Word processing

Text editing is one of the examples where we can only notice its design when something just doesn't feel right. When word processing is designed well, with respect and attention to all the conventions and nuances then it lets people type and format without thinking about the tool.

Word processing
Microsoft® Word User Manual for the Apple® Macintosh™

Design is often invisible and only noticeable when it is not working. Text editing is one of the examples where we can only notice its design when something just doesn't feel right. When word processing is designed well, with respect and attention to all the conventions and nuances then it lets people type and format without thinking about the tool.

The history of word processors fascinates me. One of my favorite tools from the past is MacWrite for the original Macintosh. It looks and feels like a writing app for digital documents. It has just the right amount of constraints in styling while keeping the interface clean, letting the writer write.

MacWrite

MacWrite is a WYSIWYG word processor application released along with the first Apple Macintosh systems in 1984. Together with MacPaint, it was one of the two original "killer applications" that propelled the adoption and popularity of the GUI in general, and the Mac in particular.

MacWrite in the Internet Archive


As years and decades went by, computer software flooded with new features and in the case of word processing, it gave the power of a book editor to those who wanted to write a simple note or a task list.

Microsoft's ribbon UI is a symptom of the extreme complexity added to their tools and an attempt to organize them all.

Microsoft Word

In 1989, after several other word processors were already available for Windows, Microsoft released the first version of Word for Windows. Source
Microsoft Office 2007 Ribbon - Source
The Ribbon is a user interface element which was introduced by Microsoft (...). It is located below the Quick Access Toolbar and the Title Bar. It comprises seven tabs; Home, Insert, Page layout, References, Mailing, Review and View. Each tab has specific groups of related commands.

Writer experience centered design


We can find interesting new writing tools that consider the state of mind of the writer and not only the variety of output it can produce. It most often results in the removal of the interface as much as possible to create a surrounding to write.

One of my favorite writer-centered apps is called Ommwriter. This gives many personalization options with different backgrounds, background music, the sound of the keystrokes to let the writer completely immerse in the flow of writing.

Ommwriter

OMMWRITER - A perfect place to think and write
OmmWriter is a tool which makes it easier for you to concentrate. Based on a natural setting, it effectively insulates your mind from distractions and sets up a direct line between your thoughts and your words.

New interaction patterns

Text editing and formatting is not only happening in dedicated writing tools but embedded in other apps too. Medium popularized how they enable quick formatting by showing a tooltip-looking toolbar over the selected word or paragraph.

One of my favorite new patterns is pasting a URL over a selected text. This will create a link instead of replacing the selected text with the pasted one. I am not sure who did it first but it offers convenience to an otherwise tedious, manual task.

Medium

Medium's inline "Story editor"
Writing and formatting stories on Medium is super simple—just select the text you want to format and choose the relevant option from the toolbar.

Rich text formatting for digital natives

When text is formatted to printed media it is fundamentally different than the inherently digital text. When rich digital text is formatted, the options of formatting and styling are limited to the common standards set primarily by HTML. Without going into too much detail there are two main directions to format text only by typing without selecting words or paragraphs: markdown and markup.

These tools are more commonly used by tech-savvy users but getting broader adoption thanks to Slack and other instant-messaging tools.

Markdown

Markdown cheatsheet
Markdown is a lightweight markup language for creating formatted text using a plain-text editor. John Gruber and Aaron Swartz created Markdown in 2004 as a markup language that is appealing to human readers in its source code form. Markdown is widely used in blogging, instant messaging, online forums, collaborative software, documentation pages, and readme files.

Markup

Slack Help Center - Format & style messages
In computer text processing, a markup language is a system for annotating a document in a way that is visually distinguishable from the content. It is used only to format the text, so that when the document is processed for display, the markup language does not appear. The idea and terminology evolved from the "marking up" of paper manuscripts (i.e., the revision instructions by editors), which is traditionally written with a red pen or blue pencil on authors' manuscripts. Such "markup" typically includes both content corrections (such as spelling, punctuation, or movement of content), and also typographic instructions, such as to make a heading larger or boldface.