The Insert | Symbol feature in Office is overdue for an overhaul.
Our venture into the new Unicode symbols and symbol fonts highlighted how much work Microsoft needs to do on this part of Office.
Insert | Symbol has changed for a long time and many versions of Office. Here’s Insert | Symbol in Word 2002 (XP) that looks little different from Word 2013’s version of the same feature.
Presumably Microsoft figures that it’s good enough and no more work is necessary, but that’s wrong. People are more sophisticated in their use of Office and fonts. Fonts themselves have become much larger and complex. Office 2013 doesn’t meet those changed needs.
Block by block
The massive Unicode system is broken up into many subsets or ranges for different languages, scripts and symbols. Office has some ability to view by those blocks but not as good as it could be. Selection by language or character set (Arabic, Chinese, Korean etc.) would be excellent.
Search for character names within a font
Each character in a font comes with a name or label from the obvious ‘Latin Small Letter A’ to the obscure like ‘Combining Clockwise Ring Overlay’. Finding the right symbol or character would be a lot easier if you could search for text matching those labels. For example search for ‘box’ will show all the characters that have that term in their label like ‘Ballot Box with check’, ‘X in rectangle box’ etc.
Bigger symbol preview
Some of the characters have fine detail that some of us can’t see as well as we’d like. You should be able to click on a symbol to see a larger version.
Show symbols already used in a document
Office shows you the most recently used (MRU) symbols as selected in that copy of the program. So the list may show you symbols that aren’t relevant or where incorrectly selected.
More useful would be a list of the symbols used in the current document, then MRU symbols.
And while we’re talking about the MRU symbols list … like any other most recently used list, it should be editable so users can remove evidence of their past work. At the moment there’s no way to remove symbols from the MRU list which is especially frustrating when one was selected by mistake.
Better Special Characters
The Special Characters tab needs revision. The most glaring omission are the major currency symbols and their keyboard shortcuts. No wonder we regularly get asked how to insert a Euro symbol (Ctrl + Alt + E) or Pound symbol (Alt + 0163 from numeric keyboard or A3 then Alt + X)
So there’s five ideas just off the top of my head … just as I wait for my next cappuccino to arrive. The frustrating thing is that Microsoft has already done three of these things … just not in Office where it would be most useful.
Check out Character Map to see a better way to insert symbols.