Word 2004: Remaining flaws in style dialog boxes

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
June 8th, 2004 • 10:57 pm

In Word 2004, Microsoft has revamped the user interface for defining and using paragraph and character styles, presumably in a bid to encourage their use among Word users, where styles are sorely underused.

Rather than write a very long piece on the whole issue, I will jot down shorter notes on what I feel is still wrong (sometimes very wrong) in that particular aspect of the Word interface, and will probably prevent most users from trying to use styles and enjoy their benefits.

I already wrote about the problems with the new list of styles in the Formatting Palette. I will probably have more comments on that palette.

Right now, however, I’d like to write about one particular aspect of the dialog box used for defining styles that has been bothering me for years, and is still not fixed in Word 2004.

When you want to define a new style, Word 2004 now opens a redesigned dialog that looks like an attempt to make defining styles easier. One important aspect of a style definition, however, is what happens when you press the Return key at the end of a paragraph formatted in a particular style. Does Word insert a new paragraph in the same style, return to the “Normal” paragraph style, or insert a new paragraph in yet another style?

This is what the “Style for following paragraph” setting in the style definition dialog box is for:

Style for next para

The problem is that, by default, when you create a new style, this setting is empty, as you can see in the picture above. What does that mean? That the following paragraph will have no style? Of course not. Paragraphs with no paragraph style do not exist in Word. Every paragraph has a style.

What you, the Word user, are supposed to know is that the emptiness of this setting actually means that Word will use the same style for the following paragraph. In other words, if you create a new style called “Bullets” and leave that “Style for following paragraph” setting empty as it is by default, Word will actually put “Bullets” in that setting for you by default, which you will see only if you click on “OK” to close the style definition dialog box and then open it again.

Never mind the fact that this is utterly unintuitive. Never mind the fact that, when you create a new style, this new style actually already appears in the pop-up menu for the “Style for following paragraph” setting — but that its name is… “Style1“, rather than the style name that you’ve just typed in the “Name” field above in the same dialog box.

I suppose that it is too much to ask Microsoft to have a dynamically updated style menu for the “Style for following paragraph” setting that automatically includes the new style with the name that you’ve given it in the “Name” field above, and to use that style name rather than emptiness to indicate that the same style will be used by default for the following paragraph.

Never mind the fact that even web pages these days are able to have such dynamic content in forms that automatically updates as soon as you type something somewhere in another field in the same formm without forcing the user to reload the form. It just takes a bit of JavaScript wizardry for a web designer to come up with such a feat, but it’s obviously beyond Microsoft developers to bother with such details.

The end result, however, is that the user has absolutely no idea, from looking at the dialog box, what the emptiness in the “Style for following paragraph” setting means, and is forced by Microsoft to learn what it means in Word (and nowhere else) because Microsoft developers can’t be bothered with that kind of intuitiveness in their software design.

And, of course, things haven’t changed one bit in Word 2004.

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