Encouraging and improving users' appreciation of: paragraph styles

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Encouraging and improving users' appreciation of: paragraph styles

Graham Perrin
Administrator
1. Borrowing now from a thread in in discuss@ux
<http://markmail.org/message/pksxfa4cx342tily

2. with reference to three or more relevant mentions of style in ui@ux
<http://n2.nabble.com/forum/Search.jtp?forum=1803118&local=y&query=style>
<http://ux.openoffice.org/servlets/SearchList?list=ui&searchText=style&defaultField=body&Search=Search

3. in particular <http://ux.openoffice.org/servlets/ReadMsg?listName=ui&msgNo=31>, an extract from which I'll place at the foot of this message

4. focusing on part of the goal of Renaissance,
<http://wiki.services.openoffice.org/wiki/Renaissance:The_Goal>

help them accomplish what they want to, by providing efficient access to valuable functionality
5. expanding that goal a little: what I would _most_ like from a Renaissance UI -- in any form -- is:

* for users to finally _realise_ the
  previously unrealised value of features.

(In other words, without insulting users: what they *think* they want to accomplish is twisted out of shape by past experience of poor UIs; in many cases, a best accomplishment may be significantly different from their first imagined accomplishment. This paragraph may not make sense on the moment, I might sit on it for a few days/weeks!)

In my experience, observing a near-universal lack of appreciation of related features, the prime candidate is:

* styles, in particular paragraph styles.

So: without aligning myself with any particular Renassiance UI notions or mock-ups that have arisen to date, I'd like the focus of this topic to be:

+++ how to actively help users to
+++ realise the value of paragraph styles.

Approaches to realisation should probably _not_ include pop up dogs, dancing paper clips or intrusion/pop-up of any kind.

Approaches in Renaissance probably mean arranging the UI, the whole caboodle, to subtly demonstrate the value of applying styles to paragraphs. And/or the value of allowing OOo to apply a style for you.

I'm fairly certain that the designers amongst us have this goal, or something similar in mind but still, I'd like to express this as probably my #1 wish.


Approaches beyond Renaissance might mean (shudder!) a future, more graceful (less potentially irritating) auto-correction of double paragraph marks.

---
Jaron wrote:

… use of styles (which is the biggest UI mess in the history of UI messes), advanced tools like references, and advanced options like word substitutions. All users will desire the benefits of all that advanced funtionality, but they tend to not know its there or understand how it works. IMHO, before we consider large changes I would like to see us explore the conceptual theory behind the objects in OOo from a user's perspective. This, however, would be a different thread. If you want some dry reading, check out my user page where I began to examine just that. Though, note that it is slightly outdated from my current beliefs [1].
The 'styles' aspect of Jaron's paragraph is IMO implicit within <http://wiki.services.openoffice.org/wiki/Renaissance:The_Challenge>.

Best regards
Graham

[1] http://wiki.services.openoffice.org/wiki/User:JaronBaron

(That URL is added to my Diigo for sooner rather than later reading.)
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Re: Encouraging and improving users' appreciation of: paragraph styles

Sébastien Just
Le 04.01.2009 08:47, Graham Perrin a écrit :

> [...]
>> help them accomplish what they want to, by providing efficient access to
>> valuable functionality
>>    
>
> 5. expanding that goal a little: what I would _most_ like from a Renaissance
> UI -- in any form -- is:
>
> * for users to finally _realise_ the
>   previously unrealised value of features.
>  
+1

> [...]
> In my experience, observing a near-universal lack of appreciation of related
> features, the prime candidate is:
>
> * styles, in particular paragraph styles.
>
> So: without aligning myself with any particular Renassiance UI notions or
> mock-ups that have arisen to date, I'd like the focus of this topic to be:
>
> +++ how to actively help users to
> +++ realise the value of paragraph styles.
>
>  
+1

> Approaches to realisation should probably _not_ include pop up dogs, dancing
> paper clips or intrusion/pop-up of any kind.
>
> Approaches in Renaissance probably mean arranging the UI, the whole
> caboodle, to subtly demonstrate the value of applying styles to paragraphs.
> And/or the value of allowing OOo to apply a style for you.
>
> I'm fairly certain that the designers amongst us have this goal, or
> something similar in mind but still, I'd like to express this as probably my
> #1 wish.
>
>  
+1

Best regards

Sébastien Just
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Re: Encouraging and improving users' appreciation of: paragraph styles

Clément Pillias
In reply to this post by Graham Perrin
Hi Graham,

Le 4 janv. 09 à 08:47, Graham Perrin a écrit :

> So: without aligning myself with any particular Renassiance UI  
> notions or mock-ups that have arisen to date, I'd like the focus of  
> this topic to be:
>
> +++ how to actively help users to
> +++ realise the value of paragraph styles.

I have already expressed some ideas on how we could technically  
manage styles, even if it seems that I could not make clear how it  
could "help users to realize the value of styles." I will probably  
come back on it later, but for now I would like to discuss how users  
are (or could be) evolving from "novice" to "master of styles." I  
will use many steps, and please notice that for every step, there  
will be many users who will never make the following step.

= First step: expectations =

First, I think that nobody will ever use an application such as  
Writer or Word without first knowing what it is made for. Probably  
every new user of such an application had faced before some printed  
texts made with this kind of tools, and somebody told them that it  
was made with (most likely) Word.

So new users comes with expectations about what the application can  
perform: it can put text in bold, italics, underlined, change font  
and font size, adjust margins, make bulleted and ordered lists,  
tables, graphics, headers, footers, page numbering, footnotes, tables  
of content, etc…

When using the software, they are then driven by formating-related  
goals: "I want to put that in bold face", "this is a title, it should  
be big, how do I change the font size?" And because the corresponding  
buttons in the toolbar are easy to find and understand, they learn  
quite easily how to do basic formating.

= Second step: first encounter =

The user then realize that some operations are not available directly  
from the toolbar, but he knows that it is possible because he have  
seen documents which obviously made usage of that operation, such as  
"changing the default bullet in bulleted lists."

He then finds that to achieve that, he has to use a dialog (which is  
actually the 'list style' edition dialog). How he discovers that is  
not the question here, even if making it easier is certainly one of  
our goals. Similarly he discovers the other style edition dialogs,  
still being driven by formating-related goals.

At this point he may think "Yeah I've discovered all that formating  
options, I'm becoming a master!". But in fact he has a wrong  
conceptual model, since he believe that the dialog is just some  
interface to apply a formatting (action), while it is in fact an  
interface to edit a style object's properties.

= Third step: applying styles =

I suspect that many users begin applying style because of the  
semantical properties of some styles. For example, applying a title  
style makes the paragraph appear in the table of contents.

But saying "hey, Writer, this is a title" and formating the title may  
still be two distinct operations for many users: they apply a style  
(without modifying it) for a bad reason, and without understanding it  
(bad conceptual model).

= Fourth step: the deception =

Now that the user knows how to do all that formating with dialogs, he  
will use it a lot. And he will then realize that it is a boring,  
difficult, inefficient and repetitive way of performing formating.

I suspect (by the number of badly formated documents that I have  
seen), that a lot of beginners format their titles by repetitively  
formating each title. The more advanced ones even use the "copy  
style" button for that (I have seen it with my own eyes!), because it  
is an answer to the question "I want that text to look like this one,  
how can I do that?"

And so, I suspect that most users will discover the use of styles  
primarily as a way to avoid repetitive formating. Some kind of macro  
(once again, bad conceptual model). And once again, I will not  
discuss here how they discover the "manage" tab in the style edition  
dialogs.

= Fifth step: separating shape and content =

Only a small fraction of the user may rich this last step, because it  
needs to have been taught to think that way, or a long experience in  
document editing, to understand the advantages of using styles to  
separate shape and content.

Note that this last step is only a methodological one, it does not  
need to have a better knowledge of the interface, but to have a  
better knowledge in the process of using that interface.



= Conclusion: =

The first issue with styles seems to be discoverability.

In particular, there is no clear relation between the formating  
toolbar and the style edition dialogs. So we should blur the  
distinction between "formating" and "applying a style". We could for  
example group styles together with the basic formating buttons in the  
formating toolbar, and present them in a similar way, were the effect  
of applying the style is illustrated visually (yes, this is some kind  
of formating palette). Thus, we should ease the third step. To ease  
the second step, the palette should also contains all possible  
formating, including those that are actually only possible via the  
style edition dialogs.

The second issue is a wrong conceptual model (actually, there are  
many of them depending on the step), which seems to originate in the  
fact that formating is perceived as changing the properties of the  
selected text, while it actually change the properties of the style  
applied to that text.

So, I think we should certainly highlight the fact that every  
formating action acts on a style, not directly on the text. One way  
of doing this is to have a representation of the definition of the  
style applied to the text under the cursor. Formating a text (such as  
setting it in bold face) would then have an effect not only on the  
visual appearance of the text, but also as a modification of the  
style definition.

To make it more efficient, we should also highlight the fact that  
styles are manipulable objects, and I think that reification is a  
good way to do it. I we have both a formating palette and a current  
style definition, it should be possible to drag styles from each  
other, allowing to store the actually applied style in the palette  
for latter reuse, or allowing to replace the currently applied style  
with another one in the palette.

Of course, it may sound (and be) more complex, so we first have to  
check if my concerns are valid, and then if the solution that I  
presented effectively reduce it without bringing new issues.

Regards,

Clément.
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