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Why The Ribbon Bar is Right


The advancements in the upcoming Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology release are causing a lot of discussion. Synchronous Technology is getting a good part of the interest but this is only part of the transformation users will see.

Putting Synchronous Technology aside, customers that continue to work with the traditional history based Solid Edge technology will still see the new Microsoft Office Ribbon based user interface. Changing the UI can have a big impact on software users so it can be a hot topic.

Long before the changes happening now with many CAD user interfaces, Microsoft spent a lot of time iterating on a design that would justify their own changes with sufficient improvement in ease-of-use and productivity. If you want to know more about this, a good blog on the story of the ribbon as well as this Slide share presentation below:

Now interface design is hard because you have so many different types of software users. So it is not surprising there is still a lot of debate on how successful Microsoft is with this new Ribbon Bar design. I’ve been using it for a while and do find it more productive but anytime you change UI, there is a learning curve.

Microsoft’s hope is for Ribbon Bar implementers to embrace the following principles (From Microsoft’s Office 2007 UI for developers)

Focus. The user’s attention should be on the content, not on the UI. The results-oriented approach allows the user to perform sophisticated formatting and advanced tasks without diverting their attention from the document or content on which they are working.

Context. The contextualization of as many commands and properties as possible is crucial. Increase the user’s sense of mastery by reducing the number of choices presented at any given time. Reduce the command space by eliminating redundant or seldom used features.

Efficiency. Focus on efficiency rather than scope. Users must be able to find the most powerful features for the task quickly and easily. A small gain in the scope of features used is not worth a significant loss in the efficient use of the features.

Consistency. A results-oriented user experience is best accomplished by clearly providing intuitive ways to solve different problems. When applying tools to tasks, flexible consistency is desirable; homogeneity is not.

Permanence. Clearly defined access to tools ensures better usability. Ambiguity is reduced by establishing permanent homes for groups of features. A consistent-location UI is favored over a "smart" UI.

Predictability. The Microsoft Office applications offer a long and rich legacy of acceptance, upon which you can build successful UI innovation. Straightforward design ensures continued user comfort and maximized results. Favor the predictable over the novel.

Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology and many of the other CAD programs either following Microsoft’s style guide for Ribbon UI (Solid Edge ST) or implementing their own ribbon like interfaces we are seeing much of this ribbon discussion moving to the various CAD articles, blogs and forums. We CAD users have a lot of opinions on the subject. Even within Siemens, you will notice we have taken different directions for NX and Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology.

Catalyst had an interesting interview on the new AutoCAD Ribbon Bar and other CAD products are using it too. You can find a few blogs on the subject. Here is one on “Why the Ribbon is Wrong” which triggered a lively discussion. Its an interesting debate… do a custom UI for your CAD system or follow what is becoming a Windows standard?

Why the Ribbon is Right for Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology

Like many readers out there, I’ve used a lot of CAD systems over the years. I’m also spending significant time in Office 2007 or digging through the Microsoft Style guide or looking how to best optimize our own Solid Edge UI (we have UI experts that do this too), Like everyone else, I’ve got opinions on the subject.

The fact is, CAD functionality is ever increasing so having a better ways of organizing access to this functionality is something we are all looking for. The Ribbon Bar provides a way to make the most common functionality both easy to access and quickly visible to new users. Key functionality is a big icon and hard to miss. Less common functionality can still be found with a single click and smaller icons. Functionality unrelated to the task at hand can be moved out of the way (to a different group or tab) avoiding the visual clutter. Compare this to thinks like pull down menus where the best you might be able to do is put the more important things on the top of the list or worse, start creating sub menus.

Now I’m not saying everything is perfect with the Microsoft standard. I’d love for it to allow for more customization (although that has risks too). Depending on how you work, you may have different ideas on how it could be better. I do think the Ribbon is the right direction but when it comes to UI, there is no perfect solution.

So first, we have a standard, and one which has been fairly well researched to be as easy-to-use and productive as possible. The key, of course, is making sure the commands are exposed in the best possible way in the Ribbon Bar. It’s my opinion that many issues people have had with other Ribbon Bars is not so much with the Ribbon Bar concept but with how their software’s functionality gets implemented in this context. I know we spent most of our time working on getting our layout organized in the best possible way with the best possible controls. We got some great feedback from beta customers too and continue to discuss further UI optimizations going forward. I’m looking forward to the product release to see how our customers grade us.

The second point with the Ribbon bar, especially those that follow the Microsoft Ribbon Bar standard is the facility at which you can move between it and other products. Now I know there are still some CAD users than spend ALL day in their CAD product and would love everything to be optimized for just that work. However, most of us are moving between Word or Excel or PowerPoint or tools like Solid Edge. If you use Microsoft Office 2007, learning the Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology UI is just not that hard. If you are a new user, you are focused on learning CAD, not CAD AND the CAD UI. If you know CAD and are familiar with the Ribbon Bar, the transition is even faster. Even moving between ribbon based CAD products can become easier.

The last point is important. Synchronous Technology makes multi-CAD environments much easier. So while I think the new Ribbon Bar will increase existing user productivity, I also think it’s the best possible UI for the occasional Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology user – these people that don’t have the time to learn each and every custom CAD UI.


If you would like to *actually* see the UI, I did come across this blog:


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“If you use Microsoft Office 2007, learning the Solid Edge ST UI is just not that hard” I guess says it all - the question is how does it benefit the user who is creating a 3D model, rather than interacting with a spreadsheet or word document. This is what gets me on this subject. There is a natural assumption from the CAD vendors that this is a good thing - and I don’t believe it is. Yes, there is commonality between regular Office products and 3D CAD applications, but where do you draw the line? how are you restricting usability by adopting a UI developed for a radically different workflow? Yes, windows application should work as other windows application should, but should the Ribbon UI guidelines be followed to the letter? I think the updates made in NX show that so much more can be achieved for both the casual and experienced user without doing so.

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Surely UI decisions at a development stage are discussed much more broadly than “is it better”. To me SE dev. have really worked hard at making the options within commands more visable and obvious. They could be criticised for making it look too much like SW or SpaceClaim, but actually I think they have done a superior job by continuing the SE heritage of a clean UI while adding clarity.

As to the 2007 ribbon, in the long run I think it will make little difference to the user - good or bad. As someone posted elsewhere “I’ll get used to it”. However what I think is much more significant is its affect on selling seats, which whether we like it or not is crucial to the continued development of ST. The first time I saw SpaceClaim my immediate reaction was (apart from WOW that is very slick) “I could pick this up easily”. I am not actually sure the ribbon would help me pick it up faster, but the familiar feel and look gave me that perception - and I reckon that counts for and awful lot when a buying decision is being made.

To me ST opens SE to a broader set of customers and I really cannot see how the new UI will deter buyers - it may annoy some existing users for a short time but that will only linger if the development team have done a poorly thought out job. From what I can see from the demos this is far from the case, infact I would go as far as to say they have exceeded my expectation and I am eager to start using it.

Having a totally unique UI is possibly the preserve of the high end modellers where training budgets are not measured hundreds (and yes I do think the NX UI looks great!).

So while I agree that a radical NX-style UI can give users some benefit, I really think SE have taken the right approach from a marketing point of view.

Gears Esteemed Contributor

I’ll have to agree with Al from the aspect that Office and 3D CAD workflows are very different in the fact that Office work is very compartmentalized, meaning that you can spend all your time using one menu tab for the majority of your work in lets say, a Word document.

3D CAD is not that way, so I’ll have to agree with Mark from the aspect that it requires very carefull planning to make sure the layout supports the typical user workflows so that the user is not constantly switching between tabs.  That may mean that one or two of the tabs have a lot of commands on them, forcing the heavy use of the dreaded flyout menus.

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I think the ribbon is good in concept for new users only, but for those of us that actually know how to use a computer it is a very poor interface that wastes way too much of my screen space. As far as Office is concerned, the ribbon is extremely poorly implemented as well, with many functions not even available on it.


Like I said… a subject that has a lot of opinions grin but I like the feedback.

Keeping things in perspective, the ribbon bar is only part of the UI.  Something else that will be new with SolidEdge ST will be some of the graphics area UI tools.  I’ve already blogged a bit about the SE Steering wheel.  We will also have a new quickbar which pops up in the graphics area where you are working. 

One thing I personally hate are “zigzags”… dragging your mouse back and forth between different things like UI and graphics.  I think you will find Solid Edge ST will have some nice new tools to keep you (and your mouse cursor) in the graphics area.

(steering wheel post)

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The Steering Wheel is pretty cool and its a pretty straight copy of one of the only usable tools from CoCreate’s modelling application (in all fairness they did a lot of work with this release to fix some of the big ticket problems).. but I think this is kind of my point - 3D modelling should be interactive, fully interactive and not based on the same UI concepts as word or outlook - the ribbon gets people in the door - where the real benefit is in the heads up modelling operations. and I guess much of that comes down to the hardware we have available.

30 years later, we’re still using the same mouse and keyboard combo to generate 3D data.

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