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All over the web, I read that Ribbons are touch screen friendly, that they are made for touch etc. But I never got a real explanation why the Ribbon is as touch friendly as people say.

The icons are a bit bigger, it contextualizes information in a better way (some say), and it has better spacing between the icons. However it still contains hover-states, focus-states and so on. States are not considered touch friendly. There is no such thing as hover or focus states on touch screens (until the technology comes, if it does).

Test this out on your non-touch screen: Try to differ the hover state from the focus state in Office, when you enable/disable a tool, while still holding your cursor over the same command.

Even in the more touch friendly Windows 8, Microsoft are embedding the ribbon deeper into the operating system, now to Windows Explorer. Here also, Microsoft tells us how much better it is for the touchscreen.

So how is Ribbons touch friendly?

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Jul 15 '11 at 19:06

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4 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I suspect that claims the Ribbon Fluent interface is "touch friendly" are made on a relative basis.

Compare the user interface of Office 2007 with the user interface of Office 2003, for example.

In Office 2003, interacting with the UI involves

  • Selecting from menus - each menu item 22 pixels high, differing widths
  • Using toolbar buttons - each 22 pixels square

In Office 2007, interacting with the UI involves

  • Common functions on large buttons, 40 pixels square
  • Less used functions on smaller buttons 22 pixels square

So, at worst Office 2007 is no worst, and for commonly used functions the buttons are 3.3x the area.

Saying that "Office 2007 is more touch friendly than Office 2003" is certainly true.

Whether it's friendly enough is another story.

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The Ribbon provides easier access to common functions with large icons that are less likely to result in the wrong click. That's it.

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I would argue that ribbons are not that great for touch devices. They are just better than what they have replaced, which are drop down context menus, which are actually reasonably tricky for touch.

If you really want to target touch, you want to have lots of easy target areas, which means either big targets, or targets that are not too close to each other - or both.

So ribbons are great for combinations of input types. They work for mouse, keyboard and touch, whereas the drop down context menus were really designed for keyboard and mouse only.

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Quoting from Microsoft website:

Instead of uniform sizing, commands are sized relative to their frequency of use and importance. In addition to making the most frequently used commands easier to find and click, it also makes them more touchable.

That last word 'touchable' links to a page which describes various characteristics of the Microsoft touch design guidelines and shows ribbons several times in respect of control sizes, and click targets.

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