Embedded help for a web based application? (Take II)

Subject: Embedded help for a web based application? (Take II)
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 21 Mar 2003 15:01:41 -0500

Pooja Malhotra followed up on our suggestions: <<I have been able to
convince the developers to modify the GUI>>

Congratulations! Do your best to help them to keep liking you so you can
provide more input on the GUI in the future.

<<but our clients are non-technical people and they do not want any GUI
changes. They have around 40-50 operators who already have experience in
using the application, so, they do not want me to explain how the Customer
ID is getting generated or where it is coming from.>>

They may not necessarily be wrong here. Most users _really_ hate when
developers make kind-hearted but misguided changes to an interface that they
already know how to use--even if the changes really do improve the
interface. In cases like that, you need to look for a solution that keeps
the operation of the interface identical to the old way of doing things (so
users who have memorized how to use it can keep using it that way), but
provide better alternatives for those who need or want to use them.
Sometimes all it takes is leaving all the dialog box widgets in their
current locations, but giving them clearer names or adding on-screen
instructions (e.g., Type the date here (DD-MM-YYYY)).

Another good example might be a command line in which users type "sv" to
save a file. If you have proven through testing that new users greatly
prefer "save", even though it's longer, you can generally persuade the
designers to add the new word to the software that scans the command line.
That software would see "save" (possibly even convert it to "sv"
internally), then save the file as usual. The user would never see this
happen. The old users get to keep using what they've learned, but new users
have an easier-to-remember alternative.

<<what if they recruit new operators or new Supervisors or what if some of
them leave!! There are certain processes which a new joinee would never be
able to accomplish unless explained. (I have been told that in the coming
months, number of operators and supervisors is going to increase)>>

Try explaining this to your client, as politely as possible. Emphasize that
adding the information won't harm anyone, but that leaving it out may cause
problems _for them, not for you_. If they still won't accept your changes,
keep records of how you wanted to improve the interface and store any new
help text you've written for the improved interface somewhere safe. If the
situation you predicted arises, you can pull out your notes and hand them a
solution so fast they'll think you're a genius. And if the problem never
arises, console yourself with the thought that sometimes users really are
smarter than we like to think.

<<Should I just write the instructions in the Help and get over and done
with it? I guess there is nothing I can do about it when the client is not
bothered but it would leave me very unsatisfied with the kind of help I'll
be producing.>>

Sometimes you really can't do anything more than what the client wants, even
if what they want isn't particularly good for them. But you should always
try to persuade them to adopt a better solution. If it really is better,
eventually they'll realize that and accept it.

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada

"Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the
earth's surface relative to other matter; second, telling other people to do
so. The first is unpleasant and ill-paid; the second is pleasant and highly
paid."--Bertrand Russell

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