Microsoft Word 2007 is a Frigging Abomination

If your life is at all like mine, perhaps you too came to your office one day to find that the word processor you pretty much had the hang of had been replaced by a godforsaken abomination. I’m not saying I was a huge fan of what Microsoft passed off as “user interface” before, but the new UI for Office 2007 seems actively abusive.

First of all, I can’t seem to find a damn thing because commands are just sort of shoved into non-intuitive categories. Word Count, for example, has been moved under the “Review” tab—which isn’t so bad when you stop to think about it, but it runs against how Microsoft has conceptualized the entire category of tools related to reviewing things. It’s like they came up with their own idea of what “Review” had to mean, and I decided, okay, when dealing with Microsoft, remember that they mean it in a specific sort of way. Fine. And now they mean it in another sort of way. Damn.

I’d be okay with this shift if it meant that I had to unlearn years of bad design to deal with a greatly improved approach. It does not mean this. Rather, an unsightly and absurdly visually crowded “Ribbon” stretches across the top of the screen. The thing is impossible to briefly scan through like a simple freaking list in a menu. I generally keep it minimized to avoid seizures.

Tonight, at least, I discovered that you can customize the only “Toolbar” they left in the UI: the Quick Access Toolbar, which sits above the ribbon. One piece at a time, I made it look like the customized toolbar I used to have. Calm feelings are returning to me. I actually kind of like it now. It pushes the title of my documents off to the right unless you specifically tell it to sit below the Ribbon, but I’m nervous about doing that. That makes it look far too normal, too like the old Office. I fear I will be tempted to click on the ribbon someday, expecting a menu, but rewarded with a punch in the face.

Why Trajan and Laptops for Children Suck

Today I’m just ganking some quick links from Design Observer I thought might be of interest to many of you.

First, Bruce Nussbaum of Business Week writes that the MIT Media Lab’s “One Laptop Per Child” project is a failure—and then he says it again (oh snap). Wade into the debate yourself, but the long and the short of it, Bruce says, is this: Rather than trying to figure out how to make a super cheap laptop, designers and engineers should’ve gone to other countries to figure out what technology might be useful to school children if only it were more usable and accessible. India seems more invested in using cell phones to connect to the internet, so is this just an example of disconnected Americans asserting that everything would be better if only the rest of the world did it our way?

And speaking of potentially unwelcome top-down design: Folks (somehow) associated with the University of Kansas are pissed at the integrated branding effort that changed all the fonts—including the ones on sport uniforms—to Trajan. Enter: Trajan Sucks, the best typographic activist movement since Ban Comic Sans. I really don’t care about sports or Kansas, but I am seriously tempted to pick me up a “Trajan Sucks” t-shirt. It looks pretty likely to be mistaken for a Red Sox reference (especially the red-white-navy version), but whatever. Sometimes “branding” is a great idea, and this is not one of those times, if you ask me.

Short Game Review: Bioshock (evil version)

I said that I reserve the right to change my opinion after playing Bioshock a second time, and I have changed my opinion somewhat. Or more like I kept it the same, only more so this time. Basically, this game is expertly crafted, but its intellectual offerings are overhyped. About halfway through, there’s an excellent scene that makes you think, “Oh my gosh, this changes everything—not just for this game, but for all shooters!” And then a few minutes later you realize, “Oh wait, it changed nothing. If anything, now it’s even more like other shooters.” Oh well. Also, don’t bother playing through as evil. The plot makes less sense that way, and you’re not rewarded nearly as well with power-ups. (Let this also serve as a notice to my compatriots that just because I jumped on writing a short review of something doesn’t mean you can’t write one of your own.)

The Seven Trumpets of Cybertron

In the First Book of the Doombot, I hath prophesied that Transformers would herald the coming of a divine flood of giant robot movies. And lo, it is so. Plus, Saint Spider-man wants a piece of that action.

(Thanks to Dan for the link. Side note: “First Book of Doombot” or “Letters from Doombot to the Corinthians”?)

I Am Officially a Typography Nerd

I bought The Elements of Typography and Thinking With Type for personal use. I went to a screening of Helvetica and a Q&A with the filmmaker. I nearly wet myself when I received a CD of Adobe fonts as a gift. And when Dan needed to figure out what the font was on Danny Ocean’s business card, I took a glance and responded confidently that it was Copperplate.

But I was not yet a type nerd. Not officially.

No, the confirmation came as I read of Armin Vit’s struggle with Copperplate. One sentence took me back to a moment in the car with Gen and Tony during our recent trip in Seattle, the moment when I looked at a store’s sign and said, as if uttering a prophecy, “Papyrus is the new Comic Sans.”

The sentence that took me back to this moment was this:

Copperplate Gothic’s default ubiquity and, by consequence, broad misuse, has procured it a place among The Designers’ Holy Hatred Font pantheon reigned by Papyrus and Comic Sans

When you are led to the Holy Hatred Font pantheon as if by a sneering angel, then, my friends, you are an official type nerd.

Short Game Review: Space Giraffe

I downloaded this game for Xbox Live Arcade and decided it was worth my five bucks even if I only play it once. (After all, I bought plenty of experimental comics for more money that I’ll probably never return to outside of academic papers.) It’s quite possibly the most willfully bizarre game ever made (sorry, game, game, game and again game). I think part of the point may be in trying to figure out how the hell to play, so I feel kind of bad for reading the Wikipedia entry and having it explained for me. Still, the audiovisual collage of the thing is so hypnotic—including animal sounds, colorful numbers and lines, trance music, burping noises, and the occasional godlike ox head—that I know I’ll be back for more.

The Faces of Victory

A Time photo set: The World Beard and Moustache Championships. I hope they get medals.

Short Television Review: Slings and Arrows

I stand by my assessment that Slings and Arrows is the finest behind-the-scenes comedy-drama since Sports Night. In place of that show’s titular show-within-a-show is a Shakespearean acting company in New Burbage, Ontario. It’s hard to say which character in the extensive and excellent ensemble cast is my favorite: quasi-villain Richard Smith-Jones (played expertly by former Kids in the Hall member Mark McKinney, who was later poached by Sports Night creator Aaron Sorkin for a minor role in his far less inspiring behind-the-scenes show Studio 60); sweet and devoted associate administrative director Anna Conroy (show co-creator Susan Coyne); African expatriot and former theater director turned janitor Nahum (Rothaford Gray); Frank (Michael Polley) and Cyril (Graham Harley), the company’s R2-D2 and C-3PO; pretentious, theater-hating theater director Darren Nichols (Don McKellar); or, of course, haunted artistic director Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross) and his attendant ghostly mentor, Oliver Welles (Stephen Ouimette). Having just finished the third (and final?) season, I applaud the deliberate nature of the show’s narrative construction. Each season reflects on a stage of life as embodied by a Shakespearean tragedy: Hamlet for youth, middle-aged Macbeth, and elderly King Lear. The show’s conclusion is satisfying and note perfect, despite leaving you wanting more—which, to my mind, is the mark of any great story.

Short Game Review: Bioshock

The graphics were awesome, the music was very well employed, the techniques to avoid repetition were appreciated, and setting people on fire with your mind is damn fun. Certain scenes managed to be terrifying, clever, and strangely beautiful. Being one of the best games I’ve played doesn’t make it one of the best stories I’ve experienced, though. For the most part, you spend your time looking for ammo, looking for items you need to advance to the next level, or walking around and bumping into guys you need to shoot until one of you dies. Some gamers are offering this as an example of how this medium can be capital-A “Art,” but really, I think it’s just important to add a title to the very small number of games with stories we don’t need to be ashamed of. I reserve the right to alter this opinion after I play through again, which I’ll probably do soon enough. (Sorry to make this pop up on RSS feeds again; edited a couple times for clarity.)

Pass the Popcorn (and the Milk)

Given my mild obsession with breakfast cereal mascots, it should come as no surprise that I can’t help but link to this Something Awful “Photoshop Phriday” featuring Grindhouse Breakfasts. (Also check out movie posters redone grindhouse-style; both links via Boing Boing.)