and whether you want the function at that moment). If you try Wordpad its much easier to use - because it does a lot less.

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MS Word is trying to be too smart. Most of the features there are quite logical once you've invested a lot of time into learning them. Then you realize that they're actually well designed. But the people who get to realize that are experts. However, Word isn't positioned as a tool for experts, and, in contrast to, say, spreadsheets, word processing isn't perceived as something inherently complex. Noone is surprised that Excel is complicated. So people expect it to be easy, and Word is trying to make expert-level mechanisms work for everyone, by attempting to guess what the users meant to do with each keystroke. And at this it fails miserably. People don't expect it to read minds, they just want it to be a fancy version of Notepad where they're in control, but it takes control away from them.

LaTeX has many times the complexity of Word, yet it always does precisely what it's told, and nothing else. So it feels like you're in control and like it's easier to use, albeit the beginning is a bit rocky.

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"Word isn't positioned as a tool for experts..." Agreed. I think that is a key part of the issue, right there, Vitaly. –  gef05 May 2 '11 at 17:52
The first time I use Word on a new machine I spend half an hour turning a lot of the 'auto' stuff off. –  PhillipW May 3 '11 at 9:19
I'm a huge LaTeX fan. That said, "a bit rocky" is quite an understatement. –  Leonardo Herrera Aug 22 '11 at 17:52

"If you use Word, do you find it user-friendly. Why?"

I use Word and I do find it user friendly, for a few reasons:

  • I know the application well having used it almost daily since 1993. I know where things were, and I know where they went. The layout and interaction seem logical and predictable to me.
  • I know that nothing happens randomly. Changes in alignment/font settings/para formatting occur for specific reasons. If I don't like it I change it.
  • I have a good mental model of the application's functions, both the strong points and its weaknesses. Re one of your examples, image and text alignment makes sense to me (it strikes me as one of the most intuitive parts of the app due to the visual assistance provided on the dialog).

Perfect? No. But nothing is. Significantly, because I like Word, I'm prepared to get to know it's foibles (which many folks just have no time/inclination for).

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I use the damn thing everyday. I tell you, you must be smarter than I ;) –  colmcq May 3 '11 at 8:21

Setting aside the question of whether or not MS Word is hard to use, there is an excellent presentation made by the folks at MS responsible for the UI redesign that resulted in the MS Office 2007 Ribbon.

You can find it here in 10 parts on YouTube: The Story of the Ribbon

There is a lot of detail about the history of the product and how those constraints shaped the newer releases. Office has a ton of features, a huge existing user base, and backwards compatibility is required- all of these make for a very hard problem to solve, and the videos do a great job of at least explaining the attempt.

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