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Better word processing | #1

Better word processing | #1
By Real Users Club • Issue #1 • View online
Hello again! 👋
I’m very glad to introduce the first issue of! This week I’ve been talking to my partner, Alwyn Carroll, about some of the documents he makes in Microsoft Word 2013. Below you can find a transcript of our interview, and my main takeaways are summarised at the end.

A photo of our interviewee, Alwyn Carroll
A photo of our interviewee, Alwyn Carroll
John: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. I’m John, the creator of I’m creating a newsletter where I’m interviewing random people like you about some of the software they use on a daily basis, as a resource for UX professionals and entrepreneurs to help stimulate ideas about how we can make better products. Can you introduce yourself?
Alwyn: I’m Alwyn. At the moment I’m training for lay ministry with the Church of England.
John: What kinds of things does lay ministry involve?
Alwyn: Well, it’s what’s called a preaching-teaching ministry, the aim of which is to evangelise.
John: OK. What do you do when you’re not evangelising? Any interests?
Alwyn: I play music.
John: What instruments do you play?
Alwyn: Keyboard instruments, organ, piano, also mandolin.
John: Excellent, quite a lot of strings to your bow in effect. So today we’re going to talk a little bit about Microsoft Word. I believe you use Word 2013?
Alwyn: Yes, that is correct.
John: So what kind of things do you use Word for, is it something you use every day, or is it something you just use a couple of times a week?
Alwyn: I usually use it for church related business, so writing my assignments, for the training, writing my sermons, producing the weekly bulletin for the church.
John: Cool. Would you be able to show us some of the things you’ve made then?
Alwyn: Sure. What would you like to see?
John: Well why don’t you start off by showing us one of the sermons you’ve done?
*Alwyn clicks a file on his desktop and Word opens.*
Alwyn: Here we have my most recent sermon. *Alwyn instinctively clicks away a notification about updating to a newer version of Word. This yellow ribbon appears at the top of a document every time it is opened.*
John: Can you walk us through the layout?
Alwyn: Well the document is just an A4 page, rotated so it’s landscape, with – what are the margins, I think they’re two centimetres… where’s page setup… *Alwyn clicks on various tabs on the ribbon looking for the settings for the margins.* Here we are. Yes, it has two centimetre borders, and it’s split up into two columns, with a four centimetre gap in between them. That means that I can print out the sermon, cut the page in half and I have it on A5, which is easier to handle in the pulpit.
One of Alwyn's sermons, opened in Microsoft Word 2013
One of Alwyn's sermons, opened in Microsoft Word 2013
John: Cool. Can you show us how you’d adjust the margins, say they were a little too big and you wanted to take them down just a little bit?
Alwyn: Well it’s up in the ribbon in ‘Page Layout > Margins’.
John: What about getting the landscape orientation?
Alwyn: Button next door to it.
John: Oh there, perfect! Do you find that grouping intuitive? Would you usually set up your orientation and margins around the same time?
Alwyn: Well, I only really did it for the first sermon, and for anything after that I’ve just copied the previous sermon, removed everything from it and used it as a template.
John: Oh so you just copy the previous file and then use that as a template next time?
Alwyn: Yes.
John: Have you used the templating system that’s built into Word?
Alwyn: No, I’ve never bothered with it.
John: Why’s that? Just because it’s already so convenient to copy the file as it is?
Alwyn: Yes.
John: How about you show us something else you’ve made in Word?
Alwyn: I don’t think assignments are all too interesting, it’s just… text. Let me think… *Alwyn clicks around a few folders on his desktop looking for a file to show us. He opens the assignment and scrolls through the assignment.*
John: Can you tell us a bit about how you formatted these references?
Alwyn: They’re in APA style.
John: I was thinking more about the line spacing and indentation?
Alwyn: The indentation is an inch from the left, and that’s set in ‘Paragraph’. *Alwyn clicks on the ribbon and then on a tiny button.* Here, open that little window – which is really helpful, sometimes the old menu was nicer – and set it as a hanging indent at one inch.
A pop-up window for setting the paragraph options, including hanging indent
A pop-up window for setting the paragraph options, including hanging indent
John: So this used to be on the ribbon effectively, it wasn’t in this little break out window before?
Alwyn: No, it was on the old – you know when you had menus at the top of the window?
John: The big drop down listy things?
Alwyn: Yes. It’s a lot easier to find than when they’re just hidden away in these little pop-ups.
John: So, if you set that once can you use that again on other references, or do you have to set each paragraph individually?
Alwyn: You just highlight the text and apply the formatting to it. See, if I was to go into it now, highlight it and remove it [the margin] it applies to anything you highlight.
John: Do you find that easy to use?
Alwyn: Yes, it’s easy to use.
John: How do you manage your files for Word? Do you use Word’s own internal recently opened documents?
Alwyn: No, I go into whatever folder the particular file is kept in, the bulletin is in the bulletins folder sorted by year, copy the previous week’s bulletin, rename it to this week using the ISO format, and then just edit it as needed. *Alwyn demonstrates as he talks and opens one of the bulletins for church.*
John: So this is one of the bulletins you’ve made then?
Alwyn: Yes, this is the bulletin for this Sunday.
John: I think this is the first document you’ve shown us where you’ve embedded images?
Alwyn: Yes, one moment this will be better on my second screen, which is how I edit these. *Alwyn moves the window to his second monitor.* Because that’s the view I have when I’m editing it.
One of the bulletins. Alwyn moved the window to a narrower monitor so he can see the whole document. Some details have been blurred to protect people's privacy.
One of the bulletins. Alwyn moved the window to a narrower monitor so he can see the whole document. Some details have been blurred to protect people's privacy.
John: So you still use it full screen but just on this narrower monitor?
Alwyn: Yes, it’s a 4:3 monitor, but this is a higher resolution. This is a 1080p monitor [the 4:3 one we’ve moved to], this one isn’t [the other monitor is 16:9]. As you can see this is zoomed at 100% and you can clearly read everything on this. I can edit both sides of the page, whereas on this one you don’t get the full page at 100%. [Because the display is wider.] So this gives me what the layout is going to look like, before I print it.
John: Can you tell us a little about the images? Say, if you wanted to move one of the images or swap out an image for something else?
Alwyn: Well those images are static, they don’t go anywhere. Back when the vicar used to do the notices it used to have images in, but I found that images are very poorly behaved in Word.
John: In what way?
Alwyn: They just go haywire and mess everything else up. Depending how you ‘anchor’ them. You can anchor to the page, … *Alwyn shows many options in the context menu.* See, here you can… *Alwyn drags the image around. Text reflows freely.* It’s just not nice to deal with in a document like this.
John: Why this document in particular?
Alwyn: Because all this information has to fit on exactly two sides of A5, and adding pictures in, you have to anchor it to the right point, or it all just goes to pot. *Alwyn is in the ribbon trying to change the anchor and text wrapping setting.* I don’t even know where the options for anchoring are I use them so infrequently. But if I start moving that, which is the anchor point, it… what is wrong with you? *Alwyn struggles to move the anchor between columns.* I don’t like having to move it all around freehand and get it in the right place.
John: Are there any other tools you might use for laying out or creating this sort of document, where there are strong constraints on how long the document can be, and you have to get a lot of information into a small space?
Alwyn: This is a document which is intended to be A5 double sided, so in Word it’s set up as a landscape A4 page, with the front on the left and the back on the right, and it’s just two columns. And then everything else is in tables, so this up here, the date, the liturgical week, that’s a table. The images and the title, is a three cell table. The services are in a table. The memorial dates and the prayer lists are in tables nested in a table. The notices in the back are in another table.
John: So you find the table quite a useful feature for layout work as well then?
Alwyn: For laying out a document such as the bulletin, yes. But tables break as well. If a table reaches the bottom of the page, and just touches the bottom, Word inserts another page, and you can’t get rid of it. *Alwyn demonstrates in the bulletin by stretching a table and repeatedly pressing backspace from the start of the newly inserted page.*
John: Is this quite common with tables then, you’ve used the table to work around some of the ways the page can break, but then it can still break in a new and unexpected way?
Alwyn: No, it’s a case of sometimes, there’s only one or two notices on a sheet, sometimes the back page is completely filled, and if that table comes to the bottom Word will insert this new page. So, when it comes to exporting the document as a PDF, you have to select what pages to export.
Alwyn demonstrates a table in Word forcing an unwanted, blank page. Some details have been blurred to protect people's privacy.
Alwyn demonstrates a table in Word forcing an unwanted, blank page. Some details have been blurred to protect people's privacy.
John: Do you always export to PDF before you print then?
Alwyn: Yes always. There is a version which is just a single sheet, which is mailed out on the church mailing list, so that people can get a copy of the notices as I see it, without their copy of Word doing whatever it does to other files. And the second version is two copies of the notice, as a PDF, which I can put on a flash drive and print off on the printer-copier at church, as opposed to printing off a copy at home taking that in, and photocopying that copy. You end up with sharper copy this way.
John: Very nice. What other kinds of features do you use regularly then?
Alwyn: That’s about it really.
John: What about infrequent features, are there any features you don’t use, or use infrequently but then find very useful when you need them?
Alwyn: I can’t think of any… just trying to think how I produced the services. *Alwyn opens another document.*
John: Is this another one of your assignments?
Alwyn: No this is a service sheet. In the first term before Christmas, each person in the first year would produce and lead a short worship service about ten minutes before the beginning of the class, and this is the particular service sheet I produced. That’s just all text.
One of the service sheets
One of the service sheets
John: There’s a lot more typography work going on here though, you’re using a lot more font styling like colour and weight.
Alwyn: It’s common style for these service sheets, churchgoers know that you say the black and do the red. The red lines are called rubric, they’re instructions to follow. These are the sections of the service. *Alwyn highlights some larger black text.* The most complicated part of this was figuring out which bit is what on a page.
John: Why’s that?
Alwyn: Well if you look here on this first A4 page, the front of the booklet is on the right, so you have to mentally fold it up in your head.
John: So you have to handle your page composition yourself?
Alwyn: You can use desktop publishers. *Alwyn opens Microsoft Publisher and shows an earlier attempt to lay out this document in here instead.* Like this one here. But I just found it much easier to prepare it in Word and work out the page ordering. It’s not that difficult when it’s just a folded A4 sheet.
John: Ah OK. Well that about does it for all the questions I had. It’s been really interesting, thanks! Is there anything else you’d like to show us or talk about?
Alwyn: I don’t have anything in particular. I mostly use Word at the moment for my church related business, I used to use it for my engineering related business when I was doing that, which included even more tables, and using Microsoft’s Equation Editor.
John: So Word is a tool you’ve used for a long time then. And it seems like it does a pretty good job. Thanks for sharing your insights today, I hope this will be really interesting for people and we’ll get to see some good innovation as people make better word processors and page layout software.
The way features interact and can be used together is very important, and it’s often in these interactions that users find solutions for some of their most important problems. Alwyn uses a combination of a landscape page and columns in order to create documents suitable for A5 printing, and he finds this much more flexible and intuitive than using Word’s built in support for page size, or using more professional-oriented software like a desktop publisher. Users will develop their own solutions using feature combinations we don’t anticipate.
UI changes across versions can be disorienting and frustrating, especially without leaving the old interface in place. The Microsoft Office ribbon is famous for this, and when it was introduced many power users could no longer find the options they were familiar with. Innovation in UI like this is very important if we want to create more fluid user experiences, but there is always a certain amount of dissatisfaction when we change something our users are familiar with. We need to allow users to transition gradually.
Often when we are building a feature or product, we are targeting a problem that a user will already have a solution for, and we want to provide a solution which requires less effort to use. In order to do this, we must understand the user’s own solution first. Alwyn doesn’t use the file management features and templating in Word because he has already solved these problems with wise use of his desktop and file manager, and there isn’t any frustration or friction here. Question if features are needed, will a user already have a solution for this problem which is more effective?
The context of the user and the other tools they use will affect the way that they use our products. Alwyn uses two monitors and edits a particular document on a particular screen. It’s important to remember that we use different tools together, and when we interview users we should ask around the periphery of our product.
Don’t underestimate the core feature set. Alwyn uses only a few features to create many different documents. A good core offering will make more difference to most users that lots of advanced features. If these features work well together, then users can build their own solutions to suit their needs.
Finally, asking about specifics can get you a lot of information. Users don’t necessarily think about how often they use features, or what features they don’t use, so it’s important to be familiar with the tools they use, and not to rely on your users to know everything.
Thanks so much for reading our first issue! I hope it’s been useful and will help you build better products. 🙌
If you have any feedback, or would like to be interviewed for, I’d love to hear from you! Just hit reply. If you enjoyed this issue please share it with your followers and leave an upvote on Product Hunt.
See you next time,
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