Friday, June 12, 2009

Trying not to squander my ignorance

Ah! Convergences.

I am working on writing some high level patterns for what kind of content users need. One of the patterns is "Product Overview" and I was just starting to think about it when...

...all of a sudden I win a copy of Madcap Flare! Now, this is the third time I've won a copy of Madcap Flare, and the first two times I donated them to my alma mater, Southern Polytechnic State University. This one I'm going to keep. For one thing, now that I am sixty, I realize that one day I will retire from IBM and not have access to the Information Developer's Work Bench, so I had better start coming back up to speed on other products if I want to teach/consult/contract.

Also, having a new product to learn will give me first-hand insight into the "new product out of the box" user experience. I have only one shot at using this product for the first time, so I want to notice what's going on in my mind and what information I need.

First, they have a very nice dynamic help pane. Mind you, this is something I usually advise against because the real estate it consumes is very precious, and I argue that UI development will some day take it back or the user will. But there it is on a prestigious product so I'm thinking maybe I'm being a curmudgeon.

I decide to take a 30 minute "tour" (they also have a tutorial, but I traditionally hate those because they make me do a project I don't care about). Tour is working pretty well as they show me what's what, and then very early they do an interesting thing:

They close the dynamic help pane in the tour's example so that they have more room.

Even the Help writers shut down the dynamic Help pane because it takes up too much room! Not only that, but it's one of the first things they teach the user to do.

So it validates my point: Don't put too many eggs in the dynamic help pane basket--it won't be there for long. Have a UA strategy that delivers embedded assistance without the footprint of a dedicated Help pane.

Well, back to noticing what it feels like to learn a new product.


Margaret said...

There's nothing like being n the user's shoes to regain a true user perspective of a new product. As you personally weigh the trade-off between having the dynamic help panel you want handy against the application's need for screen space when you try to use it.

Maybe the dynamic help panel should resemble Snagit's Quick Click capture window: It sets in a small sliver at the top of the screen until you touch it with your mouse to pop it up for use. But then we still have the problem of popping up the "right" information that the user needs at different points as s/he uses the application.

Mike Feimster said...

Hmmm. I tend to like tutorials that make me do a project I don't care about. Because I don't care about it, I'm not focusing on the details of the project, but the learning about the tool.