Q&A: don't usability studies violate your NDA?

In response to my blog post offering up a sneak peak of Outlook:Mac via a usability study, I got a question via twitter:

does that violate your NDA?
i understood that MS had strict NDA to not show off upcoming software. Sure I'd love to see it. Show me what you've got! :)

If it violated my non-disclosure agreement (NDA), I would've been fired ages ago! I've showed hundreds of people our early designs for Outlook:Mac, not to mention the work that I've done for unannounced features in PowerPoint, and some of the new coolness coming in the form of [redacted].

Microsoft does show upcoming software to our users, but we do so carefully. Specifically, for my usability studies, each study has about ten people who come into my lab to see potential future designs. Each participant signs a NDA. Since I'm doing so much of my work early in our efforts, they're not actually seeing live code, they're seeing prototypes that might or might not reflect what actually ends up in the final product. After all, I'm doing this research before coding begins for a reason: I want to see how usable it is, and sometimes it means that my team has to go back to the drawing board.

There are other ways that we show our upcoming software to our users, also under NDA. For example, February is the big Microsoft MVP Summit, and our Mac MVPs will get to see lots of details about the next version of Office, and have an opportunity to provide plenty of feedback about what they see.

If you can keep a secret and want to see what might be coming in Office:Mac, you can sign up to participate in usability studies. If you can't keep a secret, then you can just follow me on twitter here, where you'll see what I can publicly say about working here (and whatever else might spring to mind).