Unbidden dialog boxes [Was & also is Access points for context sensitive help]
25 Apr 2004 - 7:45am
Thanks for your reply. This is an interesting topic--to us anyway. :-) Once
upon a time, long ago, I designed a help authoring and delivery system for
the Mac that I wanted to bring to market. But then I went to work for Apple
where Apple Guide was just starting up and ended up contributing to that
design. Also, I was a tech writer before I became an interaction designer
and authored help systems, among other things. So, these are issues that
have interested me for a long time.
Alysander Stanley wrote:
> The real issue is that it's outside the scope of any > individual program.
***[PGP] Very true. It's important that help systems be consistently
implemented, so users don't have to learn to use new ones every time they
buy new applications.
> Frederick P. Brooks, Jr.: "I will contend that conceptual > integrity is /the/ most important consideration in > system design. It is better to have a system omit > certain anomalous features and improvements, but to > reflect one set of design ideas, than to have one that > contains many good but independent ideas."
***[PGP] This does help put our applications in the background of a user's
consciousness where they belong.
> >* It distracts users from their work when the window > >appears. > This is another issue with clippy, not with my system.
***[PGP] Yes, I realized that. Your idea has much more merit than the Clippy
> Another example of badly timed dialog boxes is > Norton's anti-virus program's subscription renewal > reminder.
***[PGP] That behavior is really obnoxious. This is becoming a problem with
more and more Web-enabled software. McAfee products do the same--as does MSN
Messenger. In fact, I have Messenger's obnoxious dialog box on my screen as
I write this. It appears every time I log on and says:
A newer version is available. You must install the newer version in order to
continue. Would you like to do this now?
OK What's New...
So not only is it obnoxious, it's bossy, lies, and is badly designed, too.
I'm not compelled to do any such thing and had no intention of using
Messenger. There's no need for option buttons at all. No and OK seem
contradictory. There's no Cancel button or Close box.
At this point, I'm debating whether I should uninstall MSN Messenger or
acquiese and install the update. I generally use Yahoo! Messenger anyway,
but clients might use MSN Messenger.
> Any Help window could have these problems.
***[PGP] Yes, but users know what to expect if they request help. The key
thing is leave control in the hands of users.
> Well, the program could always ask the user if they > were already familiar with the program the first time > they use it.
***[PGP] That would just be more excise.
> And is assuming expertise really any better than > assuming ignorance?
***[PGP] No. One should assume neither. Just making a help system available
> > You should close the help window automatically when > > the dialog box closes. > This is just as serious as opening a window > automatically, what if they want to check out a > related command that is referenced in the document?
***[PGP] My point is that the window's behavior should be consistent. If its
opening was predicated on the dialog box's appearance, so should its
closing. However, you might specify that, once a user interacts with the
help system, the user must close it. This would give the user more control.
> In fact, even different versions of the same program > are likely to have different implementations of the > same features.
***[PGP] True. It is important to provide help, but we have no way of
knowing which users need it when, so should let them request it when they
> The only situation I can think of where two different > programs are likely to share some complicated features > which are exactly the same is in a suite. Like Adobe CS.
***[PGP] I don't know of any suites that have actually achieved this level
of consistency. So often, applications in suites have been acquired from
other companies, so there's little consistency among them.
> Programs in a suite could check if you have already > seen the documentation before opening it up for you.
> In any case, it's easy to close the window and it > won't happen again without an explicit command.
***[PGP] It's good that this would only happen once, but even once is
As a user, I've always disliked "training wheels" features--for example,
abbreviated menus. What I want is consistency and control.