RE: How much to tell users about our wonderful software?

Subject: RE: How much to tell users about our wonderful software?
From: mlist -at- safenet-inc -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 25 May 2005 11:47:13 -0400

Carrie Baker wondered:

> We want to rewrite/upgrade/redo a messy user user guide.
> It is an Installation and Configuration guide for a system.
> There is currently a chapter there called "The Desktop" which
> describes........the desktop.
> The main screen is divided into a number of panes later referred to in
> the documentation.
> It has a section with a list of all the menus available (and what you
> do with them in short)
> There is also a specific icon which changes color, when each color
> means something else and it is important for the user to know.
> My questions are as follows:
> 1. Should you have a marked up picture of "this is what you can see
> and what you do with it?" (there is some quite useful info here)

You shouldn't be teaching the user how to use their operating system,
so assuming that the window is very specialized and has a layout and
content that are much different from "standard" windows displayed by
other applications, then yes you should provide a features and
navigation key. If they don't learn it here, where else will they?

> 2. Do you need to tell people, these are the menus we have here and
> what you do with them. (and also these are all the icons and what
> they do)

You said it's an "Installation and Configuration Guide". If those are
the major tasks that are performed with this interface, then yes,
you should lay out what's-what and who's-who. Again, where else are
they going to learn it?

However, if "Configuration" is just a small part of the ongoing
activity with your product, and most of the menus or menu items
are not used during config, then limit your description to just
the one's they'll need for these activities. The assumption is
that they'll learn about all the other glories of your interface
and features in a separate document, or in online Help. Yes?

> 3. Should there be a section explaining the colors of this special
> icon (this is the only one of the above that does not already exist.

Again, if it's functions are part of the activity of "Installation and
Configuration", then yeah. Otherwise, save all that lovely info for
the other docs or the Help, where they will actually need to know it.
This is especially valid if the people who install and configure the
product might not necessarily be the ongoing users (i.e., if IT or
admin roles are separate from user roles).

The next thing you'll want to figure out is where to put your apology
to the color-blind among your customers... :-)

Um, if color of the icon is so informative, isn't there some other
way for users to learn the equivalent status info? If you are in
the USA, or selling there, there's at least one set of usability laws
and regulations to which you'll need to comply, on behalf of people
with physical handicaps.

Kevin (in Ottawa)

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