AN OPEN LETTER TO MICROSOFT OFFICE
Dear Microsoft Word,
Please stop helping.
It’s the make-or-break element of design from long before the digital age, the subject of at least one of my posts on Creative Meat and many more of my daily rants, and the most difficult and important aspect of design. So what is ‘it’? Why, it’s the user-experience, of course!
A good user experience is one the customer never notices. But a bad user experience? That’s another story entirely. People don’t just dislike your design; they start to hold grudges against it. They start telling their friends about it. Then those friends start telling their friends about it. Creating a terrible user experience is a recipe for infamy. And it’s not just websites that can suffer from this. A weakly designed game, event, or program can suffer from a bad user experience. This brings me to Microsoft Word.
Now, before I start I want to clear things up a bit. The Microsoft Office suite has great programs. I don’t know where I would be without my Excel spreadsheets, and I consider Microsoft Outlook to be one of the best mailing programs out there. But my relationship with Word is different. It’s a relationship of love and frustration, and I’m not the only one. Word is a popular program with many dedicated users, but we all know that it has its fair share of problems that are not just well known, but infamous among users.
I’m looking at you, Paperclip.
Part of the reason why Word has a weak user experience is its apparently uncontrollable need to help. The paper clip is a great example of Word wanting to help, only to end up making the user’s experience even more frustrating and irritating. This became so well-known that it is still parodied years after its removal from the Microsoft Suite.
As much as I would like to, I can’t put all the blame on Clippy. Much of Word works in this same way by persistently trying to help where help isn’t wanted. Word can be an excellent program for writing papers, making quick notes… abusing clip art… but if you’re looking for a program that lets you take full control, then you may want to move on. Simple processes (No, Word, I don’t want that letter capitalized. Wait, where did that bullet come from? I didn’t ask for a bullet! Wait, why did my font size change?! Change back!) require going in and changing settings upon settings, but this comes with its own problems. With the semi-new layout (5 years is new, right?) you’re lucky if you find the ‘undo’ button.
I understand the reasoning behind Word’s madness, but I can’t say I agree with it. While the program has many great aspects, it also has a history of decisions that exemplify why a well thought-out experience is so important. Honestly, Word would greatly benefit from expressing a little trust in the competency of its users. Thanks for the help, but let go of the reins guys, we know what we’re doing.