No Distaste for Paste (Why the UI, Part 7)

This is the seventh part in my eight-part series of entries in which I outline some of the reasons we decided to pursue a new user interface for Office 2007.

Last time I issued a challenge: for readers to pick the most-used command in Microsoft Word 2003 and also the top 5 most-used commands (bonus points for having them in order.)

For me, the most interesting part was reading the justifications around the guesses. I'll reproduce a few of them here:

"Ctrl-Z Undo has *got* to be one of the top 5. I'm sure that bold/italic are in there too."

"...Save is very rarely used. Most end-users I've known are very hostile to the idea of saving frequently."

"I disagree with everyone. My mother can't cut and copy and paste, and she's probably much more of a typical user than any of us."

"normal ppl don't use Print Preview."

Now you have a pretty good idea what designing software at Microsoft was like before we collected data through the Customer Experience Improvement Program. Our internal discussions would have been peppered with the same wild guesses, justifications, and personal "anecdotes" served up as fact.

And looking over the guesses, one can't help but be surprised at the variety of commands nominated. From "Word Count" to "Tab Adjustments" to "Final Showing Markup" to "Header Style", is it any wonder it's a bit tricky to design a feature organization for software used by 400 million people?

The only difference between your wild guesses and ours would have been that ours would have become reflected in the product. If someone had a strong feeling that a particular feature was important and could convince people with her justification, then probably the product would have reflected that person's bias. We do try to hire people with a good "sense" of how the software is used--but this is most powerful when combined with the real data to back it up.

We're hard at work mining data from Office 2003

OK, time for the big moment. The data set I'm pulling from is all Word 2003 users who have opted in to the program. We could slice the data based on, perhaps, CPU speed to try to get more power users. Or 800x600 screen resolution, to try to get more home users. But in this case, we're looking at the entire data set of commands executed through any means (toolbar, menu, context menu, or keyboard shortcut.)

Top 5 Most-Used Commands in Microsoft Word 2003

  1. Paste
  2. Save
  3. Copy
  4. Undo
  5. Bold

Together, these five commands account for around 32% of the total command use in Word 2003. Paste itself accounts for more than 11% of all commands used, and has more than twice as much usage as the #2 entry on the list, Save.

Paste is also far-and-away the number one command in Excel and PowerPoint, accounting for 15% and 12% of total command use, respectively.

Beyond the top 10 commands or so, however, the curve flattens out considerably. The percentage difference in usage between the #100 command ("Accept Change") and the #400 command ("Reset Picture") is about the same in difference between #1 and #11 ("Change Font Size") This is what makes creating the new UI challenging--people really do use a lot of the breadth of Office and beyond the top 10 commands there are a lot of different ways of using the product.

Here's an example of where we used this very data to help make a decision in Office 2007. Early on, we were toying with the idea of not having buttons for Cut/Copy/Paste in the Ribbon. Everyone "knew" that people mostly used CTRL+X/C/V to do most clipboard actions (which was true.) And that mouse users used the context menu to access these clipboard commands (which was also true.)

What we didn't know until we analyzed the data was that even though so many people do use CTRL+V and do use "Paste" on the context menu, the toolbar button for Paste still gets clicked more than any other button. The command is so incredibly popular that even though there are more efficient ways of using it, many people do prefer to click the toolbar button.

The data kept us from making a crucial, stupid mistake. One which we might not have caught during the beta due to the high expertise level of our beta users. Once we recognized the importance of the Paste toolbar button, it was promoted to the first big button on the left side of Word's first tab.

A few people asked in comments about the top "actions" done in Word 2003. Here they are: Cursor Right, Cursor Left, Cursor Down, Backspace, Cursor Up. Even the last of these (Cursor Up) is done about 8 times more than Paste, so people are doing a lot of cursoring around in the document (as you'd expect.) We don't collect letter and number presses, but I expect you would find that they line up along expected frequencies...

So, without further ado, the winners of the contest:

  • Grand Prize: "herzi", for guessing "paste, copy, save, print, undo" That's 4 out of 5, with #1 guessed correctly as Paste.
  • Second Prize: "John C. Kirk", for being the first one to guess Paste correctly as the #1 used command.
  • Third Prize: "Step", for being first to correctly guess 4 out of 5.

Congratulations to all three winners! Your frame-ready award certificate is ready to be picked up.

To everyone else, thanks for playing and better luck next time.