Tuesday, March 03, 2009


I was recently contacted at work to be a member of the "Next Generation User Assistance Experience Council." The person setting up the group was somewhat apologetic over its long title, but I loved it. I thought it told a compelling story. In setting up a folder to start collecting files and such, I named it "Next Gen UAX."

UAX, I like that! UAX carves out a special niche for us in the UX world. I also think it sets up some interesting discussions about what would constitute UAX as a discipline or practice that would be different from just talking about user assistance.

First, I think there are two dimensions along which to view UAX, each with its own set of implications and requirements.
  • UAX encompasses how the content of the user assistance supports the user experience with the product the UA supports. Along this dimension we would discuss the usefulness of the UA.
  • UAX also encompasses the user experience manipulating the UA delivery channels with things such as navigation, linking, interactions, affordances, pliancy, etc. Along this dimension we discuss the usability of the UA.
So the mantra of a UAX approach is to provide information that is useful in a way that is usable. Ingrained in this approach is a user-centric task analysis that identifies task- or goal-oriented information requirements and the design of a delivery mechanism that optimizes access to that information on an as-needed basis. It also requires an evaluation methodology that looks at how useful the information was to the user and how easily was the user able to access it.

I know this is not a big departure for most of us, but I do think that linking user, assistance, and experience into one semantic unit does shift the perspective in a significant way. It moves us further from being merely writers and more to being developers of information delivery applications. It moves us from looking at Help as a codified body of knowledge about the product as a whole and more as a collection of interventions targeted at specific moments of opportunities and points of pain. We will worry less about "Is this presentation consistent with one the user might have seen elsewhere in the Help" and more about "Does it meet the likely need of someone in this task on this screen?" We will worry less about "Is this complete" and more about "Is this sufficient?"

So, as of right now, I start relearning my craft under the new classification of User Assistance Experience (UAX) with the driving question of "What's next?"

No comments: