For its 2010 release, Project has adopted the Fluent interface (commonly called the "ribbon" interface) that was first introduced in some 2007 applications like Word and Excel. I think Office, like Windows 95 ("Start Me Up!") took some inspiration from those sages of human-computer interaction, the Rolling Stones:
You can't always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You'll get what you need.
That's how I regard the ribbon UI; it's not necessarily what I want, but I'll be darned if I don't always get what I need.
Why did Office develop and implement the ribbon UI? What problems did it solve? Actually, quite a few. Consider:
The traditional pull-down menu UI started off simply enough, but in big, feature-rich apps like Project it started to grow pretty complex. Symptoms of that complexity include submenus and shortcut ("right click") menus. There was just so much functionality to expose!
The proliferation of toolbars is another indicator that the pull-down menu UI had grown long in the tooth. Originally toolbars were designed to provide visible one-click shortcuts to commonly used menu commands. I worked on the first version of Excel to include a toolbar, and I remember some developer grumbling at me because I made reference to the Excel "toolbars" (plural). "There's only one toolbar!" was his retort. Turns out I would be right, but not until the next version. Once a few toolbars were introduced, the floodgates were opened. Across the Office apps, including Project, the toolbars introduced a competing, not complimentary, mental model of product features.
The original semantic model of the pull-down menu UI was lost. Once upon a time there was a convention that the menu name would represent a noun, and the menu items verbs. The idea was that for any object (noun) I would find concisely presented actions (verbs) I could perform on that object. To print a file for example, I would first focus on the object (File menu), and then the action (Print command). Sometimes the object|action hierarchy was reversed, for example the Gantt Chart (a object) command appears on the View (an action) menu in Project 2007 and earlier.
Hit the Reset Button! (Wait Is It Still a Button?)
Well, that model quickly became muddied and confused. The ribbon UI gave interface designers at Microsoft a very rare do-over: rethink the whole approach to exposing product functionality to the user.
I eventually grew to like the ribbon UI in Office 2007, but there were plenty of rough edges. Fortunately for us Project users, Project 2010 got the second generation of ribbon UI as its first ribbon implementation. I think the results are overall for the better.
Tie a Yellow Ribbon
The basic mechanics of the 2010 ribbon are simple enough. Here's how we illustrated it in the 2010 edition of Project Step by Step.
TIP Click the screenshot image to see a larger view.
The tabs are the major groupings of Project features. Here we can see for example very Project-centric tab names like Task and Resource. One tab is always visible or "on top" of the other tabs, just like in a tabbed dialog box.
Within each tab, you find groups of related commands. These have labels like Font and Schedule.
Within each group you find at least one and usually several commands. The Clipboard group on the Task tab, for example, includes the commands Paste, Cut, Copy and Format Painter. Some of these commands, like Copy and Paste, display additional options when clicked.
Every command includes a screentip that you can see by hovering the mouse pointer over the command. Some of these screentips are pretty detailed, and do a good job of describing the command.
Here's one elegent touch--The ribbon UI adjusts itself intelligently when you resize the Project window. When the window is large enough, you see text labels as well as images for all commands. Shrink the size of the Project window, however, and text labels start disappearing and larger icons are replaced by smaller icons.
There's actually a lot more to the Fluent interface than just the ribbon, so from here on I'll refer to it as the Fluent interface.
Most clickable data objects like task names or Gantt bars also support shortcut menus. Right-click on a task name, for example, and you'll see this shortcut menu and mini-toolbar:
Another Office-wide element of the Fluent interface is the Backstage View, accessible by clicking File on the ribbon.
The Backstage view is your one-stop shop for all file management, customization and sharing features in each Office 2010 application. After the ribbon itself, the Backstage view is probably the most visibly jarring new element for long-time Project users upgrading to 2010.
There are some other handy components of the Fluent interface. One really nice feature is the Quick Access Toolbar in the upper-left corner of the application window. You can right-click on any command on any tab, click Add to Quick Access Toolbar and there it will be. For example I use the Scroll to Task command frequently, so I've added that to my Quick Access Toolbar.
I mostly find the Fluent interface to be well thought out and I do believe I am quicker with it than I was with traditional pull-down menus in previous versions of Project. Upgrading users will go through a transition period, but brand new Project users will likely take to the ribbon quickly.
The Fluent UI does have some quirks I don't quite get though.
The Format menu, for example, is a contextual menu; it changes content depending on what view is visible or sometimes depending on what I have selected. I haven't quite been able to predict what I'll see on it.
Some other functionality is a bit too buried in the Fluent interface. The recently used file list, for example, is now tucked into the Backstage view. I think Project users typically work with fewer files than do, say, Word users, so the recently used file list was for me at least the most common way I'd open the small set of files I work with. Now it's an additional couple of clicks away.
I might blame my left-handedness for this next issue, but I frequently invoke the shortcut menu and mini-toolbar without meaning to. I do this in all of the 2010 apps, though, not just in Project.
I can certainly work with the Fluent interface, however. Interface design is all about making choices to optimize for the most likely user needs. From my experience, I'd say Project's implementation of the Fluent interface has met this goal, and for most cases where it has not it gives me great customization options. Both Tim Johnson and I took a great interest in the new UI introduced in Project 2010, and gave it lots of care and feeding in our 2010 edition of Project Step by Step.
Hands-on with Project Step by Step
To read more about this blog entry's subjects in the two most recent editions of Tim Johnson's and my Project Step by Step books, see the following cross-references.
Introduction to ribbon UI
- Project 2010 Step by Step: "A Guided Tour of Project," pg.5.
- Project 2007 Step by Step: None! This feature is new in 2010.
Customizing the ribbon UI
- Project 2010 Step by Step "Customizing the Ribbon and Quick Access Toolbar," pg.362.