[Libreoffice] [UX]How to drive new users to style-based formatting (idea)

Bernhard Dippold bernhard at familie-dippold.at
Sat Mar 26 16:33:39 PDT 2011

Hi Rafael, all!

I don't know if you have noticed Octavio's reply (it raised your mail to 
visibility again), because he didn't CC you, what seems to be usual here 
on this list (in opposite to any other LibreOffice list). If not, here 
is a link:


Rafael Daud schrieb:
> Hi all,
> I've just joined the development list, and don't have any programming
> skills worth to mention, but I'm quite eager to contribute to the
> development of LibreOffice (BrOffice here), and do have few ideas to
> share. Please advert me if I don't follow the good practices in here :-)

I could imagine, that you would like to join the design team, because 
over there we don't work on visual design only, but on UX- and UI-design 

Therefore I CC'd the design list - Follow-up over there please...

Please have a look at the wiki for details about our mailing list

If you want to, post your idea there too.

> What I was thinking is how to make new users (or even old ones) to use
> style-based rather than direct formatting.[...]

Styles are a very mighty feature - but as you state below, they are not 
accessible enough to be accepted by the average user.

> The result is Style formatting is quite invisible to many users, unless
> they know what they're doing. And in that case, it's still not pretty or
> easily accessible. You can feel the power when you change the Font in
> all of your titles at once, or when you change line spacing in all of
> your paragraphs but long quotations in their own paragraphs. Even then,
> having to open a new Styles & Formatting window, selecting the right
> style, asking to edit it, then managing through a new dialog is quite a
> hassle. What if I just wanted to change a single aspect of my style,
> say, first line indent, then see how it looks, then change another, say,
> paragraph indent, then another, and another, I would have to go though
> that dialog a thousand times. I might get tired, and opt for the direct
> formatting as a easier way to do things. I've done that, back then with
> openoffice 1.1.
> What if there was another way? An easier, more intuitive,
> self-explanatory way?

It would be great, but probably not easy at all to find a way "normal" 
user will accept it as better than the way they are used to.

What they are used:

Select a word or phrase and add an attribute (bold, italic, color...) to it.

If they want to copy the attributes to another word or phrase, they use 
the "paint brush" or "copy" & "paste special".

If they change the formatting of one of the words with such attributes 
(e.g. add "italic" to pre-existent "bold"), they don't expect that all 
the other bold words become italic too.

Every proposal that doesn't respect this workflow is most likely to fail.

Your idea might be tricky:

> [...] In the formatting toolbar, there's a
> checkbox, checked by default, with the phrasing "applies to style" next
> to it, and after that, the drop-down entry of styles. [...] So every change you
> made from the interface, while the checkbox was checked, would apply to
> the style. [...]
> So I go to the ruler, and change the first line indentation. Next
> paragraph (and the ones above it) all get the new indentation, without
> me having to Crtl-A or select manually all of them. Just because they
> use Default Style. But say I want this one paragraph to be different
> than others? Then I go to the style drop-down entry and choose Textbody,
> or whatever. Then all new changes to the ruler, font etc. gets applied
> to the new style. And, of course, when I change style from the style
> entry form, the new chosen style gets automaticaly applied to that
> paragraph. So I know what's going on: I'm working with styles.

But you need to change the style *before* you do the formatting.

Imagine an average user who wants to create a title followed by normal text.

He writes the text of the title, changes the font size, centers the text 
and turns it bold.

You wrote that character formatting is a topic you didn't find a 
solution for by now - but I think this is similar. Just stick with 
"centered" in my example.

All this formatting is applied to the Default style without his knowledge.

Now he continues to write: The normal text is bold, large and centered.

What does he do?

He changes these attributes.

He will be very astonished to find out that his title has become normal 
text again!

And imagine he wants to color one word in his text in red.

How can he understand why his entire text becomes red?

He will probably need to learn how to define different formatting for 
characters, paragraphs, pages and so on.

If he doesn't find out how to do this (and if he isn't willing to spend 
some time on styles), he will decide that LibreOffice is broken and 
never try it again.
> That way, even the most newbie will know right from the start he's
> working with styles.

Not really - an option to check in the menu doesn't seem to be 
sufficient in my eyes to teach styles to a newbie.

> With that in mind, he gets the chance to uncheck
> that box and do not work with styles, but instead do direct formatting.
> Maybe he'll do just that -- you can't forbid him -- but he'll know
> there's another way, quite as much simple as that, to do things.

... if he knows...
> What if I don't want to use an already existing style? Then there's an
> icon on toolbar and a menu entry saying Create/Manage Styles, and a
> submenu with the type of style I'm up to: Paragraph, Character, Page and
> so on. And only then I get the dialog box, from where I can edit a new
> style or manage an existing one, pretty much the way it already works.
> So there's no need whatsoever for the much hatred (least by me) Styles &
> Formatting window.

You already can create a toolbar icon for the Styles window (F11). Your 
way would cause much more mouse moving and clicks, if I understand it right.

I personally would prefer the Styles window.
> [...]
> All that applies to paragraph styles, but once you are in that path,
> it's quite easy to take a hand on character and page styles. As for Bold
> and Italic, and some of the other character formatting, I guess it poses
> a problem, for which I don't have any answers yet. The most uses of Bold
> and Italic are with direct formatting.

But it is the mightiest area IMHO:

HTML provides styles like "strong", "emphasized" and so on, so at least 
some people know about this option.

What we would need: An easy way to ask the user what he wants to do.

> I don't know if anyone uses
> character styles for that, when you just need one or another word in a
> whole page to have that different formatting. Maybe that could be left
> alone, and not be applied to style, despite consistency. Maybe only
> paragraph formatting should be applied to [paragraph] style, and if you
> wanted character style, you should go to Create/Manage Styles. Or go for
> direct formatting with those exception formatting, by just unchecking
> the box.

I like using styles for character formatting too - but direct formatting 
is easier at the moment.

This should be addressed ...
> Well I guess I made my point, just let me know if it's worth to make a
> visual mockup to exemplify. I don't know either if that just changes too
> much the logic of the interface or of the software as a whole. I'm no
> expert, hardly consider myself a power user. It looks easy and effective
> to me, though.

I'd like to discuss this topic - and I'm quite sure others at the design 
list might join in.

Perhaps by using the new notification feature (currently worked on at 
OOo) we could inform the user that he enters a different style when he 
adds an attribute. And in case this is not his intention we could 
provide different options:

- Apply new attribute to selection only (single paragraph/character 
style - near to hard formatting)
- Apply new attribute to existing style (modifying all appearances of 
the style in the document)
- Create new style with the new attribute and the already existing ones 
(provide an easy name like "Standard bold" or "Textbody red 
background"). If the new style already exists, the selection can join 
this style. This should be standard behavior.

> I'm aware this is a known issue and much thought must have already gone
> onto it by the developers. Since I'm a newcomer, just let me know if
> there's already a direction into addressing this matter, and please
> point me to the discussing so I can follow, join in and perhaps
> contribute. If not, I'd appreciate to know your thoughts about this
> idea, whether or not it's priority (at this time) or even something
> doable, or any issues that arises with it.

If you want to discuss this topic, please join our design list to find 
out which behavior will help our users most.

This doesn't mean that any developer would be interested to work on 
integrating this feature, once we found a way to provide our users with 
an as easy possibility to apply styles as it is now with hard formatting.

But in such important topics that cause our user to change their 
workflow we should ask about their needs and interests...

Best regards


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