When we think of companies associated with great customer experience, Microsoft is rarely the first to come to mind. However, with the release of Office 2007, Microsoft demonstrated newfound commitment to delivering software that delights. In his excellent presentation on the design of the user interface for Microsoft Office 2007, lead designer Jensen Harris depicts the evolution of Microsoft Word, from a relatively simple application in 1989, to a bloated behemoth so overloaded with features that it required 30 toolbars, 8 task panes, and “clever” technologies such as Clippy to use it all.
Harris and his team realized that they had to essentially burn down the interface and rebuild it. After conducting deep research on how people actually use the tool, they came up with a set of what they called “Design Tenets” that guided the decision-making for the new Office UI:
- A person’s focus should be on their content, not on the UI. Help people work without interference.
- Reduce the number of choices presented at any given time.
- Increase efficiency.
- Embrace consistency, but not homogeneity.
- Give features a permanent home. Prefer consistent-location UI over “smart” UI.
- Straightforward is better than clever.
These tenets were the new religion of Office 2007. Any suggested UI functionality was mapped against these tenets, and if any were violated, that function wouldn’t make it in. So, a tool like Clippy, which tries to figure out what you’re doing and offer suggestions, gets removed because “straightforward is better than clever.”
Microsoft’s design tenets are an example of what we at Adaptive Path call experience principles. When introducing this idea to clients, we sketch the following diagram:
Companies already recognize the importance of “voice” and style in manifesting their brand through marketing communications and other messaging. As they think about delivering great customer experiences, we show them how they need a component analogous to voice for how they interact with their customers.
This is where experience principles come in. They capture a core set of ideas (usually around 5-7) that merge a company’s brand values with opportunities for better serving customers. Again and again, we see these principles pop up in stories of great customer experience success (especially where there’s no visionary leader, a la Steve Jobs, to drive design).
When Tivo launched in 1997, they were essentially creating a new product category from scratch (their competition was programmable VCRs). To give themselves a foundation for product decisions, they articulated the following set of design “mantras”:
- It’s entertainment, stupid.
- It’s TV, stupid.
- It’s video, damnit.
- Everything is smooth and gentle.
- No modality or deep hierarchy.
- Respect the viewer’s privacy.
- It’s a robust appliance, like a TV.
Perhaps a bit caustic (all those “stupid”s), these notions drove much of the success of the early service, leading to a remarkably passionate user base that still pays for this service, even with free alternatives provided by the cable and satellite companies.
Crafting a set of experience principles has become standard for our projects, from web site redesigns to mapping multi-channel customer experiences. When done well, these statements have remarkable power in guiding teams to deliver coherent, cohesive, and appropriate experiences for their customers.
(Once again, thanks to my colleague Brandon Schauer whose work helped shape this article.)