UI navigation info for customizable UI?

Subject: UI navigation info for customizable UI?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Chris Orr <got2940 -at- hotmail -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 26 Apr 2006 10:48:34 -0400

Chris Orr wondered: <<My documentation team has a thorny problem with our product's new UI. With the new UI, users can choose how they want to view the product, and items appear in different folders and menu structures, according to the chosen view. Additionally, users can create new views. We do not know how to direct users to find the items mentioned in procedures.>>

The easiest solution is to integrate the help within the interface. Have a look at the following article for an overview of the topic: http://www.techwr-l.com/techwhirl/magazine/technical/embeddedhelp.html

One huge advantage of embedding the help is that each different interface view is accompanied by its own help. This process can be as basic as providing tooltips for every item that appears on the screen or as complex as dynamically generating help screens based on the contents of any interface screen. (No idea how you'd do that, but fortunately Char James-Tanny is part of techwr-l and can point you in the right direction.)

<<We have tentatively decided to provide no UI navigation info in the procedures but instead provide a comprehensive UI navigation section in our Basics chapter. But we are concerned that users may find the procedures they need, but not go on to use them because they can't find the items mentioned in the procedures.>>

The harder solution is to break down the problem into its "atomic" elements. These are the smallest tasks and related chunks of information that are meaningful to the user and that have a clear counterpart in the interface. If you can document this information, that forms the core of your procedure. You can then create documentation that says something like the following: "Here's what you're trying to accomplish. You can do this in any of the following ways:" The list then becomes hyperlinks to each of the different ways to perform that specific task or use that specific feature.

For icon-heavy interfaces, present a visual glossary so users can click components of an image map and jump to the description of each component.

It's also useful to do what you have suggested: provide an overview of UI navigation. Make this part of the online help system so that you can cross-reference this help topic from every other topic where this is relevant.

<<Whatever solution we decide on, it must work for us in a highly dynamic development environment, where we maintain hundreds of documents and localize them into many different languages.>>

This suggests that you need to consider some form of single-sourcing. One advantage of breaking up the information as I suggested above would be that it facilitates single-sourcing.

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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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UI navigation info for customizable UI: From: Chris Orr

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