The UX of MS Word for Students

The difference between a task completing or not is often about knowing the right button/gesture to tell the system what you want.  My son (6th grade) has been writing more and more reports on the computer using Microsoft Word and PowerPoint.  School reports are exactly what MS Word was designed to handle.  However, the UI of Word is so overloaded with so many functions that finding the right button to press becomes nearly impossible.

In the end, I have to show him where all the features live so he can get his job done.  Table of Contents, Style Guides, Bibliography indentation, etc etc, are all needed for the paper, but he has no idea what they are and how they work.  I, on the other hand, know all about them and where they live.  I think I am in the 1% category of people who use MS Word and know how to make an automatic table of contents.

Which is the better UX?  It seems obvious to me that eliminating functionality isn’t the answer.  Notepad eliminates all of the complexity of Word, but also it makes it so you can’t end up with the document you want.  It seems like you need to be able to do this somehow, but should it be as hard as it is currently?

Could the system be easier?  Should it detect certain things about the document and automatically insert bibliographies and tables of contents and title sheets?  Should it use templates more liberally with starter pages?  Would this just be considered ham handed like the iPhone/iPad auto-correct that never works right?

MS Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) is probably the most-used desktop software ever.  They are the backbone of computing.  Only the browser has made a dent in their reign.  Their respective user interfaces have been honed over decades.  Yet still, it is quite difficult to add in the elements of a 6th grade student report.  I am not sure where this leaves us, but it is good food for thought.


2 replies on “The UX of MS Word for Students”

What if they had a tabbed toolset in which tabs represented common work “domains.” Think back to ColdFusion Studio / HomeSite. They had tabs for things like “HTML”, “CFML”, “SQL”. Each tab had buttons for tools relevant to each mode of programming.

If you could create a tabbed toolset for “Papers” and “Resumes” and “Books”, etc, that might be able to keep the UI more lightweight while robust.

I haven’t actually opened up word in a few years, so that might already exist.

I think the newer “Ribbon” interface along with the sort-of “popup” styling menu is a step in this direction, though it could still be improved. Ultimately, the most intuitive interface would be a vocal interface.
“Word, create a table of contents.”
“Would you like to build it from scratch or would you like me to generate one for you?”
“Generate it for me.”
“Your first page seems to be a title or cover page, should I insert it as the second page instead?”
“You’re good to go.”

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