Roundabouts have been in use in the UK for over 50 years, and today are seen as a natural part of the landscape – something as intuitive to use as a postbox. Everyone knows how to use them, they’re just intuitive to use, surely?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming certain knowledge is common to everyone – that we all understand the basic concepts. This isn’t always the case, and things may not be intuitive. They may be easy to use, yes, but there is often a need to familiarise users at the start. This is true for software development as it is for roundabouts.
In an article called “The Future of Advertising will be Integrated“, Mark Suster argues readers’ attention is focussed on text and not the banners around it. This “banner blindness” is leading advertisers to move their messages to “the stream”. An example of this is Twitter’s promoted tweets service, where advertisers can pay for a tweet to be featured on Twitter for a day.
If we’re seeing a move towards “integrated advertising”, does this mean we should also be putting online Help in “the stream” as well? Rather than waiting to be called up via the F1 key or Help button, should User Assistance be placed where readers’ attention lies? Should Help be integrated into the stream, too?
Are we at the point when we need to acknowledge that classic online Help files are not working as well as they should – that is, as the primary source of information to assist users when they get stuck?
This is not a Don Draper “why I’m quitting tobacco” moment, and this is not a criticism of the Help Authoring Tool vendors. Instead, it’s a proposal that, in some situations, what is delivered as online Help needs to be substantially modified to meet the needs of many modern technologies and users.
What’s wrong with Help? Help is often a “walled garden” in an Internet-era built on knowledge sharing and collaboration. Usability in relation to the user interface can be poor at times. It’s hard to measure its value and the ROI. Even its purpose can be vague to some project managers. Unfortunately, there’s often just not enough time to make significant improvements. We could go on.
Many users still get stuck, and many products still fail to work when they’re linked to another. Words still are a key way of communicating and teaching users. We still need to assist users and we still need some form of Help. It could be a useful tool in “evangelism marketing”. It could do so much more. This is why we’re suggesting it’s time to take a strategic look at what and how we can provide Help for when users get stuck.
Once upon a time, long ago, a resourceful fellow named Max came up with a brilliant idea and invented the Wheel. He said to his wife, ‘you know what, the Wheel is going to make us lots of money’.
His wife replied, ‘it seems to me that if we’re going to get rich, you’re going to have to go out out and get people to buy and use these Wheels of yours’.
‘My dear wife, the Wheel is is a brilliant invention! One does not have to sell brilliant inventions; they sell themselves. One does not have to instruct people how to use brilliant inventions; they are so intuitive, anyone can use them.’
We live in a world so diverse and so complex that everyone has to deal with situations where we’re really don’t know what’s going on. We have to ‘drive blindly’ – we’re all dummies at some time or another.
The reality is, it’s rarely your fault.
The last person said to know everything about the world was John Stuart Mill. In the 137 years since his death, no-one else has achieved that feat.
Instead, it’s the responsibility of the provider of a product or service to recognise that some of their users will be ‘dummies’. It’s their responsibility to find ways to make their customers capable and aware of what’s going on.
This is why good usable design, training, user documentation and other forms of user assistance are so important.
Why do Technical Authors only use two of the three qualities of good design?
Vitruvius, the Roman architect, claimed a structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas and venustas: it must be solid, useful and beautiful.
Paul Mijksenaar, a modern day Information Designer, turned these qualities into a practical three-point formula: Reliability, Utility and Satisfaction.
Though Mijksenaar did not design his device specifically to analyse information products, Anne-Florence Dujardin (of Sheffield Hallam University) argues you can use his gauge to rate and assess user documentation.
So why do Technical Authors often focus only on Reliability and Usefulness, and fail to take into account Satisfaction? Beauty is an emotional relationship with an object, so perhaps Technical Authors should be (a) measuring users’ satisfaction with what they produce and (b) creating more emotionally engaging documents.
How to you take into account users’ satisfaction with the information you publish?
As part of my prep for my presentation on user documentation as a more emotional experience for the user, I revisited this presentation by Kathy Sierra. This hasn’t ‘made the cut’ into my presentation due to lack of time, so I thought I’d post it here.