Am I the only one? Coda is ugly

Once in a while, I am sitting in front of my Coda interface and I am getting furious - furious about the fact that the Coda team apparently does not give a damn about their interface, about the design requirements some users have, about the fact that it would be nice to have something good to nice to look at when using their SW but it is not there.

I have been “developing” recently quite a bit on Coda - a content management approach for Social Media Campaigns, a small CRM solution and some project and task management DBs. I like it, the formulas provide great flexibility, the system (so far) runs smooth and stable … BUT, it is simply ugly to look at. It is almost impossible to generate a nice view of the system.

We want to use Coda together with our customers, run project reviews through it, present the campaign process, etc. For that we need not only a nice interface, but our logo on the screen, our fonts, our colours.

But not only for our customers, also internally it would be awesome to have something nice to look at - but it does not, it looks like an IT developer screen. Menus, colours, logos, fonts, pictures, icons, … I know it is not that difficult to upload this stuff, it is actually pretty easy to makle that work … if you want!

I just have the feeling they do not care!

Am I the only one?

Am I the only one for whom it is important?
Am I the only one who thinks that a nice interface drives emotions, and emotions drives business?
Am I the only one who is working with their customers on Coda (and I showed it to some and they do not like it)?
Am I the only one who is deeply frustrated about this?

I have spent quite some time on this solution - and it is great, if it were not so ugly it would be even better. We will take some decision which solution pathway to go pretty soon … and I know our staff will not like this and we will not frustrate out staff …

Any improvement to come?

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Sorry you are finding it ugly to look at! I care a lot about design and user interface and focus on this aspect immensely when building documents. If you don’t have a document you enjoy looking at and using, frankly it doesnt matter how useful it is - you won’t end up using it.

Heres one that Im decently proud of that I can share - (most of my docs are protected by NDA’s as they’ve been built for clients) → Example Document

Check out the “Check out rooms” page, its gives some ideas of how to structure

Heres another document I created that allows you to bring custom colors into the canvas of Coda if that matters to you as well → Custom Colors

Heres another screenshot of a to-do list that I structured visually to look nice! Hopefully it can give some ideas.

It takes a lot of playing around with use of the following aspects, but I really believe you can make it look awesome with careful intention:

  • Use of code blocks for visual discrimination
  • Use of smart table schema, so only a few columns need to be viewed
  • Smart use of conditional formatting
  • Use of rectangle().clipcircle() to create little colored dots to distinguish data as distinct (often times more visually pleasing than conditional formatting)
  • Use of cards (when appropriate)

Feel free to share a doc you have as an example and I could give some ideas of how to restructure! If you care about this at a larger level and want some help restructuring docs visually I work as a Coda Expert for hire and you can reach out to me directly here → Scott@simpladocs.com

Best of luck!

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I’m working through your shared docs now. Thank you so much.

This is excellent stuff, thank you!
I will look in detail through it and comment on it.

Thanks!

Dear @Sven_Schuldt,

I respect your comments and for sure there are areas Coda could improve on, on the other end Coda is for " MAKERS", meaning that with the tools given, and they are not always that obvious, you will be able not only to create functionality, but also dress up your doc from the bottom.

Just picked some:

Maybe a strange personal opinion but unfortunately for many years we have received some many (mobile) applications, designed beyond our imagination. The majority of us have the smallest idea of what’s behind building / designing these master pieces.

Coda is one of the SaaS applications where “makers” get the chance to build themselves applications without having to be a full stack developer. (Although the ones with experience in this area have a big advantage)

Let’s drive the development and enjoy the ride :innocent:
I see it as an honor getting the chance to learn things that normally are not accessible for people like me

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Thanks for the answers and yes, these are great examples of UI and interfaces and as Scott wrote: “If you don’t have a document you enjoy looking at and using, frankly it doesnt matter how useful it is - you won’t end up using it.”
That’s exactly my point - if I want to go back to the old interfaces then I am switching to UNIX CLI and it works for sure.

he examples and links given are great and I am sure I will take some good ideas and also formulas out of it.
However, what strikes me is that Coda doesn’t seem to care. I started with Notion, which I dropped quite early because of lack of functionality - their interface is not exceedingly great but it is significantly better than what Code has to offer. Is it so difficult to provide columns aside? Is it impossible to add my own font, icons, etc.? I have been working together with developing teams for years - and I can tell you, no, it is not that difficult.
I could easily see that Coda would be way ahead on market share compared to Notion, if they were a little bit more open to design, interfaces and such. People care about design - see above.

When Jean-Pierre says that Coda is for “MAKERS” - well, let’s not forget, it is a low-code environment, that does not address professional programmers. Yes, I am looking into the details of the examples and I am happy to look into more complex formulas for special requests I am having on the side of functionality, but why do I have to do that for interfaces, design, etc. and whatever I am doing I will not be successful when it comes to some part of it.

I will stop complaining but somehow I hope that some Coda people read this and take it back to their developer conferences - if it is their decision not to do anything about, well, then it is :wink:

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I think this is good constructive criticism, @Sven_Schuldt

I think one signal that Coda does both care about design and have design competency is their https://coda.io/gallery page and the https://coda.io/pricing page.

Both of these are (in my opinion) really beautiful and modern looking, which is evidence that they care about it and can do it.

There have been some meaningful updates to their design recently, and I know that many of the other requests (like side by side layout) is on their list.

Here’s my guess about their design strategy, having been around to watch it for a while.

  1. Deliver something
  2. Learn from what people do with it
  3. Deliver more somethings
  4. Make it pretty

I’ve often found that design is both iterative and constraining. “Ship something you’re embarrassed by” is a maxim that enables you a little bit more latitude for rapid delivery and iteration, you should have been here back when they launched, it was in need of real work :slight_smile:

There’s more good to come!

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I would not use the word “ugly”. I would use the word “limited”.

In my Coda Utopia, I would have an interface kind of like iCloud Pages for creating documents.

While Apple is not exactly known for setting the world on fire with their cloud offerings, I find them to be much better than the Microsoft and Google cloud equivalents from a styling perspective.

Coda would do well to take some cues from the billions of dollars Apple have invested in UX. Even on iCloud.

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While I want to refrain from using the word “ugly,” I have to agree with @Sven_Schuldt about the limits of the design. I want to build an intranet. A necessary component for us is the ability to integrate AirTable into the intranet itself. However, Coda has its own tables, and it became exciting to think I could make the database native to the intranet instead of having to maintain two systems.

The biggest obstacle for me in selecting Coda is the interface. With the limited tools available, some of you have created decent-looking pages. But I just spent a couple of hours trying to get a table:detail to look half usable and it’s just bad.

Someone else mentioned the fact that other users will enter into the Coda workspace instead of into the interface with the company intranet.

Honestly, I’ve invested quite a number of hours into testing this site and I love the functionality. But, at the end of the day, I might abandon it because of the lack of ability to control the way it looks.

  • mary

ps. I love the videos with @maria . I do wish for transcripts of the videos. I love watching once, but sometimes want to reference without having to watch again to find where she said what I’m looking for.

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Not alone are you. I faced the same fork in the road you found — Notion: pretty, welcoming, higher apparent resolution, no working spell-check, dysfunctional two-headed search, unimaginably poor formula editor, un-caring corporate feedback, glacier-paced updates; and Coda: works well, addresses functional needs, comes across as well-run — and committed to Notion for the need @Scott_Collier-Weir expressed well:

“If you don’t have a document you enjoy looking at and using, frankly it doesnt matter how useful it is - you won’t end up using it.”

Notion is genius wrapped in Band-aids, presented with personality. After my deep dive, I am again looking for alternatives, and so again looking at Coda, and again finding it visually plain, uninspiring, bloodless & corporate. It lacks, imho, pizzazz and pixie dust, and I can only conclude that this is inherent in the design (including the tools available to “makers”), and not a failure of imagination or effort on the part of users.

A thousand up-votes for making doc-making visually richer, more information-dense, prettier, and inspire-able. I think it would greatly expand the appeal, sales, and use of Coda.

(Added the following graph:)
There is a tremendous amount of good UX in Notion. Copy it.

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We need canvas based page (similar to notion and similar to what we can achieve in Coda but under “Detail” view)

???

how is coda ugly when you have 0 examples of anything good?

After the very successful announcements made during the block party the other day, I think it is only fair to say, that apparently some part of what has been discussed above is about to be released.

While I am still waiting for elements like logos, fonts and color sets, this announcement is making me curious and I am looking forward to see how that is going to work for us :grinning:

Definitely part of my “ugly” criticism will not be valid anymore once released :wink:

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HI Sven

Are you referring to some of the commercially shared docs available in the gallery?

I’ve used just about everything on the market, and to me Coda is one of the most attractive - I like Notion also but find it a little ‘muted’ and dull, too soft I guess - but a lot of apps now are influenced by Asana colours

For Coda, especially some of the incredible templates in the gallery, they are some of the most attractive no code UI I’ve seen - as someone with a software design background I’m incredibly picky and Coda is incredibly detailed in their solutions - but I guess you may be starting with a blank canvas

I was interested to read your post since my first impressions (and a reason why I choose Coda vs Notion) were so high.

Best
Alex

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this 1% that knows what ugly is. still want to see examples and evidence of good ui

people shouldn’t make wild claim, especially without evidence, like the op does. there is not a single person in this world that has used “everything on the market”. even the people that has used a lot of apps of all kinds don’t even know the some basic things about certain apps. nobody has used “everything on the market” unless they are doing that 16/7

Could you elaborate? I’m still shopping for an alternative to Notion. IDK what was announced or is about to be released, but I am excited to find out. TY.

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Some are the blocks that were released now allowing multi-columns which Notion has, until now Coda does not - so the product wiki’s that have links spaced perfectly in Notion - until now Coda couldn’t do it except with workarounds. Looks very cool and happy to see it as this is a loved feature in Notion

I didn’t see anyting in the block party about some of Sven’s other points but lots of other great stuff

Notion vs Coda - depends on your use case. I had a sales call for our company for Notion, and like Coda also, he expressly told me the use cases are knowledge management and docs and collaboration - but tasks, project management, not so much. For personnel use maybe but limits arise when tables are used to be too big.

Some of our use cases if it helps, that I love about Coda:

  • Doc templates (we have graphic designers custom header pics with logo and colour choices are aligned with style guides)
  • PRD’s, BRD’s, TRD’s - you get the meaning - just great vs Jira which for me has an uncomfortable UI and is buggy these days and linked tables go to master requirements or user story tables sent elsewhere to server databases via API’s
  • Meeting docs - very inspired by reading templates and we have customized our own - to create actions in a meeting and keep notes for all meetings that syncs tasks, previously so much knowledge was shared and lost from chat or msg app meetings, now we don’t record all but are getting more organised with these
  • Release docs
  • Company wiki and process docs
  • As-built Guides and User Guides

FYI I use Notion for my personal knowledge base as the ‘link’ feature is extremely powerful (not yet available in Coda) but I prefer the UI of Coda

Good luck

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Thank you @Alex_Whitton for the thoughtful informative reply :slightly_smiling_face:.

Fwiw, the more I use Notion (I have a lot of personal experience with it) the more difficult I find it to use. It remains a beta-level product in so many ways (spell check, search, search and replace, the clipboard, undo, text formatting, outlining, composing formulas). The accumulated small UX frictions, and the accompanying frustration, are forcing me to look elsewhere. Data security —both from theft & misuse, and access should Notion Labs fail or change what it charges — keep me from recommending Notion for corporate use.

IME Notion has latency issues, but they are not related to Database size, and they present a smaller impediment to using Notion for work than the irregular, incomplete, confusing UX.

I wish Coda would release a stand-alone fully encrypted app (a Coda client, perhaps).

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I like your last comment - most of the world do not have reliable internet. It would be wonderful to be able to work without a continuous internet connection.

I just do not know how practical it would be too move all the processing that happens on the Coda servers onto a local client, there must be a LOT going on there.
IF it could be done, i would assume that there would be limits on the functionality.

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I am just an amateur. Afaik the throughput of Internet and WiFi is the limiting factor for personal computers using Web-apps, not processing. (That may not be true for “smart phones”.) The amount of processing per user that Coda does in the cloud has to be computationally trivial. Cloud-computing allows exceptional collaboration, but for some (many?) users, collaboration is a sometime benefit, not a requirement. That is, by definition, the case for those who want an off-line program.

Providing secure real-time collaboration is a hard, and possibly currently impossible, task.

Personal computers famously (and with fortunes lost and made) moved processing from a mainframe/terminals set-up to a stand-alone device. Then we got distributed computing. Then the iPhone ate the personal computer and we got “cloud computing” (with fortunes lost and made). Cloud computing is great for collaboration, not so good for performance, and poor for security. I’d love to have a Coda client program that is excellent for security, excellent for performance, and OK for collaboration.

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