Re: Documenting the user interface

Subject: Re: Documenting the user interface
From: <neilson -at- windstream -dot- net>
To: "Kapoor, Shelly" <SKapoor -at- imf -dot- org>, "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 10 Jan 2007 13:15:15 -0500


* [command-line, GUI, other?] : GUI

* [new users, old hands, developers?] : new users

* [windows, gnome, kde, X, other?] : windows

* [helpfiles, web page, printed book/PDF] : printed book/PDF

* deadline in [past, future] : future

Most users will already know the fundamentals of using
a GUI on Windows. No need for anything but the most
cursory introduction. Figure out one of the common main
tasks that they'll be doing, and show it by example,
perhaps explaining the reasons behind the choices. Resist
the temptation (or the hints from management) to make
a doc that consists mostly of screen shots. The users
can generally see the screen already.

Do not make a reference manual by mistake when it's
supposed to be a user manual, or vice-versa. It's ok to leave hairy stuff out, or put it in a distant appendix,
if it's only needed in the weirdest of special cases.
On the other hand, make sure to document the pitfalls
where the user interface would lead one into using a
hairy and difficult part by mistake. (The folks in
Marketing--or your equivalent thereof--won't like this;
it exposes design bugs.)

Get a committment from Important People that the user
interface won't change after the doc effort is done. Or
at least get an agreement that you'll be allowed, at
no penalty to you, to do the whole thing all over again,
reviews and everything. Avoid the situation next time by
forcing them to get you involved early, before the user
interface is cast in metaphors.

Think like a user. Answer the questions that imagined
users might have, or that real users tell you about. Set
up a method to get feedback from real users, usually the
naiver the better. (Yes I know that's not a word.)

Resolve to have fun doing the project, regardless of
what happens.

Good luck!

--Peter Neilson

Shelly Kapoor asks:

> I have to document a couple of user interfaces. What do you thin is the
> best way to proceed? Could you please point me to some tips/ideas for
> documenting user interfaces.


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