Re: Modern vs Old-fashioned Help

Subject: Re: Modern vs Old-fashioned Help
From: Tony Chung <tonyc -at- tonychung -dot- ca>
To: Nancy Allison <maker -at- verizon -dot- net>
Date: Mon, 25 Jul 2011 08:11:54 -0700


On 2011-07-25, at 7:10 AM, Nancy Allison <maker -at- verizon -dot- net> wrote:

> This help system is very strange (
> ...

> I've lost the original writer's name -- someone in this thread wrote:
> ************
> Even MSDN switched from frames to no frames. It's not a question of design, it's web standards meets usability.
> *************
> To the person who wrote that -- if you find improved usability in this help system, please elaborate on it for me -- I must be missing something.

I wrote the quote about non-frames sites improving usability. My
original intent was to say "break out of the frames". However, some
writers have been shaking up the notion of the usefulness of
topic-based help over the past 10 years.

As Char said, one aspect of usability assumes that the user is
browsing through a task path. Those users aren't expecting to shotgun
through a number of topics, they want the focus to follow their

Ben Minson wrote this post after reading Ginny Redish's Letting Go of
the Words:

Ben shares Ginny's argument that there must be a better way to truly
HELP users, by providing them with multiple scripted pathways, almost
like a role playing game. This process assumes the user doesn't really
want to search; search is a necessary evil to get into the closest

Later, Tom Johnson responded with some pros and cons of the tri-pane model:
He cites Tony Self's research into exploring non-typical topic
structures to break us out of the book paradigm.

A web developer could produce a frameless tri-pane help system that
operates like a traditional help system. Then there's the question of
whether tri-pane help is even the best support option. If we combine
non standard topic structures, task based pathway pages, current web
standards, and a killer search, I think we'd have a winner.

I admit this arena is evolving, and that one creator's assumptions may
be "off"--just look at the kerfuffle MS caused by switching completely
to task based menus in Office 2007. They switched again to a hybrid
model for 2010, as users still like "File Edit Insert...."

BTW I just caught wind of an alternate thread, which discusses the
product interface as the front line help system. Bonus points to you!


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Re: Modern vs Old-fashioned Help: From: Nancy Allison

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