Quick wins: Conclusions of the Libreoffice icon test

Some of the icons of LibreOffice are confusing. Based on the findings of our last study we present some quick and easy changes that improve functionality.

Introduction

In this article we want to provide suggestions to solve some of the mix-ups that we found in our LibreOffice icon test. We examined the standard toolbar icons of LibreOffice Writer. Over the past few weeks we published a few articles, where we discussed some of the more striking outcomes of the test. On the basis of these findings we derived guidelines for creating icon metaphors in general and some long term ideas to design new icons  for Libreoffice. Now we want to present our recommendations for quick fixes to some of the problems and mix-ups that we found.

General advices

A toolbar is primarily used for fast access to frequently used functions. Additionally, it provides an overview of core functions and hence helps users to operate the software efficiently. It’s always a challenge to find a good balance between both requirements and to avoid clutter in the toolbar. We recommend to double check the usage not only by the developers but also with users.

Furthermore, every structure that can be added to the toolbar is beneficial. While the main menu allocates all functions in categories the toolbar only provides small separators. Functions that belong to the same category should be placed together. Different categories have to be separated. If possible those categories should be supported by different wording for labels, e.g. ‘Show’ for sidebars and ‘Open’ for dialogs. And, last but not least, icon design should consider to adopt categories, as done with color codes for mime types for instance.

In the following we present recommendations to remove functions from the toolbar in order to reduce clutter.

Page Preview

Term Tango Oxygen
Page Preview
Print File Directly

Both Page Preview and Print File Directly have basically the same icon except that page preview has a magnifier / eye over the printer and Print File Directly has a lightning bolt (only Oxygen) above the printer. It could be assumed that the differences between the icons are too little and hence cause the mix-ups we found. On the other hand Page Preview gives a full overview of the current pages and allows to adjust the margins for the finished papers. This is always useful before printing, so Print File Directly could be integrated into the Page Preview view to improve functionality and reduce clutter.

Spelling and Grammar

Term Tango Oxygen
Spelling and Grammar
AutoSpellCheck

Again Spelling and Grammar and AutoSpellcheck use almost the same icon. Therefore there are a lot of mix-ups. Spelling and Grammar opens a wizard and suggests different spellings for a single term. AutoSpellcheck toggles the marking of words that might be wrong and offers alternatives via a right-click. By the same drop down menu the function Spelling and Grammar can be accessed for more information. We suggest to remove Spelling and Grammar from the toolbar, as it is can easily be accessed by other methods.

Format Paintbrush

Term Tango Oxygen
Format Paintbrush
Show Draw Functions

As discussed in ‘What is a pencil used for?‘ these two icons are often mistaken for one another. Format Paintbrush can copy the formatting and apply it to different areas. The function is not accurately named and the icon metaphor does not associate well with its function. We recommend changing both the name of the function and the icon metaphor. Show Draw Functions could then remain unchanged.

Data Sources and Gallery

Term Tango Oxygen
Data Sources
Gallery  gallery  gallery

Data Sources and Gallery are seldom used functions in LibreOffice that get mixed-up quite a lot. Data Sources is a function that allows access to databases, such as LibreOffice Base. Our Motifs of LibreOffice User-Study showed that only very few users make use of Base. Gallery can be used to insert media from different ‘themes’ into the document (maybe it would be easier to just insert the specific media manually instead of first adding it to these themes). Both functions should be removed from the standard toolbar.

Navigator

Term Tango Oxygen
Navigator

Navigator is another seldom used function. This might be due to the fact that its label is not quite feasible. An alternative might be ‘Show Document Structure’ (see Naming Convention). The metaphor behind the icons is a compass, which is fitting for the label Navigator ,but not for its function. The name of the function and its metaphor should be changed to improve usability.

Conclusion

We have found a lot of possible improvements for the icons of LibreOffice Writer. Functions should be labeled in a definite and unified way, some icon metaphors should be changed and toolbars should be tidied up, e.g. removing some seldom used function or merging some functions.

There have also been some mix-ups with commonly used functions that have no natural pendant to their icon metapher, like Copy and Paste and Undo and Redo. Therefore we are currently planning another study which will examine some of these metaphors. We want to determine if the currently used metaphors for a selected group of functions are good enough or if we can find some better fitting ones.

What do you think about these suggestions? Do you agree?