Microsoft Office 2010 Engineering

The official blog of the Microsoft Office product development group

Microsoft Office Backstage (Part 1 – Backstory)

Microsoft Office Backstage (Part 1 – Backstory)

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Hi, I'm Clay Satterfield and I'm a Senior Program Manager on the Office User Experience team.  Within the first few hours or so of using the Office 2010 Technical Preview, it’s pretty likely that you’ll eventually need to “Save As” or “Print” or do something else with your file.  When you finally do click on the Office Button, you’ll see something that you probably didn’t expect.  Instead of a menu, or even a Ribbon tab, you’ll see the new Microsoft Office Backstage View.


Microsoft Office Backstage


Before getting into the details of the Backstage View, I’d like to talk about the thinking that led us to the design.  And to do that, I have to start way back in the fall of 2003, before we started designing the Ribbon.


The Office User Experience Team is responsible for providing the UI platform for the rest of Office, so it was our assignment to tackle the following two problems.  First, we knew from user feedback that people had a lot of difficulty finding, using, and understanding the vast feature set in Office.  Second, we were struggling internally with the fact the menus, toolbars, and task panes were collapsing under their own weight.  Those UI concepts were designed for much simpler programs, and could no longer handle the volume of commands in the mature Office applications.


So, we spent a lot of time looking at entire the Office feature set.  We thought hard about how new features should be built and we made some predictions about the types of features we’d need to build over the next several versions.


One of the first things we identified was that there were two distinct types of features within the applications.  We called the two types IN and OUT features.


The IN features are the ones most people are more familiar with.  These are the features that act on the content of the document and show up on the page. Examples include commands like bold, margins, spelling, and styles.  These are the features that make up the heart of the application. When using these features, you need to be able to view the document content and often need to have a selection or blinking cursor somewhere in the document.


The “Out” features help people do something with the content they create.  Examples include Saving, Printing, Permissions, Versioning, Collaboration, Document Inspector, Workflows, etc. The Out feature set includes a wide ranging and surprisingly long list, but they all have a lot of similarities.  The primary characteristic is that they don’t act on a specific point in the document, and their effects don’t appear on the page.  In fact, you could easily imagine using one of these features without even opening the document to look at it (for example, setting permissions on the file or sending it as an attachment).


Unfortunately, the other thing the OUT features have in common is that they almost all suffer from low discoverability and poor usability. 


When we looked closely at the requirements on the UI platform, we realized that IN and OUT features have very different needs.  Some of the most striking differences become obvious when you start thinking about Office’s WYSIWYG user interface.



The user looks at the document, sees something they want to change, and then they find and use a tool that lets them make the change they desire.  They repeat this loop until they decide the document is finished.


In fact, when we created the Fluent UI for Office 2007, we specifically focused on improving a few parts of this model. For example, the Ribbon helps users “Find the Tool”.  Galleries combine complex steps into a visual result so that “Using the Tool” is easier.  Live Preview takes advantage of the power of “Seeing the Results on the Page.”


The Ribbon needs to stay out of the way because most of this model depends on seeing as much as possible of your document.  Nearly all of the communication between you and the application happens on the document surface.  We don’t need to pop up a dialog box to tell you when you successfully changed the font size – you just see it happen.  Same goes for changing margins, inserting a picture, or any other IN command.


Here’s the problem though – The OUT features don’t show up on the page, so the WYSIWYG model falls apart for those features.


·        You can’t scan the page for something you want to change. The status of OUT features doesn’t appear there.  For example, there’s nothing on the page to indicate who has permissions to read the document, so you have to form the goal to set permissions some other way.


·         When people form an editing goal because of something they don’t like on the page, they assume an appropriate tool exists in the application somewhere.  People rarely make that assumption for OUT features.  For example, many very smart people have no idea that you can e-mail a document to someone from within the application.  They just never even imagine that something like that could live in a word processor.


·         Even if you do find and use an OUT feature, the communication with the application is difficult and inconsistent.  We use a combination of the status bar, message boxes, dialogs, task panes, pop-up notifications, and even web sites to tell you what’s actually going on with your document.  For example, if you notice that you can’t edit a document you’ve opened, you have to check three or four possible permissions dialogs, a task pane, the status bar, and the application title bar to find out which feature is making the document read-only.


Sadly, the only way the average person can be successful using our OUT features is with assistance from outside of our user interface.  Most commonly, people use these features because a coworker has found and explained them, or because a boss required that they be used (and provided training).  A few people might get lucky and read about a new feature on a Tips and Tricks blog. 


What we were sorely lacking was the WYSIWYG equivalent for the OUT features.


What made this particularly scary for us internally is that for the foreseeable future, the OUT features are the ones that are growing rapidly.  Documents are now rarely simple files authored by one person who keeps it on his hard drive until he prints.  Collaboration and sharing are critical.  Documents are key parts of complicated business processes. There’s a ton of context surrounding documents, and increasingly, that context needs to surface within the authoring application.


So, based on the planned feature set for Office 2007, we knew we had to tackle the IN problems first.  Features like SmartArt, Conditional Formatting, Themes, and all the Office Art effects required investments in Galleries, Live Preview, and contextual tabs.  But we knew that the OUT features wouldn’t go away, and as planning for Office 2010 began, we could see that the Office Menu just wasn’t going to cut it.


The Backstage view is the solution that tries to achieve these goals.  In future blog posts, we’ll discuss how it works and get into the details of the different features inside the Backstage view.  For now, we hope you enjoy exploring it!

  • I was surprised when I first clicked on the Office button in Office 2010, but after using it for a while, I think you have made the right choice.  The only suggestion I have is that in the Recent section, you could add a preview of each recent document when you move the mouse over it to fill all the empty space on the right.

  • " the Ribbon helps users “Find the Tool"

    well, i never liked the ribbon. i can't find anything, and i'm not alone.

    " Ribbon needs to stay out of the way"

    it's also too big, takes up too much room. i can see 63 rows of data in excel 2003, 46 in 2007 and 2010.

    the qat is too small. it needs to be as large as the toolbar buttons were in 2003.

    yes, i can hide it, but i'm not hiding anything in excel 2003 when i'm stating the number of rows that are visible.

    hate the ribbon and backstage "may not" be far behind.

  • one other example i forgot.

    try changing windows with multiple workbooks open. ok, hunt around and click view (even though there was a separate window menu option in 2003) and then click swithc windows and click again to select the window.

    3 clicks instead of 2. it's things like this that drive me nuts. improvement, not for me.


    can not work without it....

    the 2003 UI is so complicated

    keep doin' the good work!

  • gkeramidas,

    I think you have some valid points, but if we're being honest there are some things you're over-looking as well.

    For example, a one-time customization of the Quick Access would allow you to put the Switch Window button permanantly above the Ribbon.

    Also, if you hold down ALT and press W two times (this is rediculously quick and easy) you pull up the Switch Window list and can then just presss the number of the window you want to switch to.

    The best part of all this is that Microsoft is putting vocabulary against user interface features.  Think of it this way: Word's been around for almost 30 years, but it's only in the last five or so years that they've been able to talk about the features in a context-oriented vocabulary.  

    This is a big boat, it takes a long time to turn.  The vernacular they are establishing now, along with user feedback, will be the rudder that rights the boat.

    Looking forward to Backstage and the Ribbon enhancements in my daily mix.



  • I so hope that I'll be able to rename a file when in backstage.

    I get so many support calls from beginners, who understand what is Word, but completely dislexic about the file system.

    They just search the file they saved using Vista Start Menu Search, and they don't care about anything where, and what the Documents folder is.

    Please, please, tell me I can rename files in the backstage without going out of the Word or Excel, or Powerpoint!

  • jc:

    you have valid points, too, but why even change the ui if it can all be done with kybd shortcuts?

    why are the icons on the ribbon so big and the ones on the qat so small? doesn't make sense to me. the ribbon takes up way too much room, in my opinion. if i set up the qat, i would think those icons would be more visible because i set them up.

    The delete button is so large, and the right click menus are so washed out. Looks like they’re all grayed out. It’s like they don’t know if they want to make some parts useable for people with sight issues and then turn around and make it nearly impossible for people with sight issues to see parts of the ui. Some study somewhere about how many pixels are need for readable text, like it costs more to produce a more readable character on the screen.

    i see send / receive has it's own tab, but it should be on the home tab. More clicks to do a send/receive than previous versions. i know i can set up the qat, that's not my point. my point is that the ui is screwed up in a lot of places. If the ui is so revolutionary and good, nothing should be harder to do through the ui than it was in 2003.

    Setting email preferences was a nightmare in 2003/2007. this version makes those look like childs play, now. I might find a setting, but who can remember the obscure places i found it the next time i want it.

    then, in outlook, they put the respond menu item 2nd instead of first, because most people mark the email they working on as junk rather than replying to it? I doubt it.

    In excel, click the developer tab. The farthest mouse click away are the vb commands, all the way to the left. Don’t know about you, but I don’t click document panel or source xml more than I click the vb commands. Yes, I realize the menus can be moved, but this again, does not make sense.

    Not criticizing you, just doesn’t make sense to me.

  • Useful explanation.

    I think it works for document-editing programs (Word, Excel, Publisher,...), where the document normally takes up the main window and then with the current interface this window is for viewing and editing the document. Then you switch to another window for "everything else". (Although can "everything else" be understood more directly?)

    It seems less applicable to Outlook. Here backstage seems to be "Options" (confusingly split into outlook\options and print), save (which doesn't need to be there at all because you are interacting with items in the main screen and can save from there), open, and account settings (should that be there or in the main screen: you are interacting with accounts there too?). The interface is confusing, and there is some confusion over what should be where, I think because the document/backstage division doesn't fit Outlook.

  • I have a suggestion for Backstage. Can you make the Backspace key cancel Backstage view and return us to normal view? The current Esc keyboard shortcut isn't very discoverable and almost universaly in Windows (IE, Windows Explorer, Backspace now corresponds to Back). Assigning Backspace to "Back" in Backstage will speed up my workflow by a thousand times more.

  • And make the Backstage button follow the Fitt's law in UI, that is move it to the extreme top so that users don't have to position the mouse accurately to click it. The previous Office orb was adherent to Fitt's law in that regard.

  • As long as the Help function and About function are available and easily findable, I can co-sign.  I hated the ribbon in 2007 for those two main reasons...couldn't find those two things and it frustrated my users to no end!

  • Based on the image posted here, the Backstage UI is worth investigating.

    Insofar as the IN features are concerned, is there a possibility of getting a rational alternative to the Ribbon Monster unleashed in 2007? After using the trial for a few weeks, I reverted to 2003 because I could not afford the productivity loss caused by the Ribbon. It is easily one of the worst ideas to come out of MS.

  • Any non-Office-geek user I've shown the Backstage menu too has reacted horribly to it.  The hardest thing is how to get out of it!  The "Back" tab-like button is not nearly as discoverable as it should be, and to confuse matters there is an X in the upper right that one might think will close the menu, but in fact closes the Application.  The Info Tab also shows a miniscule picture o fthe document above the document properties.  Clicking this actually returns you to the document, but this is I think the least discoverable method of returning to the document.  I agree that "Backspace" should be added to "ESC" as a way to get out of the menu.

    Also, the backstage menu is aI think the first time that a menu had the capability of covering up the document, all other menu controls, and the status bar.  Behavior like this makes it seem like a new window so I'm tempting to go to the Taskbar to get reactivate my document or try ALT-Tabbing.  On my somewhat widescreened laptop, the right-most third of the screen was empty in the Backstage menu... covered in that useless dark gradient that sits behind the menu.  Why not let me see my document behind the menu so that I can reurn to the document and let the menu fade away?  The Office 2007 button and all previous dropdown menus behaved this way.  If you click a menu then decide you don't need it, you could easily click another menu or return to the document.  The Backstage menu is the first exception to that behavior.  There is simply no good reason to obscure all the other Tabs of the Ribbon interface while in the Backstage view!  If I go to edit a document property or save the file, and next I want to click the View Tab... it's not there... it's been replaced by a useless band of nothingness to the right of the "Back" tab.

    Capabilities I'm interested in seeing added to Backstage:

     - Visibility of other Tabs

     - Visibility of Document behind Backstage

     - More prominent means of exiting backstage

       - Click another Tab

       - Click the document

       - Add a big, bold, flashy "Return to Document" button

     - Clarify that the X in the upper right is the "Close Excel" X and not a much need way out of the Backstage menu

     - Make the statusbar visible from within Backstage

  • [continued from previous comment]

    Also, unrelated to the above interface issues, the sub-tabs on the left are poorly organized and colored in my oppinion.  The least-discoverable menu was the "Word" menu... Word is actually clickable seperate from "Options" and "Exit" and that's where About Word, several Help/Support features, and many other useful things are.  These should be more obviously clickable (the Info menu has the same behavior, but is the initially visible menu so its less often clicked).

    Finally, there's plenty of room for more Help buttons.  When people need help they need an easily discoverable Help section that will show them all the support options available.  They shouldn't need any Help finding the Help menu, wait, there isn't a help menu! The little blue question mark in the upper right isn't prominent enough, and most people don't know to type "F1".  Also I still look to the nonexistent Help Menu for Updates and About, which are now (albeit more appropriately) under the Word (or whatever application) sub-menu within the Backstage menu.

    Just some feedback for the community... I've alrady submitted these with the Send-a-Smile feature in the Tech Preview.

  • Hi,

    The human brain likes to learn and do better with static images. Do you like to drive your car with dynamic ribbons or with all buttons in clear view and memorized ?

    Think with heart (subconstient) not with your mind.

    Why the picture of a plain cockpit with all the gauges and buttons is blamed ?

    Let ask the pilots to cover the cockpit with big panels (ribbons) and ask if it is better to search for a switch under the panels and explain: "forget the old one, this is better for you because, look,  it is more organized".

    Do to many years of "OfficeTerraFormation" now the office product does not target to new users but instead mainly to older office pilots.

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