Google Docs' sheet-of-paper metaphor
May 12th, 2019
For ages, I've wondered why Google Docs still clings to the sheet-of-paper metaphor when lots of its users never print out most of their documents.
Of course it does make sense for "Print layout" to be an option. Many people do print docs, and students make up a huge portion of the users. What I find strange is that Google Docs imposes this UI—you cannot escape the sheet of paper with its edges and isomorphic physicality even if you're just creating what's in effect an editable webpage.
Though I've wondered this for a long time, I only just verbalized this yesterday:
Why does @GoogleDocs still impose the sheet-of-paper metaphor? In many organizations, I wouldn't be surprised if <5% of documents were ever printed.— Devon ☀️ (@devonzuegel) May 12, 2019
Ironically, @Dropbox Paper is the one that finally embraced the fact that most docs today are really just dynamic webpages.
Saying it "out loud" had an interesting effect: it made me realize I already had a solution! I've used a Chrome extension called Stylus for years, a custom styles manager that allows you to add custom CSS to any page you visit. I had just not put two and two together to realize that was more than enough to get to a workable solution. So thanks world, for drawing out a solution latent in my brain.
Steps to replicate it
- Install the Stylus Chrome extension: chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/stylus/clngdbkpkpeebahjckkjfobafhncgmne
- Make sure you have `Print mode` checked off:
- Add a few lines of custom CSS:
- Enjoy your clean, web-native Google documents!
The downside to this approach is that it's visible only to you. The document you're creating appears different to other people, since they don't have the extension installed and populated with your styles, which is not ideal. That said, it's easy enough to toggle off the custom styles that it's not that hard to temporarily view what it looks from other views.
Keep in touch!