The way that people currently style their documents is inefficient and silly.
They spend more time figuring out which combination of options looks best, than creating the document, and very often the final piece looks inconsistent.
For years, the document type of the Web – HTML, has used CSS styling and hardly looked back. It allows you to globally edit the appearance of a document, resulting in consistency (making it easier for a viewer to read) and so time is spent perfecting and adding to the content of a document, not working around the shortcomings of a badly designed workflow.
I must say until recently I was one of the people mentioned at the start of the document; however I must say it was not the fault of myself, or any others who decorated documents as I did.
Office applications have until recently, been designed to make applying, editing and even knowing about styles difficult. Until the likes of Microsoft Office 2007/10 the widely accepted workflow of designing a document was through 3 buttons – Bold, Italic and Underline, with a dropdown box for the size of text.
The problems of this workflow I have mentioned above, but one I have not mentions, that seems to make the ‘Navigation’ functionality present in most office suites, is that styling a document this way makes it impossible to navigate without reading it all through. As well as styles offering advantages such as consistency and efficiency, they allow the office application to realised the structure of a document, so that a user can easily navigate it.
Office applications need to change. They need to adopt a style-orientated workflow, making the style applying, editing and downloading mechanisms easier, more efficient and more featured in the design of the application itself.
Above is a side by side comparison of OpenOffice.org 3.1’s (left) and Microsoft Office 2010 Beta‘s (right) approach to the styling functionality. As you can see in OpenOffice.org, the styling functionality is very hard to use, with no previews available or pointers to the user – it is hard to know it even exists, let alone start using it.
Although Office 2010’s approach is better, it is more featured in the design of the application and users can see previews of styles, the editing and downloading of new styles is much too hard. I also believe that whilst they have taken a step towards a more style-orientated workflow, the stride has not yet been made, and they need to do more.