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There are distraction-free text editors (for example, the ones cited here) that have full-screen editing area and minimum user interface. Is there any objective statistics showing whether these actually decrease distraction? What are the most effective design features in text editors to decrease distraction or increase productivity?

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    Are these text editors for writing long stories or for coding? From the examples, they were all monospace, so I assume it's for coding. TBH all of those looked terrible - Sublime Text does an amazing job at looking sleek, and it doesn't a have a distracting background, nor ugly contrasting colors. However, from my experience, having a good editor definitely does increase productivity as it's easier to transition between multiple files and long files. – mrchaarlie Aug 8 '14 at 15:08
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    Lots of non-programming writing & editing is done in monospace. See screenwriting formats here: bbc.co.uk/writersroom/send-a-script/formatting-your-script – edeverett Aug 8 '14 at 15:14
  • Right on @mrcharlie sublimetext.com FTW! Back in my younger years I used to code with Dreamweaver and it was a nightmare trying to navigate the GUI. – Courtney Jordan Aug 8 '14 at 17:35
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A few suggestions I'd have for distraction-free, or user-friendly, text writing UIs:

• Tall text field

Longform text fields, like the one I'm using to reply to you, provide an inherent white space - so making this field sufficiently tall to feel spacious would be the first step. One helpful additional feature is an expandable text field, as this one on StackExchange has.

• Kitchen sink controls

Sorry, minimalists, but you'll need some formatting controls if you want your text editing tool to be taken seriously. Evernote's is useful, yet with a light footprint: Evernote formatting controls

To be a minimalist designer of formatting controls, get rid of ones that don't matter, and use recognized, simple iconography.

• Built-in below-last-line padding

If you want to feel uncluttered and in control, build in a floor that is high above the bottom of whatever window your text field is floating in. Give a sense to the user that there is still space ahead/in the future/yet to come/below their text. Many writing tools forget this important spatial affordance.

This is even more important in a mobile interface, where the keypad UI is going to fill nearly half the screen.

• Built-in side padding

Similarly, give some space on the sides that has no text or elements. Even a thin line can feel like a brick wall. In designing layout, I always see if the visual cues hold after I remove the boxes and outlines.

• Last Point

My only other point is that "distraction-free" is a bit of a silly notion. Modern humans are very good at dismissing and ignoring things that do not matter to them. I read a news article online and do not absorb any advertisement. I type something, and I am focused on the text field only. If you are getting distracted by stuff surrounding your writing tool, I argue that beyond flashing GIF ads, it is not at all about the sidebars or background. It's all about the spaciousness of the text field and the access of controls.

  • "Modern humans are very good at dismissing and ignoring things that do not matter to them." Corollary: Modern humans are very good at getting distracted from things that do not matter to them. I'd say that 99% of the time, writers get distracted because their "distractions" are more interesting or important to them than what they're writing - not because their text editor has too many ugly buttons. – hairboat Aug 13 '14 at 14:50

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