Helping first time users, Guiding experienced users

16 Sep 2005 - 4:30pm
9 years ago
4 replies
610 reads
Chad Jennings
2004

Desktop applications currently and over the years have taken many
approaches to teaching or guiding users within the software. It seems
as if software help system trends come and go. Many discussions I've
had end up being similar to a Friar's Club Roast of Clippy :-).

01 First time use
Many applications which don't map perfectly to a well known schema
such as Word or Email may require a small initial learning curve.
Once users get over this initial 'hump" they have an understanding
and comfort with the tools. The component needs an opt-out. This
solution can be supported by tertiary collateral such as a tutorial
or Quickstart guide, but these tend not to be contextual enough,
meaning they require the user to view the help in a different viewer
or look at a printed sheet. I remember Apple used to have a help
mode which would circle the next step with a big red circle.
Traditional tool tips are a good example of contextual help but I
think we need a more prominent solution for the first time user. It's
really like having a friend who can help you get started and lead you
down a path then go away once your successfully over that hump. Any
good examples out there?

02 Ongoing Tips
Suggestions that can be activated by the user when needed during the
course of their workflow. For example, little talk bubble icons
appear when the system/agent/editorial assistant has a tip or
information that isn't critical, but could be helpful. Clicking or
rolling over the talk bubble shows a 1-2 paragraph tip with a link to
greater information if desired. How do designers best accomplish this
goal without being too invasive?

Our user research has indicated a possible need for these two types
contextual help. Just curious if folks on the list have experience
with testing help solutions, examples of novel approaches, or simply
ideas how best to implement help strategies in these two cases. There
are some common approaches, but it be interesting to hear what else
is going on out there around this area.

Thanks,
Chad

Chad Jennings
Director of User Experience, Blurb Inc
cjennings at blurb.com

Comments

18 Sep 2005 - 1:53am
Alex Tam
2004

Hi Chad,

I'm a fan of brief introductory instructional animation for first time
use. One example I've seen work well with users is the Palm LifeDrive's
first use video. It was a short video that hit on some key concepts that
were immediately helpful and gave a basic understanding. I saw another
great example of this with the Movie making and Industrial design
package Maya from Alias. Within the package are what I believe was
referred to as one minute videos. These videos, when called for, were
one minute long or less, and walked the user through the usage of a
particular key concept.

I'd be interested in seeing really effective interactive instruction
that's generations removed from clippy. However, one of the biggest
challenges to overcome is that the system has to accurately understand
the context of the concept that the user does not understand. One of the
reasons Clippy was annoying was that he acted when he couldn't
accurately isolate the context or the users intent. Mind reading is not
an easy thing to do. So, the challenge for helping is that the "friend"
has to see what your doing wrong or inefficiently and tell you a proper
or better way to do it. Again, this involves some mind reading. They
best way may be for the person to specifically ask for help. This leads
to another question of "how does a new user know what questions to ask
or where to look?". And it's possible that the introductory videos or
animations can provide enough fundamentals to educate those initial
questions so they know to ask for those ongoing tips (which could be in
the form of one minute videos).

I read an article from Jarel Spool earlier that may shed some light on
this. http://www.uie.com/articles/design_intuitive/

Cheers,
~Alex Tam

---
http://www.alextam.com

Chad Jennings wrote:

> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> Desktop applications currently and over the years have taken many
> approaches to teaching or guiding users within the software. It seems
> as if software help system trends come and go. Many discussions I've
> had end up being similar to a Friar's Club Roast of Clippy :-).
>

19 Sep 2005 - 10:35am
John Schrag
2005

At 01:53 AM 9/18/2005, Alex Tam wrote:
>I'm a fan of brief introductory instructional animation for first time
>use. One example I've seen work well with users is the Palm LifeDrive's
>first use video. It was a short video that hit on some key concepts that
>were immediately helpful and gave a basic understanding. I saw another
>great example of this with the Movie making and Industrial design package
>Maya from Alias. Within the package are what I believe was referred to as
>one minute videos. These videos, when called for, were one minute long or
>less, and walked the user through the usage of a particular key concept.

As someone who works at Alias, I'd like to note here that making these
little movies
sounds a lot easier than it is. It's very hard to get people to watch
anything that is
perceived as "help", or, worse yet, that may be mistaken for marketing
crap. And
trying to figure out exactly what needs to be in the movie requires
extensive first-encounter
usability testing --- and lots of editing. But the results can be well
worth it.

My colleagues who did the work on the Maya movies wrote a paper on it which was
presented at UPA2003:

Miller, L, and Sy, D. "Using Movies to Make Complex Software More
Approachable".

-john

----------------------------------------------------
John Schrag Alias
Interaction Designer 210 King Street East
jschrag at alias.com Toronto, Canada M5A 1J7

19 Sep 2005 - 7:47pm
Lilly Irani
2004

I've done a bit of work on AdWords, Google's complex web app for
helping mom and pops as well as million dollar agencies advertise
online. This experience, as well as a not-yet-lauched product I've
been working on, has taught me that one of the most powerful things I
can do to help a new user is to progressively unveil the complexities
of the system in the order that the user absolutely needs to deal with
it.

We're not there yet in our launched product. :) But in AdWords, this
means hiding our hierarchy of "your account" > "ad campaign" >
"keyword/ad group" and presenting the initial experience purely in
terms of their conceptual background -- advertisement, searches where
it appears. Once they get their first ad running, we can introduce
additional ad campaigns to them (help tips on the page or links off
the initial page are ways we currently try to do this).

In another product I'm working on, we did early paper prototypes by
having the person sign in to the product and then get dumped into a
"Manager" page with a big fat "Create new sprocket" link. The "Create
new sprocket" ilnk worked okay, but left novice users insecure. We
added a big, yellow "getting started" bubble shown by default with an
introduction about the sprocket and sprocket manager and an arrow
pointing to the "create new sprocket." What *really* has worked,
though, is just dumping someone into the sprocket maker page where
they can make the sprocket they wanted to make when they signed into
the product. In usability tests, people then successfully go to the
sprocket manager and quickly understand it to be the place where they
can find all the sprockets, like the one they just created.

In summary, for my projects, taking people straight to the interaction
describing the simplest, most obviously task-related concept they do
understand coming into the product has helped us give users a more
fun, less intimidating first 30 seconds. And when complexities are
progressively revealed, people have more experiential context to deal
with it.

I hope this was helpful. Talking about unreleased "sprocket" creation
products is no fun. :P

~lilly

On 9/19/05, John Schrag <jschrag at alias.com> wrote:
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> At 01:53 AM 9/18/2005, Alex Tam wrote:
> >I'm a fan of brief introductory instructional animation for first time
> >use. One example I've seen work well with users is the Palm LifeDrive's
> >first use video. It was a short video that hit on some key concepts that
> >were immediately helpful and gave a basic understanding. I saw another
> >great example of this with the Movie making and Industrial design package
> >Maya from Alias. Within the package are what I believe was referred to as
> >one minute videos. These videos, when called for, were one minute long or
> >less, and walked the user through the usage of a particular key concept.
>
> As someone who works at Alias, I'd like to note here that making these
> little movies
> sounds a lot easier than it is. It's very hard to get people to watch
> anything that is
> perceived as "help", or, worse yet, that may be mistaken for marketing
> crap. And
> trying to figure out exactly what needs to be in the movie requires
> extensive first-encounter
> usability testing --- and lots of editing. But the results can be well
> worth it.
>
> My colleagues who did the work on the Maya movies wrote a paper on it which was
> presented at UPA2003:
>
> Miller, L, and Sy, D. "Using Movies to Make Complex Software More
> Approachable".
>
> -john
>
>
> ----------------------------------------------------
> John Schrag Alias
> Interaction Designer 210 King Street East
> jschrag at alias.com Toronto, Canada M5A 1J7
>
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21 Sep 2005 - 9:28am
Tom V
2005

In terms of context, nothing beats placing the user right inside the app and
getting their feet wet immediately. The best example of this I have ever
seen is SketchUp (http://www.sketchup.com/), the 3D sketching tool marketed
to architects. The introductory "movies" were produced and run in the app
itself, allowing users immediate hands-on access.

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