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Google Docs "To-Write" - New Feature Concept and UI designs

Google docs icon

In a course considering teamwork technologies, we had several assignments to consider rooms for improvement for groupwork software. For one such assignment, we were prompted to consider a groupware application, create a new feature to improve teamwork, and create three UI designs to implement the new feature. I chose to consider Google Docs and created a to-do list feature called "To-Write":

Google Documents is a fantastic way for team members to collaborate together on documents, especially because more than one person can edit the same document at one time and the changes are simultaneously reflected on each person's device. However, one feature I have not yet seen is a way for the team to keep track of things that need to be done on the document, for example, sections that need to be written, edits that need to be made, words that need to be replaced, and citations that need to be added. This is very important for teams working on a document together because when the final deadline approaches, it will take away all of the guess work of "Did John fix that mistake?" "Did I add that citation?" "Did anyone rewrite paragraph 3?" and similar questions I have experienced when working on a group project within Google Docs. To solve this problem, I would like to introduce "Google To-Write," a powerful new to-do list for editing documents. "To-Write" allows anyone who can edit the document to add a to-do item. Items can be section specific or related to the entire document. "To-Write" is extremely helpful because it allows for fast document editing and polishing because the time usually spent figuring out what needs to be done next can instead be spent on writing. This helps improve group performance.

"To-Write" does not rely on or promote social influence, because tasks are anonymous -- anyone can add a task, and anyone can complete a task. No member of the group is assigned any particular item, but the group can play on each other strengths: if someone in a group feels that they are knowledgeable, then they can volunteer to complete a task.

We will assume that with improved socio-emotional dynamics, team performance will increase. When tasks are completed by working together in a group, then the group emotions/dispositions are likely to increase as a result of shared self-esteem.

Design 1. Section Specific Item Highlighting

For items which are specific to one section or part of the document that section will be highlighted in orange. (I chose orange rather than red because red usually implies that something is an error rather than something to look at. Also, for people with red-green color blindness, they would not be able to see the red vs. green for incomplete vs. completed items.) Once an item is complete, whoever made the edits can mark the item as complete by checking the box near the item within the document and it will be highlighted in green. Tasks that apply to the entire document will be shown above the document in a color-coded task list.

Theory: This is a helpful design which can increase team performance because it allows every team member to see what needs to be done on a document as they are reading through it. The increased contrast of a colorful highlight draws the attention of the user to certain areas of the document and he/she can see much more easily what needs to be done.

Item Highlighting view

Item highlighting is more convenient for reading through the document.


Design 2. Show and Hide the "To-Write" List

An alternative design of "To-Write" is to have a list of items which each person can choose to hide or show. When hidden (collapsed), the list is displayed as just a simple menu drop-down labeled "To-Write" with an arrow which shows that the box can be expanded. When shown (expanded), the list is presented as a task checklist where incomplete items are shown in orange and completed items are shown in green.

Theory: This is a good design for completely focusing on what needs to be done next. When the list of tasks is presented all together, it is easy to see what needs to be done for any part of the document. This way it is easy to see patterns of the kinds of tasks that need to be completed as well as see the proportions of tasks which are completed. As progress is made, this design helps motivate the team because as more items are completed, the list becomes more and more proportionally green, increasing self-esteem for the work completed as well as increasing the sense that the team is closer to the "finish line" at the end of the project. This is expected to improve the group socio-emotional aspect of performance.

task list view

The task list design allows for an overview of the remaining items.


Design 3. "Scroll Bar" Design to Display Items

Another design for "To-Write" is to implement a separate custom scroll bar representing the document and the items to be completed. The items (both complete and incomplete) will be marked by orange or green shapes along the scroll bar. When a user clicks on one of the shapes, the document will scroll to the correct page and page position so the user can see the selected task item.

Theory: The interactive scroll bar is a good design because it allows the writers to jump between different places in the document (from task to task) very quickly and will help increase the speed at which documents can be written because it takes away the time spent figuring out what needs to be done next. In addition to increasing group performance by allowing quickly jumping through the document, this design allows for users to get a bird's eye view of the progress of the document. For example, if there are many incomplete items in the end of a document, it is easy to see them and the user can see that that part of the document needs a lot of work as opposed to the other parts of the document which may only need a few fixes here and there.

task list view

The scroll bar option allows for convenient and fast navigation.

Conclusions:

If I had to choose, I believe the best design is actually a combination of the first two options, where the task list is available if desired and the problematic sections or parts of the document are highlighted. This causes the team members working on the paper to focus on reading through the entire document and should lead to better performance overall. When the writers read through the entire document, they are more likely to catch errors and find things to improve than if they are just fixing the known problems and jumping from page to page.