Saturday, March 29, 2008

Necessity is the Mother of Discovery

How Word design decisions developed ...

"In The Republic, Plato said "…the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention." Over the years, this phrase morphed into the idiom "necessity is the mother of invention." I've found that when working with a product as rich as Word, this wisdom turns into "necessity is the mother of discovery."

For example, one of the projects we worked on during 2007 was writing the Word 2007 version of Rich Text Format (RTF) specification. I mention this because it was during this project that we needed and therefore discovered three little-known but very handy table features in Word:

* Repeating Headers
* Sorting
* Table Properties

If you have ever had the pleasure of reading the Word 2007 RTF spec cover-to-cover, you know that Appendix B contains a forty-plus page table. It's a massive three column table describing everything you can do with RTF (column 1), listing where each of those things are covered in the spec (column 2), and slotting each of those things into a "type" category (column 3).

As you might guess, our work on the spec culminated in adding all the new Word 2007 stuff to this table and reporting how much stuff you could now do with RTF.

Adding pages of new rows to a very specifically formatted alphabetized forty-plus page table necessitated either discovery or insanity. Fortunately we discovered repeating headers, sorting, and table properties.
Repeating Headers

This one is easy and made pages two through forty-four of the table easier to work with. Specifically, when we repeated headers, we could see the header row of the table at the top of every page the table spanned.

For example, here are pages two and three of the table with headers repeating and then the same pages without headers repeating:"    (Continued via The Microsoft Office Word Team's Blog)    [Usability Resources]

Header Rows Repeating - Usability, User Interface Design

Header Rows Repeating


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