Thursday, May 29, 2008

Side by Side

This is the first time that I will blog about our Notes activity. In the last time, I heard questions about the design decisions and some comments that we do just imitate the behavior of a large competitor's word processor.

So why not talk about it and start by discussing the Note Side Pane?
But first - for the people not familiar with that - a small introduction: The activity Notes2 addresses the revision of the current notes functionality in Writer. The most significant change is the visibility of the Notes at the side of the document text page, which will be delivered with 3.0.

And this "side" is what we will talk about now.

Position of the Note Side Pane

Some years ago, Microsoft decided to show their notes ("comments") on the document page and therefore resized the page to make room at one side. I consider this solution as sub-optimal, mainly because people struggle to recognize that enlargement - no real visual clue. Think of a person who opens a document and hits the print button. If only one comment is inside the document, then the whole document is printed with the resized pages. Really, I saw thousends of pages end up in the wastebin for that reason ...

But we do have that too, don't we? If you want to have comments next to the document, want them to be scrolled together with the text and want them to be recognized as a part of a document, then you end up in something like a Note Side Pane. But this time, it is only attached to the page and not part of it. Some light border line and a light shade of gray work wonders :-) And, we do not end up in changing the document's layout (!), something which sometimes happens to Word documents.

By the way, short time after we decided to display the Side Pane slightly darker than the text page, somebody told me how this works in Word 2007. And guess what? They switched to gray...

So finally, how does that look? The next picture shows the upper part of a document. Great, isn't it?

Layout of the Notes on the Note Side Pane

Notes, good cue. Where should the Notes exactly be drawn? The iTeam had a real intensive discussion about that ... believe it! Have a look at the competing ideas (or mockups, since these are only early drawings and no real implementation):

Above, there is something we called separate layout. It does look more like the famous little notes sticking on "something", and they do have nice shadows. But, they need much valuable space and add visual complexity (look from the left to the right, you will see several borders and background color changes).

Here, there is the integrated layout. The Notes do not have own border lines: they are limited by the physical page border, the document and the Note shadow. Something you rarely see in reality, but we decided to go for that layout.

Why? People may be happy if they use the feature for the first time and the Note looks nice. But, people will be happier if they can work with half a dozen of them on the screen and still focusing on the document. Yes, this is a decision for "productivity" and against some small part of "enjoyment". To be really sure, we presented the final design to some users and they still recognized it to be a Note. Hurray.

Did you notice? Even small things do have impact.

What's next?

We have plenty ideas for a lot of next releases :-) For example, I'd like to see a more direct manipulation for toggling the visibility of the Note Side Pane.

If you like to know more about the activity, then please have a look on our "development wiki" at Notes2. And if there is anything Notes related I should blog about, then please let me know.

Thanks for reading and have a nice day!

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