The ribbon's tab and panel order, labeling and organization of tools follows a pattern that was designed to be flexible enough to accommodate multiple products while still allowing us to address Revit users' core work-flows. Before designing anything, our teams performed a series of day-long task analysis exercises with users and internal subject-matter experts to gain a clearer understanding of our five major disciplines (architecture, structural, mechanical, plumbing and electrical.) This research, in combination with interview, observation, and usage data collected over time led to the creation of work-flow diagrams that guided us throughout the rest of the design process. (Unfortunately, I cannot post these diagrams here, since they represent proprietary intellectual property.)
We then set out to design a tab and panel organizational system that could be applied consistently across multiple products and accommodate the varied user work-flows. This pattern went through many iterations. It basically boils down to these guidelines:
- Ribbon tabs represent a distinct work-flow (e.g. Annotation, Collaborate) or set of related tasks (e.g. View, Manage) The intent is to reduce the need for users to switch between multiple tabs to perform a series of tasks in a work-flow.
- Each tab is labeled with a single word (two at the most) that reflects the work-flow and clearly distinguishes it from the rest.
- Tabs are organized left to right based on a loose chronological order: You build model components, insert items, annotate the model, and so on.
- There should be no more than nine primary ribbon tabs.
- Panels represent groupings of tools used to accomplish a specific task(s) within the tab's work-flow. (e.g. Dimension, Detail.) Panels are ordered generally left to right based on frequency of use. However, based on usability data, we made exceptions and placed the most commonly used panel directly under the tab name to reduce mouse travel:
It is important to remember the ribbon was not designed to be configurable to fit specific work-flows (we explored this possibility, but had to shelve it) but to accommodate the major Revit disciplines. So the ribbon layouts had to be generalized to work across many different AEC work-flows. That said, we tested the layouts on many different types of users and tasks to ensure that it worked generally. The common tab labeling and order for all AEC products using the ribbon is as follows (bold items are in all AEC products - if a non-bold item is in a product, it appears consistently in that left-to-right spot.) The ribbon is essentially split into two parts:
- Home: Creating the building model
- Insert: Adding content into the model
- Annotate: Adding text, 2D elements and detailing
- Modify: Action-object tools - those that modify existing model elements by selecting
- Render: AutoCAD products only (legacy tab)
- Analyze: Running analysis on the existing model
- Massing & Site: Creating massing and site objects
Managing the project
- Collaborate: Collaborating with team members and coordinating model changes
- View: Creating and modifying views
- Output: AutoCAD only (legacy tab)
- Manage: Management of the project settings
- Add-Ins: Third-party add-ins (only appears when add-ins are installed)
This tab order was the result of many iterations. Throughout many usability tests one constant emerged: The tab label and panel organization are more important than tab location for discoverability. Regardless of the left-to-right order, as long as the label was clear users learned within minutes where all of the tools were.
To accommodate cases where a specific work-flow requires the a lot of switching between multiple tabs, we added two customization features that allow you to choose which tools to make persistent: floating panels and the Quick Access Toolbar. These will be explained in more detail in a future post.