Evolution of the PowerPoint Home Tab

A few months ago, I made an attempt to give you a sense of the kinds of changes to the user interface you'd be likely to see between Beta 2 and the final product.

In particular, I guessed that we had made over a thousand individual tweaks to the contents of the Ribbon, although now I think that was probably a bit conservative. If you consider every command label we've cleaned up, every icon we've tweaked, every punctuation fix or label size adjustment or scaling behavior modification as a change, I wouldn't be surprised if the list totals more like several thousand.

That said, most of these changes fall into the categories of polish (what we call internally "fit and finish") and simple usability improvements based on feedback or a better understanding of the relationship between or the behavior of specific features. In other words, most of the changes are minor and you'd only notice them if you looked at Beta 2 and a recent build side-by-side.

Today, I want to explain probably the biggest change we've made in Ribbon content organization since Beta 2: a rethinking of the PowerPoint Home tab.

I'm going to go through the decision in great detail to give you a sense of the kind of thought process we use for every design decision around feature organization. We've spent three years repeating this process hundreds of times in hundreds of areas, trying to come up with the best possible organization of the thousands of features which comprise Microsoft Office.

Creating the right Home for PowerPoint

One of the longest-standing challenges we've faced is getting the PowerPoint Home tab right. We didn't feel like what we shipped in any of the previous betas was really right, and there were several ideas about how to fix it.

When you look through PowerPoint's functionality with an eye towards organizing the content into Ribbon tabs, it breaks down like this:

  • First, there's a lot of functionality that's about animating objects and setting up slide transitions--all if it functionality that doesn't exist in any other Office program. This is an obvious logical grouping, and these features are together on the Animations tab.

  • There's a certain set of features that are about setting up the overall design of the document: the size, theme, fonts, colors, etc. These features comprise the Design tab, another strong logical grouping.

  • A big part of PowerPoint is determining how your slides come together to comprise a presentation: starting a show, saving custom shows, and determining which slides are part of your show. In addition to these features, we added the most useful features from the old Set Up Show dialog box, such as choosing on which monitor to present the show and what screen resolution to use. All of these features together make another logical tab: Slide Show.

Then, we have three tabs that are generally consistent across the main Office apps, and PowerPoint is part of this consistent story.

  • Insert is a tab about everything you can put into a document; we try very hard to make this tab as much the same as possible between Word, PowerPoint, and Excel.

  • The Review tab comprises all of the reviewing, commenting, and proofing tools in a program. PowerPoint doesn't have an overabundance of features in this area, but they are grouped together here.

  • The View tab contains all of the features involving changing the view, window management, and the state of application- and document-level UI and functionality. This tab is very consistent across Word, Excel, and PowerPoint as well.

Each of these six tabs work out well; the organization of them is clear, with three tabs specifically showing off PowerPoint-specific functionality, and three tabs showcasing features that are relatively consistent across the suite.

In addition to these core features, PowerPoint has a bunch of object-specific contextual tools, such as Chart features, Picture features, Movie Clip features, and the like. We have a consistent model for showcasing object-based features via Contextual Tabs, and so these features don't need to be accounted for in the core Ribbon tabs of PowerPoint.

What's Left

So, with those decisions made, what features still need a home?

  1. A set of features which we consistently place on the Home tabs of each program: the Clipboard features and Find, Replace, and Select.

  2. Text and paragraph formatting.

  3. A set of features around creating, deleting, and changing the layout of slides.

  4. "Fancy" text formatting features, such as the new WordArt gallery and text effects such as 3D, reflection, and glow.

  5. A set of features which provide for the arrangement, positioning, grouping, and ordering of objects on the slide.

  6. Drawing functionality, principally drawing and formatting shapes and text boxes.

Working down the list, Group 1 is probably the most straightforward. Part of making Office easy-to-use is being consistent when possible, and from this perspective, the features in Group 1 really need to be on the Home tab.

Next up are the features in Group 2: basic font and paragraph formatting. These features are heavily-used, need to be accessed efficiently, and, to boot, they're already on the Home tabs of the other programs. So the Home tab for them as well.

The features in Group 3 boil down to four top-level commands: New Slide, Change Layout, Reset Slide Layout, and Delete Slide. Three of these features are used very often by many people, and the fourth one (Reset Slide Layout) is an extremely useful feature we hope people will find and use. The logical place for these features is also the Home tab.

In the end, we all agreed that features in Groups 1, 2, and 3 needed to be on Home tab. One could make arguments for individual commands one way or another, but by-and-large, these feel like part of the motherhood and apple pie of PowerPoint.

Given the average density we aim for in a Home tab, this meant that the PowerPoint Home tab was roughly 75% full. How to best use the rest of the available space?

The Proposals

There were three main proposals:

  1. Put all of the fancy text formatting (Group 4) on the Home tab. This is the version which makes PowerPoint appear the most like Word, because there's an in-Ribbon gallery of Text Styles right there on both Home tabs. It is also nice in that all of the text formatting features end up organized together.

    The downside of this proposal: the features in Groups 5 and 6 end up kind of scattered about, and it requires a lot of tab switching to use them together with the Home tab features.

    For example, a very common cycle in PowerPoint is: type some text, draw some shapes, format the shapes and the text in them, and then arrange those shapes.

    In this proposal, you would type your text, then switch to the Insert tab to draw your first shape, which causes the Drawing Tools - Format tab to show up. You can then draw additional shapes from there and format them from there, but to edit the text in the shape, you need to go back to the Home tab. And then to arrange the shapes, you go to the Design tab, and then back to the Home tab to start again.

    This proposal was the most consistent in terms of semantic organization, but the least efficient to use.

  2. Another proposal was to create a top-level core Draw tab. The idea here was that a shape in PowerPoint is more like a paragraph in Word, and as such, we should not treat it contextually the way we do other objects in Office.

    In this proposal, all of the text formatting would be on the Home tab, just like in Proposal 1. But the Drawing Tools - Format contextual tab would become a core Draw tab, so that you could switch to that tab and use all of the Group 5 and Group 6 features in one place: drawing multiple shapes and formatting them. You get rid of the weird thing from Proposal 1 where you draw your first shape from the Insert tab and then draw subsequent shapes from the Drawing Tools – Format contextual tab.

    While this plan might sound reasonable at first blush, it doesn't really solve many of the scenarios. This proposal's biggest flaw is that there's still a separation between the highly-used core features (Bold, New Slide, Bullets) and the highly-used drawing features (Insert Text Box, Fill Shape, Send to Back.) You could perhaps duplicate 65% of the Home tab on the Draw tab to get around this, but then you have two top-level tabs that are virtual duplicates of one another.

    In addition, a major inconsistency is created because the design rule "whenever an object is selected, the contextual tabs are available" is violated. Suddenly, you can't learn and use the drawing tools the same way in PowerPoint, Word, and Excel. We would be creating a one-off, inconsistent model.

    In the end, when you analyze this proposal in terms of number of clicks, it becomes clear that it's actually exactly the same as Proposal 1. Doing drawing-related tasks always takes an extra click to navigate away from the other top-level features on the Home tab. Proposal 2 does have the advantage of feeling more stable (you can draw the first and second shapes from the same tab for instance), but it's not really more efficient. And creating a huge inconsistency across Office is not worth it if you're not getting back a great efficiency gain.

  3. The idea behind Proposal 3: Make the Home tab the best possible place for people to work efficiently and live with any downstream inconsistencies.

    In this proposal, the fancy text effects and the corresponding WordArt text styles gallery are taken off of the Home tab completely and instead reside with the other OfficeArt tools on the Drawing Tools - Format contextual tab.

    In their place, we add the tools for drawing, formatting, and arranging shapes to the Home tab (Groups 5 and 6.) As part of this proposal, we don't do the normal auto-switch to contextual tab set that occurs when you insert shapes from the Insert tab, so that you can draw multiple shapes directly from the Home tab with no tab switching necessary.

    The one downside to this proposal: Fewer people would be exposed to the fancy text formatting possible through the WordArt styles gallery, and the commonly-used text formatting and the fancy, artistic text formatting would be on different tabs. This change also means that the Home tab of PowerPoint would look less like the Home tab of Word.

The Beta 2 Design

If you haven't guessed by now, Proposal 1 is what we shipped in Beta 2. Although it didn't really seem to work very well, we did a number of tweaks over the last year to try to make Proposal 1 better.

For instance, a well-known Office newsletter noticed that we moved the Insert Shapes feature to the far left side of the Insert tab in each of the apps between Beta 1 and Beta 2. They chided us because they felt that we made the change to try to advertise features we wanted people to use.

In reality, the left side of a tab is the only place where you can be sure that in every language a control will stay in the same place. We moved the Shapes gallery there so that after you draw the first shape from the Insert tab, your mouse could move to the same location on the Drawing Tools - Format contextual tab to insert the second shape.

By locating the gallery in the same place on both tabs, you didn't have to think about what tab you were in. We then changed Excel and Word to keep the location of features consistent between the three programs' Insert tabs.

We made many changes like this to try to make Proposal 1 more workable.

A Better Direction

During the lead-up to Beta 2, we decided that no matter how many tweaks we did to the Proposal 1 design, it simply wasn't going to be good enough.

So, a few months ago we redesigned PowerPoint's core tabs to implement Proposal 3.

Here's a list of the major changes we made as part of this design:

  • Removed fancy text formatting from the Home tab . (It's still available with the full set of OfficeArt tools on the Drawing Tools – Format contextual tab.)

  • Added the Insert Shapes gallery to the Home tab.

  • Added Text Box to the Insert Shapes gallery so that you can also draw text boxes directly from the Home tab.

  • Added shape formatting (Quick Styles, Shape Fill, Shape Outline, and Shape Effects) to the Home tab.

  • Added a compact version of the Arrange tools (Group 5) to the Home tab.

  • Because they're now on the Home tab, we removed the Arrange tools from the Design tab (making that tab's purpose more clear as well.)

  • Because Insert Shapes is now on the Home tab, we reverted the location of the Insert Shapes button on the Insert tab in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook to where it was in Beta 1. (Insert Shapes is duplicated on the Home tab and the Insert tab in PowerPoint so that the Insert tab remains consistent with Word/Excel.)

Here's a picture of the Beta 2 Home tab vs. the current Home tab at two different sizes:

The evolution of PowerPoint's Home tab
(Click to enlarge

As a result of this redesign, we ended up with something that feels way more natural and efficient to work with. You have a stable Home tab from which to do most of your slide authoring: adding slides, typing and formatting text, and adding, arranging, and formatting shapes. The most-used features are all in one place. I've been using it for several months now and I'm finally confident we have the right design.

From the beginning, one of our goals for the new user interface has been for each program to be better able to express what it's all about--its "soul."

In the case of PowerPoint, that "soul" is in helping you to quickly create a compelling presentation; we redesigned the Home tab to better enable you do just that.