This is not directly related to medical informatics, but it is a user-interaction topic, and has some lessons for the usability of medical software.
First: Unlike many nerds, I like Microsoft Word. It’s a mature product and works well. It has many complications into which one may delve, and for those who want to delve, there is a wealth of online information resources. Yes, I have UltraEdit and I know that some writers prefer a simple editor like UltraEdit for creating books and articles. But I still like Word best for this.
I use Outlook as a personal information manager. Not because it’s the best PIM – it’s not. But if you want compatibility, Outlook has it. I can use gSyncit to sync my contacts between Outlook and Google Contacts, which is what my Android phone uses. I can sync my notes and tasks and calendar with my Android phone using CompanionLink and the Android app, DejaOffice.
Electronic calendars such as Outlook’s have some advantages. It’s easy to schedule recurring appointments by setting up rules for them, and they can all be automatically color-coded as you desire. You can even set up rules for color-coding based on criteria you set (conditional formatting). For instance, if I create an entry that starts with “MH” for Mercy Hospital, Outlook automatically colors this in the “work” color… which I chose to be blue. If I create an entry that has “DMAT” in it, then that gets colored green.
With Outlook 2003, I used the Calendar, and was more-or-less happy with it. But when I upgraded to Office 2010, the Outlook Calendar was “improved” so much that I found it hard to use, particularly the month view. I generally live in the month view.
Henry Ford wrote in his autobiography “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” With Outlook 2010, you can have any color you want, as long as it is one of the equally-saturated color themes. No way to pick a more subdued color combinations. There is a brightly-colored stripe all across the top of each week.
When you scroll up or down, it scrolls by a week at a time.We know from the Pen-Ivory experiments that paging is better than scrolling. But if you’re going to create something that truly works better with scrolling than paging, it’s better to have continuous scrolling so, if you’re focused on a particular date, you can keep track of that date as you scroll.
The date boxes for the current month are mostly white, except for the colored stripe across the top, but the date boxes for the previous and next months were brightly tinted. This might not be too bad, but when you scrolled up or down, suddenly the highlighting would switch to another month. The interface in general had all the subtlety of a crayon drawing on brown wrapping paper, but this sudden flashing of colors on the screen makes me nauseated, sort of like I’m riding a roller-coaster past strobe lights.
A traditional printed month-at-a-view calendar has limitations… you can only see a month at a time. You have to use different colored pens or different colored highlighters if you wanted to color-code your appointments. (You can use a Lamy 4pen with 4 different ballpoint colors which makes it a bit easier.) It’s very quick to scribble in an appointment, and you can easily flip pages to go to other months. Printed calendars usually have white or perhaps light beige pages, and the lines separating days and other elements are often a light tint of gray or brown, so your attention is focused on what you’ve written, not on the background elements. They’re usually elegant-appearing.
Well, I was waiting for Office and Outlook 2016 to come out to finish this post, hoping against hope that Microsoft would fix these problem. I was all ready to go on an anti-Microsoft rant. But… but… they fixed most of the things I complain about.
I can open up Outlook 2016, and navigate the menu thusly: File > Office Account > Office Background and change it to No Background to get rid of the decoration at the top. I can also Click on Office Theme and choose Dark Gray. Things are better. The menus and toolbars and some screens are now not glaring in my face. So far, so good.
And, that sudden change in month highlighting is gone! Yay!
There is no colored stripe, indeed, the lines are a faded gray as are the numbers themselves. The appointment highlighting colors are less saturated, even with the “Colorful” theme – though I would prefer a palette of even subtler hues, as being enough to do their job without being so in-your-face about it.
The discrete week-by-week scrolling is still there, though they’ve added a little sliding animation as you change weeks that does wonders for your situational awareness, in the sense of keeping track of your target date. I would prefer the calendar to scroll continuously and then snap to the appropriate weeks, but what they’ve done is not bad.
So, no anti-Microsoft rant. The Outlook 2015 monthly Calendar isn’t perfect, but it’s really pretty good, and vastly improved over its predecessor. Good job, Outlook Calendar design team.