Pages: One-click styles vs. manual formatting

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft, Pages
February 4th, 2005 • 6:11 am

Another big positive aspect of Pages as a word processor is the fact that styles are featured so prominently in the user interface.

There are still far too many word processor users that never use styles and do all their character and paragraph formatting manually using legacy tools such as the schizophrenic Formatting Palette and Formatting toolbar in Microsoft Word.

The problem with this is that manual formatting is totally unpredictable (and also possibly a source of document corruption in Microsoft Office). It is unpredictable for the person who created the document, and it is unpredictable for other people who might have to edit/work with the document.

With styles, you can at least achieve a certain level of control over the appearance of your document and provide a flexible way for others to adjust this appearance without having to make hundreds of individual changes manually.

The good news with Pages is that styles are an integral part of the interface and are readily accessible. Just open the Styles drawer — which shows paragraph styles by default — and click on the two buttons at the bottom of the drawer to make character styles and list styles appear as well. This gives you one-click access to all kinds of styles, including your own customized styles, of course.

No more Styles” dialog box or idiotic list of styles as in Word’s toolbar menu or Formatting Palette. Styles are such an integral part of word processing that one should never have to go through a dialog box to access them. If styles are not readily accessible, people will continue to use manual formatting.

Here again, Pages appears to be on the right track — and is already much better in version 1.0 than Microsoft Word is after more than 10 major revisions.

4 Responses to “Pages: One-click styles vs. manual formatting”

  1. Pierre Igot says:

    Yes, I do agree that, when it comes to hierarchical styles, things are not as clear-cut as they appear to be. Being able to define styles based on other styles does have its uses, but on the other hand in Word I frequently find myself having to go through several styles manually because a change to the style that they are based on has had an unwanted effect on these other styles. If the whole purpose of styles based on styles is to avoid having to go through styles manually to change them one by one, then clearly it’s no panacea.

    That being said, I still think some degree of flexibility would be useful for some users in some circumstances. But the issue is of course how to introduce that degree of flexibility without making the whole thing more confusing and less intuitive.

    As for automatic numbering, like you I need to do more research. Because of the bad experience with Word’s features over the years, I have tended to stay away from automatic numbering altogether. Here again, the alleged gains (in terms of not having to go through numbers one by one to change them when they need to be changed) were easily outweighed by the added complexity and unpredictability. But maybe Apple managed to find some kind of reasonable compromise between flexibility and predictability. Microsoft certainly failed miserably in that respect.

  2. Warren Beck says:

    I note that the implementation of styles in Pages is non-hierarchical, which also makes the use of styles more intuitive for the user. This aspect of Pages is quite similar to FrameMaker, which is the undisputed world-champion of predictability. Word and InDesign, of course, allow the use of “based-on” styles which are normally built on top of the “normal” style. I used to think that this was the way to go because it permits one, for instance, to change the default font of the whole document by altering the lowest-level style. For most users, however, it might be a bit disconcerting to see that a single style change would have an effect on every other style in the document, and I think that keeping a hierarchical style tree in shape is difficult. (This was certainly true of AppleWorks, which not only had hierarchical styles but also a style-change history stack. This led some documents to act as if they were under the control of an external entity.)

    To conclude, I think that the implementation of styles in Pages is excellent, but I need to do some more research on how paragraph styles interact with character and list styles. Unlike FrameMaker, which used paragraph styles that had integral autonumbering for lists, etc., Pages uses a list style that is built on top of the paragraph style. So one can use a base paragraph style with a number of different list designs, and I learned yesterday that each list style keeps track of its own numbering. This permits Pages to have autonumbered section headings, for instance, with lists inside each section that do not use the same numbering sequence.

  3. Pierre Igot says:

    Interesting theory, Warren :).

    I fully agree that autonumbering is an important feature. I just think that it’s mostly important for advanced users, and that Microsoft’s implementation of the feature for regular users is so bad that it has actually turned most of them against the thing! You know what I mean: You start typing “1.” and up pops a stupid animated figure blabbing about the fact that you are starting something that looks like a list and asking you if you want help with that. Of course, if you let the software try to help you, it quickly leads to disastrous results and you curse yourself for having answered “yes” in the first place. Microsoft software, a.k.a. the art of antagonizing users.

    The Pages approach looks more reasonable. You don’t have to use the list styles. But they are available. And your experience seems to suggest that they can be very useful. I will definitely explore them in the future, when I get the chance.

    And I agree that the Word export feature seems to work very well, at least for my needs. I am not quite “free” yet — simply because I am busy finishing all kinds of projects, and don’t have time to explore Pages properly. But it’s looking very promising indeed.

  4. Warren Beck says:

    It turns out that one can define paragraph styles that are formed using a base paragraph design (from a paragraph style or as defined manually) and one of the list styles. The resulting paragraph style is marked in the style drawer with a number or bullet prefix. The numbering counter for this paragraph/list style uses that for the underlying list.

    This is a very powerful construct, and in tests it permitted definition of numbered heading styles that surpasses those of FrameMaker because layers or tiers of numbered sections (e.g., 1., 1.1., 1.1.1.., etc.) can be defined by the same style. I think this feature suggests the use of Pages in long documentation projects.

    Your point about whether one should actually use autonumbering in a document is well taken; I wonder whether it is worth the effort considering the additional complexity in the interface. In fact, Pages’ interface will still require some clicking in the inspector to control the outline/list level, etc., and one might have just typed in the number manually and saved some time and effort. Debugging the numbering in a heavily edited and rearranged document will take additional effort. I should point out, however, that technical writers working on long documentation projects pervasively write on the Adobe FrameMaker user forum that autonumbering styles are a requirement for a potential replacement for FrameMaker.

    I speculate that Apple developed Pages just for this internal purpose, to permit them to port their huge FrameMaker-based documentation system. In addition to the list features discussed above, the word-wrapped paragraph-locked graphics and frame handling is analogous to features in FrameMaker. Because most of the important FrameMaker features have analogous constructs in Pages (though some have incomplete user interfaces), I think that it would be possible to write a filter utility that would port Maker-interchange files (.mif, FrameMaker’s text-based interchange file format) to the Pages XML file format. Having justified the cost of development for their own use, Apple might essentially give the application away for free to the public (Pages and Keynote together for $79!; academics can get iWork for $39, which probably just covers the cost of packaging, media, and documentation; Word doesn’t come with documentation, by the way, and it costs at least $150 to academics in the Office package?I paid for it….FrameMaker cost me $500). Pages and Keynote together is certainly the best deal in major applications for writers and academics that I have _ever_ seen.

    I’ve switched to Pages, and I feel a lot better now that I have. It is just a beautiful application. There are still a number of notable problems, including some aspects of the typography, but this is bound to improve with time. I’ve had to learn how to use the Unicode stuff for the first time, and I’m learning which fonts to use that have the features I need. (For scientific stuff, I’m using the Adobe Lucida/Lucida Sans/Lucida Math set of fonts, which cost me way more than iWork did!) I’m trying to provide a lot of feedback using the Pages/Provide Pages Feedback… menuchoice so that the rough spots get back to the developers.

    For me, the clincher was that export of Pages text-based documents to Word .doc files is pretty much flawless, so I can work in Pages and still provide publishers the .doc files that they require. Free at last, free at last, great …..

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