Definition of "user-friendly"?

Subject: Definition of "user-friendly"?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 21 Apr 2005 08:43:53 -0400

Tony Markos wonders: <<how do you define user-friendly [documentation]?>>

User-friendly documentation accomodates the way I think. This means that, among other things:

It is organized to match my understanding of how the software works, and provides enough context for me to create that understanding where I formerly lacked it. This lets me find information quickly by following a logical path through the hierarchy, or by learning what path I should be following, without ever (or only rarely) leaving me fearful that I'm following the wrong path to a dead end many pages or links deep in a mysterious structure.

The documentation matches the product closely, so that as soon as I see part of the interface, I immediately know what to look up in the documentation. For software, this may mean that I provide a separate index for every dialog box name so that users can look up that name in the manual. For hardware, this may mean that I provide an initial photographic index in which all the key components are labeled clearly, with an index entry for each and possibly even page references directly in the photographs.

The docs provide a good index with appropriate keywords. If they're online docs, that means I'm not forced to rely on a primitive search function or a random walk through the contents to find what I'm seeking. If there is a search function, it is moderately intelligent; that is, it understands stemming (e.g., for the concept of writing, typing the "writing" keyword would find "written", "to write", "wrote", etc.), "sounds like" (for those times when I don't know how the jargon is spelled), and "related concepts" (e.g., if I'm searching for foreign-language characters, the search will be smart enough to turn up links to Unicode fonts too).

The documentation is concise--which means that it provides information economically. It emphatically not mean that the writing is terse and telegraphic or that it omits useful information in the interest of appearing short. The instructions and explanations use the same language as the software, but provide synonyms where it's likely that I may be using a different "industry standard" jargon than the software uses.

Graphics are used to communicate things that prove the old maxim that "a picture is worth 1000 words", but not simply to add color to the screen or page.

The visual hierarchy of the page or screen uses white space intelligently, and supports hierarchical organization of the information. For example, brief instructions for experts are clearly separated from detailed instructions for amateurs so that both are available, depending on my needs, but are not so densely intermingled that it's hard to choose one or the other.

The documentation is comprehensive, which means that it is written with a clear understanding of all the things I need to accomplish with the product, including how to work around the product's known flaws, when to use one alternative instead of another, and where to turn for additional help. For example, with Web-authoring software, I want to see a URL (a hyperlink for online information) for the W3C tag reference so I can look up anything that isn't included in the documentation.

Of course, one person's meat is another person's vegan nightmare. <g> All these things will help make documentation better for most people, but still won't meet unique needs or provide the perfect solution for everyone.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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Definition of "User-Friendly" Was Re: Engineering design practice: From: Tony Markos

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