Any data on users making use of Help?

5 May 2009 - 10:37pm
5 years ago
9 replies
672 reads
Stephen Holmes
2009

I don't know of any studies to date but it is easy to find out on
many web applications just by looking at page referenced logs to see
what parts of an application as call to a Help message is made (if
designed that way). Knowing where a user asks for help can help you
build an improved experience; to know where your design works and
needs no assistance or where users constantly have problems.

In the case of an in-car system I'd suggest that the initial
start-up has a training loop that goes through and lets the user try
each of the voice-activated systems - I know as a renter of cars who
has to constantly have to re-learn GPS systems at each city, a simple
run-down of the system would be useful (helpful ;-).

On the nature of Help, to finish that sentence, "Users don't use
help... unless they need it". As people get used to design
conventions in an application they rely on memory and use help less
and less. The problem is that some conventions outlast their
usefulness.

I've always looked on building Help as a back-up to be used only
when needed. As an interface designer there are always some things I
want a User to do that are not immediately obvious and don't use
these commonly recognised task patterns, so a little bit of help is
there as a back-up.

I also write Help files to help improve the task flow of a page; I
often find writing a task in a way that allows a User to fulfill that
task also gives me a health check on the interactional design of a
task.

Finally, I've also had developers say "users don't use help" as
an excuse to cut the Help to make a tight deadline as Help is often
the last thing that gets built into the product ;-)

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Comments

5 May 2009 - 11:00pm
Melissa Cooper
2009

Does anyone have any research, links / examples or recommendations for
date range inputs for mobile.
I am implementing quick links such as tomorrow, next 7 days, this
weekend etc - but I need to account for specific dates / date ranges
as well.
Thanks in advance!
Melissa

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5 May 2009 - 11:02pm
Dante Murphy
2006

I had an epiphany tonight that might be helpful to you, or especially to others wondering how to design help for visual systems (this may not be relevant to your voice-activated system, but read on).

I bought a new PC for the first time in about 9 years, and of course a lot has changed since then. Usually I will just go big on the core elements, like memory and processor, so I don't really need to know very much, just that I'm getting the best. But then I got to the webcam.

I don't plan on producing a TV show in my basement, and the grandparents think the kids are adorable no matter what the resolution when we Skype. Still for an extra $50, is it worth getting the premium webcam?

Now, I hate those little blue circles with the white question mark in them. Why? Because they invariable don't HELP...they just give me reams of stuff to wade through, then ask over and over again "did this answer your question"? Or they link to some low-performance website that could use help itself. They're all bad, every one.

But HP did something a little different. They had a link labelled "help me decide".

I didn't need help operating my browser, I just needed some guidance, and that's exactly what I got, right in context. They even put the selection controls in the help, and linked them back to the parent page. Nice!

This is the difference between a good salesperson in a retail environment and a bad one. The good one sees you sifting through a pile of sweaters and offers to help you find a specific size...she has predicted what your goal is and offered to assist you in getting there. The crappy salesperson just says "do you need any help?", making you feel like an invalid if you say yes.

So, if you can predict what the user will need help with, then by all means BE EXPLICIT. If it's an in-car voice activated system, have it ask the right question at the right time...don't make it into one of those infernal IVR menus that asks you ten questions, then makes you confirm everything.

In short, "help" should help, not just tell the user to RTFM.

Dante

________________________________

From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com on behalf of Bill Marshall
Sent: Tue 5/5/2009 10:27 AM
To: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Any data on users making use of Help?

Help functionality is a recurring point of contention in nearly every
project I work on. I do Voice UX design, and very often our products
are used in-car where users can't or shouldn't be looking at a
screen for cues. Our big hurdle is helping users know what features
are voice-enabled, and what vocabulary they can use.
Context-sensitive help can be helpful for this.
But I regularly hear "users don't use help," and I'd like to know
how true that is. Does anyone know of any resources/studies on how
likely it is that a user will seek help from a system?
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9 May 2009 - 8:09am
Jared M. Spool
2003

On May 5, 2009, at 2:27 PM, Bill Marshall wrote:

> Help functionality is a recurring point of contention in nearly every
> project I work on. I do Voice UX design, and very often our products
> are used in-car where users can't or shouldn't be looking at a
> screen for cues. Our big hurdle is helping users know what features
> are voice-enabled, and what vocabulary they can use.
> Context-sensitive help can be helpful for this.
> But I regularly hear "users don't use help," and I'd like to know
> how true that is. Does anyone know of any resources/studies on how
> likely it is that a user will seek help from a system?

Hi Bill,

There's an entire field of study called User Assistance that's got
about 20 years worth of findings on just this question. It's a branch
of technical communication.

Unfortunately, I'm on a plane right now (where email gets done!)
otherwise I'd send you a link. But, I'm betting if you google the
term, you'll find a ton of resources, including a great annual
conference called WritersUA.

Hope that helps,

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks Twitter: @jmspool
UIE Roadshow: Seattle, Denver, DC in June: http://is.gd/gxwe

9 May 2009 - 6:26pm
DampeS8N
2008

"users don't use help" means users don't use the crap-tastic help
that is normally provided. FAQs are about the best 'standard issue'
help out there. And they such.

Tool-tips are often panned and people forget that they are help.

So here is the deal. If the user has to stop what they are doing and
go somewhere else and god-forbid try to figure out what to call what
they were doing and find it. They won't use it. Would you?

This is one of the major drawbacks to voice command. I've only ever
seen two good solutions. But you aren't going to like them much.

1. Stressed command words in context.
2. WIDE variety of command words.

Play a lot of old text adventures and computer RPGs, particularly the
Ultima series. These often exhibit both kinds of help. But they
aren't -really- help.

Franklin: (Go) to the [Mountain of Fire] and (thrust) the [Sword of
Pain] into the [Alter of Nightmares].

You: Where is the Mountain of Fire?

Franklin: I don't know, kid, go (ask) someone else, like [Bonno the
Mapmaker]

Then accept all kinds of words for go, ask and thrust.

You can get the same effect by having the words users can say
stressed heavily when spoken by the machine.

Magic Voice: Hello, "name", would you like me to give you
[directions]? Or perhaps you'd like more [options]?

Anyway. I hope these thoughts were helpful.

(Now off to watch Star Trek)

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10 May 2009 - 9:59pm
Joe Sokohl
2004

Lots of stuff on how to write & design help. As Jared said, technical
communicators have been doing this work for years...and also
struggling with the question, "Does anyone use help?" Indeed,
writing and designing online help systems helped me move from tech
writing to UI design to HCI/IA/IxD to UX design.

You can test help, and you can do it contextually. I've done tasks
designed to see where people go to find information--do they sleect
help icons, menu items, tool tips...or do they reach for a paper
manual?

In addition to WritersUA (http://www.writersua.com/), check out the
technical writers' mailing list:

To subscribe or unsubscribe via the World Wide Web, visit
http://lists.techwr-l.com/mailman/listinfo/techwr-l

JoAnn Hackos wrote Standards of Online Communication
(http://bit.ly/tCZot) that's older but still good. Same with Bill
Horton's "Designing and Writing Online Documentation."
http://bit.ly/4On4q

Mike Hughes is writing a column on UA for UXMatters.com:
http://uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2008/05/user-assistance-writing-for-a-high-context-culture.php

Yet the design of help features and content doesn't differ from
other things you deliver, in that you have to know the user, their
context, and what they expect/need/want.In some cases, you might want
to design help that fades away after the user successfully does more
stuff with your product. Or you might find that having first-time
help wizards work better.

Best,

joe

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10 May 2009 - 3:55pm
Mary Constance Parks
2009

I'm a Voice User Interface (VUI) Designer at Nuance Communications.
I too have heard it bandied about that users don't use Help.
You'll sometimes hear that almost no one asks for it. Usually the
percentages are more than almost zero though, say from 1-3%.

However, I've also seen applications where people are asking for
Help much more than that, going from 5% to 15% usage. In fact, in
one application, they were asking for Help around 40% of the time.

Why the discrepancy?

In the case of low Help usage, people don't know that Help exists.
It's often not advertised (real estate is quite small in a
non-persistent UI). And if it is advertised, it might only be
introduced once interaction has gotten quite bad. In fact, there's
a trend among some VUI designers to not design Help messages any
longer, instead depending on error handling to get people out of
difficulties. They might advertise Help in only certain contexts
where they think it might be needed.

In those applications where Help usage is higher, it's because it's
advertised more frequently. But usage varies depending on the domain,
who the users are, and other contextual factors.

I personally think it's a good idea to advertise it consistently.
And in the case where people are highly distracted, I think it's
essential. People are not always listening. If they learn that
there is something that can help them get re-oriented and that will
let them know what is needed to complete a task and achieve their
goal, they will use it when they need it.

One other thing. You probably already know this, but just in case,
in a speech UI, it's not a good idea to advertise Help as "Help."
I%u2019ve heard "More info" used, or the longer "More
information." Though you may find something better suited to your
situation.

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11 May 2009 - 8:57am
Mary Connor
2009

It is a contentious topic. I summarized multiple sessions from the Software User Assistance conference just held in Seattle:

UA2009: Documentation's changing world (has Help research results) http://www.cleverhamster.com/clever_hamster/2009/04/ua2009-documentations-changing-world.html

UA2009: Embedded user assistance (help in context) http://www.cleverhamster.com/clever_hamster/2009/04/ua2009-embedded-user-assistance-help-in-context.html

...and we're taking this to heart and (with our R&D change to agile/scrum) are making it job one to have the writers improve the interface/flow itself and the "hidden" help: labels, titles, tips, examples, on-screen guidance. Much higher ROI.

Hth!
Mary Connor

-----Original Message-----
From: new-bounces at ixda.org [mailto:new-bounces at ixda.org] On Behalf Of Bill Marshall

Help functionality is a recurring point of contention in nearly every project I work on. I do Voice UX design, and very often our products are used in-car where users can't or shouldn't be looking at a screen for cues. <snip>

11 May 2009 - 3:32pm
Mary Deaton
2008

I did user assistance for 15 years before I switched to focusing on
information architecture and usability. What is obvious to me from
both the research (which exists but is limited compared to may other
topics) is that the more the assistance is in the interface (labels,
examples in fields, little popups or expanding notes, and such) the
more people succeed in tasks and the less they want to look at an
independent Help page or application.

FAQ, in fact, are not a standard for good user assistance. As someone
mentioned last week at the STC conference, FAQ are not really the most
asked questions, they are the questions the site has an answer for.

Many people working on the Web do not appear to design the user
assistance into the site; they tack it on at the end. Help that is
accessed only by opening a new page in the same browser window, a new
browser window, or a new tab, are making it very difficult for users
to continue doing the task at the same time they are looking at the
Help. There is a reason that desktop applications open Help in a
separate window that the user can resize, reposition, and so on.

Even the Help authoring tool companies, such as Adobe RoboHelp, do
little to allow you to integrate user assistance into the actual page
where it is needed or make it usable alongside the page a user seeks
help with.

Good user assistance, like a good application, requires people with
expertise not only writing, but in information architecture (online
Help was very close to being the first hypertext environments
requiring what we now call information architecture) and interaction
design. It has to be part of the initial planning and design of a
site, not a last minute add-on.

Anyone who wants to know the value of embedded user assistance
(incorporated into the UI) should read Trevor Grayling's May 1999
report on usability studies of an app with embedded Help and without
it, in Technical Communications, which is available on Ingenta,
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/stc/tc?originator=stc&identity=id22521367&timestamp=20090511213425&signature=d7dca185bc7326477ec5fd7a92e62c7b.
There is also a special issue of TechComm from Feb 2001 on embedded
Help. STC members have free access to all content. Non-members pay a
$10 fee per article.

There is also information at the Web site of the Usability and User
Experience community of STC, of which I am the current manager.
www.stcsig.org/usability Look particularly in the Bookshelf and
Topics in Usability. Some is dated, but good nonetheless.

WritersUA, http://www.writersua.com/rescontr.htm also has list of
consultants who specialize in help design and implement effective help
systems for desktop or Web.

--
Mary Deaton
Manager, STC Usability and User Experience Community,
http://www.stcsig.org/usability
Principal, Deaton Interactive Design
http://www.mmdeaton.com
Associate, SodaBlue Partners
http://www.sodabluepartners.com

On Mon, May 11, 2009 at 7:57 AM, Mary Connor <MConnor at advsol.com> wrote:
> It is a contentious topic. I summarized multiple sessions from the Software User Assistance conference just held in Seattle:
>
> UA2009: Documentation's changing world (has Help research results) http://www.cleverhamster.com/clever_hamster/2009/04/ua2009-documentations-changing-world.html
>
> UA2009: Embedded user assistance (help in context) http://www.cleverhamster.com/clever_hamster/2009/04/ua2009-embedded-user-assistance-help-in-context.html
>
> ...and we're taking this to heart and (with our R&D change to agile/scrum) are making it job one to have the writers improve the interface/flow itself and the "hidden" help: labels, titles, tips, examples, on-screen guidance. Much higher ROI.
>
> Hth!
> Mary Connor
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: new-bounces at ixda.org [mailto:new-bounces at ixda.org] On Behalf Of Bill Marshall
>
> Help functionality is a recurring point of contention in nearly every project I work on. I do Voice UX design, and very often our products are used in-car where users can't or shouldn't be looking at a screen for cues. <snip>
> ________________________________________________________________
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12 May 2009 - 11:17am
Anonymous

Thanks for all the great feedback, everyone. And, Hi, Mary--I took a
Tech Comm class with you at BCC a while ago. :)

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