Interface Improvements

chu baka
  • chu baka

    chu baka - 2012-07-23

    Hello! I just tried Plume Creator yesterday on my HP Mini netbook -- Love the concept and functionality (and am quite fond of its tabbed interface), but the interface itself can actually be quite troublesome when it comes to writing. I've also figured that the program was created with larger screens in mind, because it literally makes me squint to view on my small screen. I might not be a coder or programmer, and because this may be "the only functional" creative IDE for novelists in Linux, I thought I could lend my opinions and skills to making it better. Here are the problems I'm experiencing:

    1) The margins in Fullscreen mode are too wide. I tried to tinker around, but couldn't find ways to adjust them for comfortable writing.

    2) The panels seem to take too much of space when writing. I had to delete the "Notes" panel, and widening the White-space via Edit Menu, which is strange because I usually need the notes more than the "Menus" tab.

    3) The rugged interface makes you feel claustrophobic. The QT borders and menus take too much screen-space compared to the actual content, which matters most. Making the application more "minimal-friendly" would be the way to go.

    4) There could be an easier method to use or summon the "notes" panel. We could discuss this further, though one method would be to add a button that would minimize and maximize them.

    5) The "Attendance" and "Characters" section isn't intuitive enough to use. I'd suggest for redesign, with quick mock-ups and a poll.

    6) I don't think the "Timer" panel needs to be squished between panels and let it distract the user. It could be placed somewhere more free, like top-right, or simply as a pop-up window that can be minimized -- just set it and forget it. Either that, or we could use of the system's notification trays.

    7) Can the software be ported in GTK and XFCE? This would help not only to give the program the native look-and-feel as their system, but also help minimize the required dependencies (I'm not sure if QT needs that many, though...).

    As far as redesigns go, we could try going the "minimal" method so as to not allow the program to distract its users, so they can simply focus on writing and managing notes / scenes / characters. I could make mock-ups and help design the interfaces, though trying my best not to hinder programming freedom. Being a fellow writer and artist, that's the least I can go. :)

    Last edit: chu baka 2012-07-23
  • Cyril Jacquet

    Cyril Jacquet - 2012-07-23

    Chu baka,

    Thanks for your comments !

    I haven't a netbook, so your tips are very useful. I will take each point you mentioned :

    1) Margins in fullscreen : try right-click, options, "Text Area Width". I know, an Help is needed ! :-)

    2) I'd like a minimalist interface, really. Yet, Qt doesn't handle natively the "move the mouse to the side and a tab appears" trick. I must code it. :-(

    3) Minimizing the notes : I can't move it, but I can minimize it (hiding the text zones and align the 2 buttons horizontaly) on demand. Thanks to you I'm working on it.

    4) "The QT borders and menus take too much screen-space compared to the actual content." : Yes, it can be viewed as such. Plume is currently in development, in beta. (v0.49 today). For now, I like to have enough space to add future features.

    5) Attendance isn't intuitive : snif ! And I painted the icons myself ! Lol Your suggestions and mock-ups are very welcome, as I don't use the Attendance manager in my daily writings (it was just fun to program the animation). Yet, programmin-wise, I'd like to keep the two lists. I'd like to add the tab Attendance changing color to signal if the list is empty or not.

    6) Timer : you can move the tab were you want (the icon next to the X), but your idea have sense, Top rigtht ? How do you see it exactly ?

    7) Gtk look and feel for Gnome, Unity an XFCE : already done (yesterday actualy), thanks to a request of Ken McConnell. It will be for the v0.50.

    I'm working now on the notes hiding and a "search and replace" feature. Also, I plan to give a new face to the Outliner. If you have suggestions for that...

    If you want to contact me directly, see the mail address in the "About" of Plume.

    Cyril Jacquet

    • chu baka

      chu baka - 2012-07-25

      Sorry for the late response, Cyril (strangely, Gmail didn't give me a notification despite my subscription). I'll mail you eventually with mock-up attachments, and am also willing to help test the software on small screens.

      1) Hah, I didn't notice that! Thanks for the tip, though I do agree that a Help-file or some kind of heads-up is needed for the user to know it.

      2) Ah, that may again be a preference: if it may not be possible top open tabs by moving the mouse to the side, we could also take cues from Photoshop's way handling them. Basically, clicking a tiny horizontal tab/icon/button shows and hides menu from screen. Just to visualize what I mean, here's a (cloud) writing software that already does that:

      3) Similar to the trick above, you could actually have an icon on the right-panel where the Notes and Synopsis could be minimized! That way, it can easily be accessed from a unified menu. The same with the Outliner, though how you place them would be interesting to see.

      5) XD The icons are actually quite appealing, though I meant more for the general interface and its way of allowing users to handle database. Though before I specify "how it can be improved", I think I'll need to thoroughly use the feature more often to actually figure out the simplest ways it could be redesigned rather than add/change features (i.e., less of "we need a new lamp" and more of "this chair needs to be on the left").

      6) Ah, I've forgotten that the timer can be moved! Anywho, I'll describe what I mean in the mock-up. :D

      7) Awesome! I'll test it out pronto.

      And a new point:

      8) Regarding the outliner, I think the methods Celtx / Scrivener use to handle chapters and scenes (Index Cards) actually work quite well; not only can they be re-ordered (hence re-ordering scenes and chapters along with them) but they also give you a visual summary of the entire plot. But I do understand that some people prefer other methods than Index cards, so here are a few more ideas you could implement alongside Index Cards:

      a) Spreadsheets methods: Excel / Calc actually aid in plot-development quite well with its matrix cell system, where users can create their own database and add cells where they see fit. Having a "similar" design to keep outlines would be beneficial, if not "exactly". Then again, Spreadsheet outlining can actually be quite complex, so having a proper and intuitive design could be difficult to implement. But the most important factor would be to keep it "synchronized" with your actual writing, in case you make changes (which Spreadsheets can't do).

      b) Collapsible List-based: Trying to stay true to your software's hierarchy structure of plot, another method would be to introduce a Bullet-List based Outline Mode (similar to what Microsoft Office 2007 has), where the list will remain in hierarchy format and the lower levels would remain hidden until you collapse it from the top-Header. If you'd like to know what I mean here, take a look at another web-app that has a similar feature:
      And this:

      The advantage of this method of outlining is that you can easily flesh out storylines in summary first, then dig into details one level at a time.

      c) No matter which of kind of outlining you use, even you would agree that having "notes" showing at the side would be an outstanding feature (which is why you've implemented it in the first place)! But the only problem is "usability". Here, we'll take a gander on this after we've settled with the rest.

      d) Mind-Map Outlines: THIS innovative style would hardly need any introduction. You're probably aware of it already. :D

      • Cyril Jacquet

        Cyril Jacquet - 2012-07-25

        Chu baka,

        Quite a detailed answer ! Thank you !

        1) I plan to create my own website for August, with an help (online and in-program). The domain name is ready :

        2 & 3) I see what you mean. Just a tip before we think further : right-clicking on the docks titles, you can close the docks (not the menu's, althought)

        I'm no designer and you seem to have a good idea. So I propose you sketch two mock-ups, the first with all docks/menus minimized, the second your "ideal" GUI (with the features I already implemented, of course).
        I am noting yours ideas on my pad.

        5) It's a very basic interface. You are free to propose a better one. :-)

        For now, the "Attendance" database is limited to : type(char, obj, place), name, surname, role, level, details (path)
        Open the filled *.attend of a project in your text editor to see them.

        8) All of this are new avenues I'm eager to explore. Ken McConnell, a fellow writer, sides more with a spreadsheet-like outliner.

        Anyhow, the root of all these outliners are the very same database I use, only they display it their way. I will make the spreadsheet one first as it's a complete and basic way to display a lot of data.
        We can have more that one type of outliner.

        Mind-maps... Can you keep Freeplane ? I love it and I don't want to create a new one... not now... thanks...

        So we have :
        Index cards (basic ones or like StoryBook one's ?)
        Spreadsheet (in the way...)
        Bullets (it may be fun to code it !)
        Others ?

        Cyril Jacquet

  • Anonymous - 2012-07-26

    I guess each kind of outlining method (Index Cards, Spreadsheets, Bullets, etc.) will have their own strengths and shortcomings, so if you could have multiple types then the users could have their choice! That'd be a cool thing. Though I'm not quite aware of how StoryBook uses it...

    As for any other ideas, I'll post them pronto; I have a very distractive mind, so I get the best ideas when my mind wanders. :P

    I'll get back to you on the mockups pronto! (I don't have internet anymore apparently, so using a computer I don't own...)



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