Although it is pretty, the new Revit user interface goes much deeper than just the surface visuals. When we embarked on the redesign back in the summer of '07, the AEC Product Design teams (consisting of representatives from the three Revit products, AutoCAD Architecture, AutoCAD MEP, and Civil3D) got together with the larger Autodesk Platform team and established design goals for this project:
- Make the products easier to learn
- Make it easier to switch between Autodesk products
- Maintain the productivity of existing users
- Update the Autodesk identity
To accomplish the fist two goals, we needed to reduce the complexity of the UI. That is not to say we reduced the complexity of the product itself. Let's face it, our products are powerful and with power comes complexity, which is not an inherently bad thing. The problem is that the common impetus has been to give the user as many options up front as possible. This design approach, combined with an legacy Windows UI system (menus and toolbars), has resulted in menus like Modeling menu at right. Not only is this way too many items to scan efficiently but most of these commands were replicated on the design bar.
To address this redundancy, the AEC design teams established a rule: There Can Be Only One, or TCBOO (I think someone on our team must be a big Highlander fan.) This means a single location for a tool. Whereas the old user interface had two, sometimes more, locations for a single command. Our ribbon design is a task-focused, hierarchical organizational system. In such systems, it is best to avoid too much cross-referencing, or it becomes increasingly difficult for the user to find what they need. (See Rosenfeld and Morville's book Information Architecture for more on this. A relevant excerpt can be found here.)
Lets take as an example the old Basics tab. Some users we tested indicated they liked Basics. But when pressed, they usually conveyed a story about not being able to find something as they grew with the product. A little known fact: Basics was originally designed to make the product easier to demonstrate; the marketing guy would not have to flip around too much during the demo. In reality, Basics becomes a crutch. After using it for a while, user find themselves asking, "Hmm, Floor is on Basics, but Floor by Face is not. Is it on the Massing tab or the Modeling Menu or somewhere else? " This results in a lot of wasted searching - even after learning where the tool is located.
TCBOO lead to a lot of hard decisions. For instance, we debated a lot about whether "Component" is a modeling tool or something you insert. We ultimately placed it on Home because analysis showed that Component is usually accessed with other modeling tools, not while inserting. Of course, rules were made to be broken, right? We found some minimal cross-referencing to be beneficial depending on specific workflows. Can you find any examples where we duplicated a tool on the main ribbon (not counting contextual tabs)?
A big part of obtaining both the learnability and updated identity goals was related to the design of the new icons, which we will discuss in a future post.