All About Designs — Equation Editor in Word

As we discussed before, a good design should have a user-centered approach, that being said, don’t let your users think, let them use the product nice and easy. A bad design does the opposite:

Equation Editor in Microsoft Word

What I am using is not the newest version of Microsoft Word (2008 version for Mac), and I noticed that it has already been improved somehow on this, but still, it is worth talking about as a case study.

Say, if I was working on my document and need to insert an equation.First thing to do, find where the function is. I started, naturally, with Insert menu, but could not find an option called “equation”, which is the searching goal in my mind. Then I googled it, thanked to so many same questions posting there, I knew it should be in “Object”. That does’t make too much sense for me, since everything insert might be count as an “object”. I am even not sure if I could remember where to find it next time.

Next, clicked the equation option in the “Object”, typed in equations and ready to insert it. But, I was scared when I found no bottom saying anything like “Insert it!”. What am I supposed to do now? Copy and paste equations in this editor window, find other bottoms in the tool bar, or just close it? Will I lose the equation I’ve typed in if I close it? With so many question marks in my head, I decided to try my luck and just close it to see what will happen. To my surprise, the equation was in the right place in the document waiting for me! After all these confusion and surprise thing, only one question left: why not just give me a simple “insert” bottom?

Equation editor view

According to J. Nielsen’s ten usability heuristics, there are some design principles the design confronts here.

First, visibility of system status. An “insert” bottom with in time feedback (the equation inserted to the text) could let the user know what is going on. Or even a realtime updated display in the document will let the user know (s)he won’t lose anything if (s)he close the editor since the equation is already inserted the same time (s)he types it.

Second, recognition rather than recall. That being said, make things visible! The designer should put the function of inserting equations visible for users, rather than testing their imagination and asking them to remember the path if they want to use the function again.


8 thoughts on “All About Designs — Equation Editor in Word

  1. Geovon

    I think you’ll be happy to know that Microsoft fixed this design flaw in Word 2011 (Mac). Now, when one clicks “Insert” on the menu bar, “Equation” appears a few clicks above “Object.”

    Clicking “Equation” places an equation box into the document, just like you recommended. Lucky us! 🙂

    Fantastic post, Emma!

  2. Mihaela

    Excellent analysis of this example! You applied the heuristics ver well. I hope other students will follow your lead when they write up their good/bad design posts.

  3. Alex Vernacchia

    I liked your example you used, especially since it’s not a website as I’m used to. I have had the same luck with Microsoft products, and usually have to resort to googling how to do something.

    The funny part is, some apple made programs are the same way. I guess may just depend on the tasks that are trying to be accomplished.

  4. Jing Chen

    Good point!
    I always use google when I am confused, too!

    I just “interviewed” a heavy equation user who prefers WinEdt in Latex, because it makes all the frequently used equations visible in the menu. I may blog about this later when I have a chance to see the software myself.

  5. lewilliams

    You list some great points with this example. Also, I have Word 2011 (for Mac, too), and while Equation may be under Insert (as Geovon mentioned), it still does not provide you with an “Insert” button. Instead, you just need to close the window, which does lead to some questions about the function of that close button.


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