I just got back from a BayCHI talk by Jensen Harris, the lead designer of the new Microsoft Office 12 user interface. He’s actually already blogged a lot of what he talked about, so I won’t repeat it here — take a look at his “Best Of” list on his blog for an overview. Instead, here are some high-level impressions.

  • Jensen is an excellent speaker. He’s clear, funny, and not afraid to poke fun at Microsoft’s previous attempts at “improving” the user interface of Office.
  • UI designs are actually driven by data that is collected anonymously, and with permission, from current Office 2003 users. It may not be perfect data, but it’s a lot better than guessing.
  • The new UI is most easily adopted by novice users. Power users already know Office well, so they have the most to lose in the new UI. The biggest thing Jensen feels the new UI is lacking is customizability for power users.
  • Office 12 is about a year away from release, but Microsoft is already talking very openly about it. They haven’t been nearly this open in the past, and other companies certainly aren’t as open today. I believe it’s from a combination of starting from a position of strength and feeling the pressure to show that they are innovative, that the next version of Office really is worth buying.
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