Microsoft Search Interface

June 21, 2009

Softpedia ran a story that caught my eye. “Bing Has Its Own Ribbon UI” reported that the Bing interface (shown below) has a ribbon. The story quoted Martin Stoddart, a Bing manager, as saying:

“The Explore Pane is one of the ways we are bringing more order to the page. It allows us to provide a set of helpful tools in a consistent location across the Bing experience that enable you to more easily navigate various categories of results relevant to your query, including web, video, image, news, local, shopping, and more… We conducted extensive research in planning Bing. One of the things people told us was that search results pages could be organized more effectively. We found that 66% of people are using search more frequently to help them make decisions. However, they are spending much more time on those decision-oriented sessions – averaging around 9 minutes per session. With that insight, we realized improving page organization to help get users to what they are looking for faster could have a big impact.

The Bing interface consists of several parts. Do you see the ribbon? A “ribbon” to me is:

a woven strip or band of fine material, as silk or rayon, varying in width and finished off at the edges, used for ornament, tying, etc. 2. material in such strips.

Here’s the Bing interface:

bing interface

The “ribbon” in Office 2007 appears in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. I don’t recall seeing the ribbon in Outlook 2007 or Visio 2007. I also recall the ribbon in the Office applications as changing (sometimes unexpectedly) depending upon the operation I am trying to perform.

The ribbon in the Bing interface looks different from the ribbon in the Office 2007 applications that have a “ribbon”.

Softpedia said:

Stoddart claims that the Explore Pane is always present in the left hand pane on the page. But this is not true. Or it is true, but only if the user is located in the US, or if the search engine has been set to the US, and not to another part of the world (the UK also gets the Explore Pane). By default, Bing will deliver a localized experience and results to end users based on their location. “The contents of the Explore Pane are highly dynamic. The presence or content of Quick Tabs and Related Searches vary for every different query that you type, while the Search History tool is unique to you as a user,” Stoddart stated.

Here’s my take. Microsoft has different interfaces in Office 2007. The emphasis on user experience or what Microsoft called UX in the presentation I heard on June 4, 2009, is interface design. The goal is to make certain functions and actions obvious. Several comments:

  1. The notion of a ribbon is okay I suppose, but if you are going to use a “ribbon”, make them consistent. Right now, there is little consistency within and across Microsoft products.
  2. A ribbon can run across or down. The problem is that when something runs down, I see it as a list of hot links. The use of the term “ribbon” doesn’t make much sense to me. When the icons run horizontally across the top of the screen, I see these as icons or to use the Apple word, “dock”. Ribbon is not resonating with my understanding of the word.
  3. Microsoft is trying to differentiate its search system using visual techniques. That’s good, but the problem is that the options get in the way of finding answers. Presenting me with a mix of visual elements, different file types, text, and other access features takes me time to figure out what’s what. For me, it is easier to read a list of titles and scan snippets.

In short, marketing says one thing and the Microsoft implementation is inconsistent. That’s a problem for an addled goose like me who wants consistency. Google is not perfect, but at this time, the company’s interfaces are more consistent and, hence, more predictable for me. Design for its own sake and inconsistently applied gets in the way sort of like my Web feet.

Stephen Arnold, June 21, 2009

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