There's No Place Like Home

A long-open issue in the designs of the Ribbon content for the Office 2007 programs has been what to name the first tab of the programs.

In Beta 1, Word's first tab is called "Write," Excel's first tab is called "Sheet," and PowerPoint's first tab is called "Slides."

Where did these names come from? Well, we made them up. We thought it was important that the names of the tabs helped describe what that tab was used for--but the first tab proved the most challenging.

"Write" seemed to most people to be the most successful name. It's a verb, so it matches well with other task-based tab names, like "Review" and "Insert." And, it's a relatively short name in English with good, short translations in most languages.

"Sheet" started out being called "Enter Data" in Excel, as we tried to come up with a term which matched "Write" in spirit. But it was a long and clunky name, conflicted with the "Data" tab of Excel, and worst of all (in my opinion), it makes working with Excel sound like drudgery.

PowerPoint started out with a "Create Slides" tab (again, to make the first tab a verb like "Write"), but that proved to be a usability disaster. The name was so specific that some people thought the only thing they could do was to create slides, and they would look elsewhere for formatting and layout features.

So, we were not at all happy with the names. The first tabs were very similar in concept, but far apart in naming. Should they be verbs or nouns? Concrete or abstract? We knew that we needed to make a change for Beta 2.

We started the discussion by looking at usability data, which indicates that it doesn't matter what the name of the first tab is as long as it's generic enough (not to repeat the "Create Slides" fiasco.) This is borne out in our command organization research, in which users feel by far the least relationship between the tab name of the first tab and the content of it. "Review" helps people make a decision about whether to look somewhere for a command, but "Sheet" doesn't help to inform their decision.

And as much as we originally thought the first tabs needed to have unique names, in reality the concept behind the first tab of each app is totally consistent: presenting high-usage features people need efficient access to most frequently. If we were trying to be really pedantic about literal tab names, we'd have to call the first tab something like "Highly Used Commands."

So, in a sense, a per-app name (Slides, Sheet, etc.) was just window dressing the real issue--that the first tab is the place to get to the most fundamental features.

Anecdotally in conversation with Office 2007 users, this seems to be true just based on the fact that the vast majority of references to the first tab are "the main tab," "the home tab," "the first tab," etc. In fact, the research has shown the current first tab names are much less sticky than "Review" or "Insert" or "Animations," which are descriptive and accurate.

People are already forming the concept of the first tab as a special place--it's where you start, it's where you spend most of your time, it's where you keep coming back to, and, in fact, it already has a set of special behaviors based on it (like we put you back there when a contextual tab goes away.)

So, when time came to revisit naming for the first tabs, we considered the following inputs:

  • Research indicated that it didn't matter what we called the first tab as long as it was generic enough
  • The current names weren't adding any value at all in terms of usability
  • The tabs are actually highly consistent in their design: fundamental, high-usage commands
  • People already vocalize and think about the tabs as primary, main, home, first...

Based on that, it seemed like it made sense to rename the tab to match the user's own conception of how the UI system works and have a consistent name that indicates the specialness of the high-usage features tab of each program (it's where you start, it's where you spend most of your time, it's where you keep coming back to, it's where we put you back to.)

Once we agreed on this, it was just a matter of choosing from a set of potential names: Home, Main, First, Primary, etc. A couple of people suggested "Edit"--but we found out in Excel that's a bad choice because it's a loaded term and it biases people's expectation of what would be on it negatively.

We also looked at calling this tab the name of the program, but that took away the consistency we had come to think was a good thing. We really needed a short, friendly, name which communicated what the tab was all about.

In the end, we made the decision to go with the name "Home." We think that it's the best overall choice: it describes the common usage of the tab and it matches people's conception of what the tab is all about. Undoubtably, some people will wish we were naming it something else (or will miss the old names), but I feel confident that this is the right decision.

The change was introduced into the build directly after the Beta 1 Technical Refresh, and it will be in Beta 2.