Lost Garden is a blog worth following if you’re into usability topics. It’s primarily about video game design, but it’s game design from a psychology perspective and its insights are highly applicable to other kinds of software design as well. I first heard of Danc, the author of Lost Garden, through his presentation called Princess-Rescuing Applications, which is about how video games are actually highly targeted teaching tools in disguise, about how the sensation of “fun” comes from self-directed learning in a safe environment, and how we can apply that lesson to make productivity software easy and even fun to learn.

Now it seems like someone at Microsoft -specifically Microsoft Office Labs – has taken that lesson to heart and created a game meant to teach Office skills. It’s called Ribbon Hero. Lost Garden has an in-depth post about it here.

Even if “Ribbon Hero” doesn’t sound very exciting to you, I think this is an idea with a lot of potential and an exciting approach to improving usability of large, complex apps. I’ll be keeping a close eye on its development.

Edited to add: After watching the Office Labs video, I think one thing they’re missing in the current prototype is that the way the tasks are described to the player uses a lot of Office jargon, e.g. “change the orientation from portrait to landscape”. This jargon is in itself one of the barriers to learning complex productivity apps, so I think Ribbon Hero would be better if it described challenges without jargon, and made learning the terminology part of the game process too.