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Idea Draft: Smart templates

User avatar RGB
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Idea Draft: Smart templates

Fri Feb 11, 2011 6:39 am
This is a complex and unfinished idea (I have no skills at building mock-ups) so I need some help to build it before presenting the whole thing on Brainstorm forum.

Problem: the Wizard Trap

I'll now take OOo/LibO as example of a concept error I don't want to be repeated on Calligra.

Imagine a new Writer user that needs to write an article formatted with columns. After a while searching the menus he/she finds the "Format → Columns" menu. After that, clicking around he/she ends with a two column document.

OK, right? Wrong. Suppose this new user realize that the article name and the abstract must be on one column while the rest of the document is OK on two, so he/she select that text and went to "Format → Columns" again just to find that the menu says the selected text already have only one column...

What happened? The first time the wizard was used it modified the page style. The second time the wizard was used it tried to insert the selected text on a section and format that section with the desired number of columns.

The user fell in a Wizard Trap that is quite difficult to scape from.

OOo is full of those wizard traps (someone trying mail merge wizard? Hint: don't try and take some time to learn how databases work...) and LibO just added another one: a "title page" wizard that can give you a document full of page breaks you did not asked for.

Why those things happens? Because columns and page numbering are complex tasks, and unless computers learn how to read the user's mind and became really smart you will never be able to solve complex tasks with simple wizards.

Wizard are a temping feature when someone describe them to you, but they only "work" on paper: on real life situations they usually gives you more trouble than solutions.

So? There are only two possibilities:

  • to limit the wizard application to the really simple situations on which the wizard really (I mean, really) works.
  • to think on Something Else.

Thinking on something else: Smart Templates

Suppose you have two options when creating, say, a new text document:

  • Text document from scratch (advanced users)
  • Text document from smart template (recommended)

The first option is for style masters that do not need any wizard, people that do not have problems setting page/paragraph/character styles and are not afraid to use them.

The second option is for "normal users". These Smart Templates must act like documentclasses on LaTeX: several predefined styles and formatting on which the user drops some content. A new toolbar will be needed to "fine tune" every part.

For example, if you select the "article" smart template, you will find a document with some place-holders to insert the title and the abstract placed on paragraphs with proper paragraph styles applied, followed by a two column section. On the "fine tuning" toolbar you will be able to quickly set page size and margins (or to quickly access those settings) and, when the cursor is inside the contents section you must have the possibility to change the number of columns, among other actions.

Also when the cursor is on the contents section the fine tuning toolbar could have some buttons to apply the different headings and near those buttons the possibility to modify their characteristics.

And what about header/footer content? When you place the cursor on the header/footer, another contextual toolbar (maybe a tab of the existing one) will pop-up on a non disturbing position showing the available content (page number and chapter fields, for example).

But to make this idea work we need a couple of things first:

  • Different set of toolbars for each "mode": one set for normal users and one set for power users.
  • A strong relation between documents and templates: for sure you will have users that start with an article and want to later extend it to a book (it happened to me a couple of times...), so it should be possible to switch from one smart template to another.
  • Linked styles: if you have a template that need several page stiles, for example (one for the index, another for the first page of each chapter, another one for the body text...) and you need to change, say, the page size without linked page styles you will need to edit each style instead of just editing the "parent" style. The same apply to paragraph and character styles, of course.
  • ... (something else? ;) )

People love templates for a reason: they do not want to learn how to build them, no matter how easy the process could be. Then the option to give a step further on the template "paradigm" will be a good selling point, I think.

EDIT: the following Brainstorm ideas are related with the concept presented here

Page styles
Automatic page breaks
Professional typsetting
Different alignment for last line in a paragraph

RGB, proud to be a member of KDE forums since 2008-Nov.
And proud to be a kde user since 1.1.2

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