Category Archives: Excel
When I took my first foray into technical writing, my boss used to often answer any questions I had relating to style, format or wording with “How does Microsoft do it?” I’ve always felt this was an easy answer to what can often be a complex question, but it does sometimes provide a solution. However as my career progressed I’ve learned to be more critical of what Microsoft and other companies offer by way of user assistance. Some companies have a lot of resource they can leverage and as a result produce multi-faceted, professional documentation suites. Microsoft is an example of this and as a result their tools and documentation are often held up as beacons of acceptability. The problem is that with acceptability comes expectation and the fact that you’ll never please all the people all of the time.
Never is this more true than the arrival of Ribbon Hero, a prototype game for Word, PowerPoint and Excel 2007 and 2010 users. Yes you read correctly. A game designed as part of Microsoft’s overall user assistance package. It is designed to help boost your Office knowledge by giving you challenges to complete (e.g. calculating the average value on a cell range in Excel). As you complete a challenge, you earn points that go towards your overall achievement score. Tips are available if you get stuck and challenges are categorised to enable you to focus on the challenges that are of most use to you. For example in Word they focus on:
- Working with text
- Page design and layout
- Getting artistic
All well and good. The aim is that by performing tasks and adding a funky, game based element you’ll be more likely to remember what you have learnt. The points add a competitive element as you can share your score with other Facebook users, thereby earning greater bragging rights.
Always one to give things a try, I downloaded the game, installed it and gave it a try. The installation, as you’d expect from a Microsoft product, was a breeze. Once installed, the first time you launch Word, Excel or Powerpoint, the Ribbon Hero add-in is installed a new section is added to your Home ribbon. From there the game is accessible whenever you feel like playing.
On playing the game you are presented with a random challenge that you have to complete. The challenges range from the relatively simple (e.g. applying a style to a paragraph in Word) to ones that could well challenge all but the most experienced users. However the random nature of the challenges, plus their complete inability to allow you to use such things as keyboard shortcuts, made this a frustrating experience. I found myself quickly and easily completing a function only to be told I hadn’t completed it correctly. What is more, I couldn’t carry on until I had. After a couple of really annoying messages to that effect, I gave up.
It would be fair to say that my experience of Ribbon Hero was less than complimentary. Such a form of user assistance could well prove useful to a younger audience who had little or no experience of the product. However I also like it to allow (or at least give tips) for alternative methods of performing a function. If I had a pound for every time I found someone who was amazed to find out that using a keyboard shortcut was quicker and easier than clicking through a menu item structure, I’d be a very wealthy man. Training aids like Ribbon Hero do nothing to help my bank balance! Ribbon Hero was initially fun to use, and the concept of a game is interesting, but as time went on its point was lost on me. Whilst it does work on one level as a form of user assistance, it does not work for me. No doubt Microsoft will say I am not in the demographic that Ribbon Hero is targeted at, to which my response is , “Thank Christ for that.”