One of the best talks that I have ever had the opportunity of discovering is titled “The Story of the Ribbon” delivered by Jensen Harris.

Here is the link to the talk and I highly recommend you to listen to it

This talk is mainly about how the Ribbon UI which was introduced in Office 2007 came to be.

Ribbon UI in Office 2016

One concept that Jensen Harris talked about was “The of ” when a user interacts with a product. Ex. Notepad on Windows is a piece of software that is very easy to master. There are a limited number of things that you can do and the user is pretty confident about the capability of the software as well as his own capacity to perform a certain task on it.

The main reason why the Office team at Microsft introduced the Ribbon UI was that they had found out that Office had become too overwhelming for the users and the sense of mastery was totally lost.

It is pretty hard to have a sense of control if the software you rely on looks like this

As you can see from the above image, the UI of Office 2003 is too daunting for a new user. As a human being, it terrifies us when we lose the sense of control over things. Our ego can’t handle something which seems out of comprehension or when the limits of our comfort zone are tested. The easiest escape for the user is to stop using or find alternatives.

The sense of mastery and control is an inherent trait of the human mind and it is not limited to UX design. According to me, this desire of having control over things and event is what constitutes as our Comfort zone where all things are non-threatening and pretty.

Another example is Yahoo search homepage which used to look something like this

Old Yahoo Homepage

when Google came and basically straightened things up with a clean homepage with a focus on user’s ability to search. Google homepage was pretty easy to master as compared to what Yahoo was offering at that time. Even though there might be people who found more value in the things that Yahoo was offering on its search page but this doesn’t change the fact that for a new user, Google search page was more approachable.

For me, the most probable reason why WhatsApp is so wildly popular is not only because of the service it is providing but also because it is very easy to master( Or have a sense of being in Control ). I have seen people struggle with Facebook Messenger especially older people with its floating UI on Android but they more or less become pretty comfortable with WhatsApp very soon. In an ideal world, I would expect people to give a chance to something that seems complex before bringing their fragile ego, and I am sure in most of the cases they might actually end up liking the thing which they have been resisting. But this is how our ego operates and thus as a UX designer you have to be conscious about this fact.

There is always going to be a tradeoff between what all things you want to show up front in your UI and having a sense of control. Reddit is a classic example where this sense of control seems to fail but still, people were hooked and it succeeded. But the fact is that there was no real competitor to Reddit when it came out and the value it provided was able to supersede the fragility of the egoistic mind but this might not be the case for your product.

Reddit Homepage

It is a very bad idea to think that people like to explore and thus justify pouring everything on them at once. Even though people like to explore but before that they need to feel comfortable. Exploration only happens once they can calm their ego to stick and not abandon the idea of trying the product. That is why the gradual revelation of features is usually a good idea.

Thank you for reading my article 🙂

I am Amit Shukla. A Computer Science graduate from India looking to explore the depth of UX Design and Human interaction with digital products. Feel free to contact me on [email protected].

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