Word 2013: Better by Design … Part Two of an Ongoing Series

This article authored by Jeffrey Roach originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of ALM’s LJN LegalTech Newsletter.

Judging by the default setup of Word 2013, it seems that the good folks at Microsoft have never heard the old adage that you only have one chance to make a good first impression. My initial reaction to Word 2013 with its ALL CAPS TABS and glaring white theme was too long for the good ol’ days of Word 2010. This proves another well known adage in technology training: “no matter how much someone complains about something being broken, they will complain even louder when you try to fix it.”

Fortunately, Word possesses all the ingredients needed to make a much more positive first impression. It just takes a little time, planning and finesse to go from ‘blah to bling!’ Best of all, you’ll be creating an environment that allows firm users to focus on getting their work done, supports your best practices and promotes the functionality that users think is important. Ready to get started? Open Word 2013 and create a new blank document.

Our Toolbox

Looking at a blank document in Word 2013, we are going to work through five key areas where we can have a positive impact on the design. These include:

  • The Office Theme
  • The Quick Access Toolbar
  • The Ribbon
  • The Document Frame
  • The Status Bar

The Office Theme

Microsoft has described the design of Office 2013 as a fresh start; a clean slate. I love the idea of simplicity but Office 2013’s White Office Theme is practically devoid of color. It’s so washed out that it is difficult to distinguish between the background of the application and the document itself. The overall effect is that it’s actually hard to look at. Let’s change that.

  • Click the File tab and choose Options.
  • On the General tab, click the drop-down arrow next to Office Theme and select Dark Gray.
  • Click OK.

Wow! Isn’t contrast a nice thing? I’m not sure that I would describe this theme as Dark Gray, but it is so much better looking than White or Light Gray that I can’t imagine working in Word with any other Theme.

The Quick Access Toolbar (QAT)

The QAT sits just above the File tab and includes three icons by default, Save, Undo and Redo. The QAT is perhaps the single most important piece of Word 2013’s interface, but it’s default location and setup doesn’t do it any favors. In fact, it’s easy to overlook the QAT entirely. Let’s make some changes.

  • Click the drop-down arrow next to the QAT and select Show Below the Ribbon.

Moving the QAT below the Ribbon brings it closer to the document and gives you plenty of real estate to add all your favorite commands to it, making them accessible from a single location, rather than hopping from tab to tab to get your work done.

You can right-click any command on any Ribbon and choose Add to Quick Access Toolbar to quickly add it to your QAT. You can also click the drop-down arrow next to the QAT and choose More Commands to add any of Word’s hundreds of commands—even commands that don’t appear anywhere on the Ribbon. Looking for suggestions? Here’s the default QAT I recommend for my clients:

  • New. Create a new blank document, or show the template launcher from a third-party product.
  • Open. If you have a Document Management System you should use their integrated Open command.
  • Save. If you have a Document Management System you should use their integrated Save command.
  • Close. Close the current document.
  • Print Preview Edit Mode. Full screen print preview, just like in early versions of Word.
  • Quick Print. Print the current document to the default printer.
  • <Separator> Use to create white space between groups on the QAT.
  • Undo. Undo the last action.
  • Redo. Redo the last action.
  • <Separator> Use to create white space between groups on the QAT.
  • Spelling & Grammar. Spell check the document.
  • Style. The beloved Style drop-down box from earlier versions of Office. An essential tool for understanding which style is applied to the selected text.

Whether you are building the QAT for yourself or for your users this will provide you with a great foundation to build upon. You want try to balance adding enough commands to show how useful the QAT is with leaving users with enough space to continue to personalize it to meet their needs.

The Ribbon

Although you can easily add tabs to the Ribbon my recommendation is that you don’t. In all likelihood you will be using a number of third-party tools, each of which will likely add a tab to the Ribbon. Before you know it, the Ribbon tabs are stretching all the way across the screen and the names are getting scrunched up to accommodate all the tabs.

I would also resist the temptation to change the tab names from all upper case to upper and lower. Again this is simple to do, but for continuity sake you would have to repeat this action in all of the Office applications—including Outlook which has a unique Ribbon for each of it’s item types (New Messages, New Appointments, et al.).

Just because we aren’t customizing the Ribbon doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done here. Looking at the Home tab you can see that a huge amount of space is devoted to the Styles gallery. This is an excellent opportunity for you to showcase the firm’s styles and make them easy for users to apply. Before you can do that, you’ll need to tackle two time consuming tasks:

Set up Recommend Styles. By default, most of Word’s styles are hidden. To show (or hide) a style:

  • Click the dialog launcher on the Styles gallery to show the Styles Window.
  • At the bottom of the Styles Window click the Manage Styles
  • Click the Recommended
  • Change the sort order to Alphabetical.
  • Scroll through the list, clicking Show or Hide as necessary to determine which styles Word will show by default.
  • Click OK.

Normalize Word’s Styles. Wouldn’t it be nice if Word’s styles started from a clean slate? Unfortunately the style definitions are all over the map. You’ll need to spend some time resetting the definition of the styles back to the Firm’s default font and size. You’ll also want to strip the color off of all Heading styles, leaving everything at black.

  • Right-click the Normal style in the Style Window and choose Modify.
  • Modify the style to reflect the Firm’s standard formats.
  • Continuing right-clicking the remaining styles and modifying them to reflect the Firm’s standards.

Now that you’ve cleaned up and filtered your styles you can determine which ones should appear in the Styles gallery and in what order.

  • Right-click any style in the Styles Window and select Add to Style Gallery.
  • To remove a style from the gallery, right-click it and choose Remove from Style Gallery.
  • If necessary you can use Manage Styles to reorder the styles in the gallery.
  • On the Recommended tab, click a style and choose Assign Value.
  • Type a number to set the order the style will appear in the gallery. Setting a value of 1 will move the style to beginning of the gallery. If multiple styles have the same value, the order will be determined alphabetically.

Whew, that was a lot of work, but it’s hard to argue with the results.

The Document Frame

One of the biggest challenges we face when trying to design an interface is that users have different size monitors running at different resolutions. Something that looks great on a laptop monitor may look terrible on a widescreen 23” monitor. Word is no exception. The document zoom is set to 100% by default. This works out pretty well for people with small screens, but it’s a disaster for people with large monitors. Not only is the document so tiny that it’s hard to see what your typing, but you may very end up with multiple pages showing on the screen at the same time. To fix this, I recommend you set the default zoom to Page Width.

  • Click the current percentage in the bottom right corner of the Word screen.
  • Choose Page Width.
  • Click OK.

Page Width will adjust the zoom to accommodate the current monitor and resolution.

The Status Bar

The Status Bar appears at the bottom of the Word window and displays important information about the document, as well as some handy shortcuts. By default, Word 2013’s Status Bar is virtually barren but can be modified to work the way you want.

  • Right-click the Status Bar.
  • Place a checkmark next to the items you want to show; or, remove the checkmark from an item to hide it.

There are a lot of options to select from and some of them are contextual, so they don’t show up until they are triggered. Here are some Status Bar items you might want to include:

  • Formatted Page Number. This is a great way to confirm you’ve formatted the page number the way you think you have.
  • Section. The number of the current section.
  • Page Number. The physical page number. This starts at 1 and doesn’t restart.
  • Word Count. The current word count in the document.
  • Number of Authors Editing. (Contextual)
  • Spelling and Grammar Check. Click to launch the spell checker.
  • Signatures. (Contextual)
  • Track Changes. Reflects whether Track Changes is off or on. Click to toggle.
  • Caps Lock. Lights up when you press the Caps Lock key.
  • Upload Status. (Contextual)
  • Document Updates Available. (Contextual)
  • View Shortcuts. Shortcuts for Read Mode, Print Layout and Web Layout views.
  • Zoom Slider. Increase or decrease the zoom percentage of the document.
  • Zoom. Reflects the current zoom. Click to change.

In Conclusion

Once you’ve made these edits, close and restart Word. It’s amazing how making a handful of changes can have such a huge impact on the usability of the product.

Do you have a favorite tip you’d like to share with everyone on setting up the initial Word environment me? If so, please send it my way at jroach@encoretech.com and I will share it with my readers in the next article.

Speaking of the next article, we will take a deep dive into Word Options and answer the age old question “should ‘Prompt to Update Styles’ be turned off or on?”

Until then, keep asking questions, pushing boundaries and advocating for your users.

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