Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Styling Google Docs - Close, but not quite there

There's a lot I like about Google Docs: they're collaborative, remotely accessible and easy to publish to a wide audience, to name just a few features.

One of the primary complaints about Google Docs is their relative simplicity. Compare Google Docs or Google Spreadsheets to Word and Excel feature-wise and the results are almost laughable. But, most of this I can forgive, as the majority of documents I make do just fine with the simple features Google offers. There is one area though, I keep bumping my head into - that is the look and feel of a published Google Doc.

By default, a published Google Doc has almost no style information associated with it - check out this example to see what I mean. In some respects, this is a good thing - I suppose I'd prefer no style to cruddy style.

Google gives you a couple of options for pretty'ing up the document:

Use a pre-existing template. A template is is essentially an already styled document, that you can replace the content with your own.

Edit the CSS of the document and manually add style. You can follow this guide to add some slickness to your doc. The image tip is especially helpful.

These are fairly reasonable options but I keep finding them limiting:

  1. The template library is a cool concept, but I like to add in style information *after* I'm done writing, rather than before. That way, I don't get distracted trying to find the perfect look, and get off track content wise. I don't see an elegant way of applying a template after the fact.
  2. Manually adding in CSS is very cool, and feature I'm glad they have. But, for typical documents, I don't want to mess with CSS every time.
  3. The default style of the document is to have its width match that of the browser. With the wide screens in use these days, I really don't think that makes a heck of a lot of sense.

My suggestions then?

  • It would be really helpful if they had a publish option that showed the exact same view as the Fixed Width Page - that is, a white page on a gray background. This alone would go a long way towards making the default published doc look good. And it makes sense to publish the document and have it appear the same as it does in your editing view.
  • I wonder if there could be a way to grab the CSS from a template and merge it into your existing document. That is, use the template library concept, but don't force users to pick the template up front. By merging just the CSS from a template, you wouldn't lose any content.
  • Publish more detailed CSS docs. The above issues could be basically solved by keeping around some standard CSS documents that can be dropped into place. One reason I haven't done this is that I can't seem to find documentation that fully explains the different CSS selectors a typical document uses. If I knew these, I could probably write up some standard CSS that would give me the fixed look && feel I'm after, and I could just copy that in place when I was creating a doc.

Like all things Google, I'm sure Docs is on a path to evolve. I just know that with a few small tweaks, this whole issue of publishing good looking documents - easily - could be put rest.

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