Re: Clickable bitmaps in online help: opinions?

Subject: Re: Clickable bitmaps in online help: opinions?
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 27 Mar 1996 11:26:00 EST

At 07:56 AM 3/27/96 -0800, you wrote:
>Through the years, I have maintained that placing clickable screen shots in
>online help is a waste of time for users. (This is an opinion only.) What do
>I mean by "clickable screen shots"? Essentially, what appears to the user
>after pressing F1 is a graphic of the dialog box. This graphic contains hot
>spots linked to descriptions of each of the fields and controls.

>So what's wrong with this method (IMHO)? It's "interface-centric" and not
>"user-centric." This means that it describes the interface rather than
>telling the user how to use the interface. If the user presses F1 while
>viewing a dialog box, for what kind of information is the user looking? A
>description of the dialog box? A description of how to fill in the dialog
>box? Or a more comprehensive set of tools (search, contents, menus) to get
>to the topic, whether narrative or procedural, that the user needs?

>Opinions, please. Or, if you know of research ...

>kjolberg -at- ix -dot- netcom -dot- com (preferred)
>kjolberg -at- aol -dot- com
>102031 -dot- 3556 -at- compuserve -dot- com

I compromise. I know that the user is probably searching for help with a
task, but in situations where the dialog box is obscure or fairly small, or
if the tasks essentially ARE the dialog box, then I use hypergraphics.

I also use hypergraphics extensively in subordinate topics. So when the user
presses F1, a topic pops up with a quick (one-sentence) description of the
situation, task, or dialog box and then a stepwise task list. If the user
wants to see the field descriptions, there's a button at the bottom of the
topic that whisks him to the the subordinate topic specifically about field
descriptions. There I place the hypergraphics.

One thing to consider about context-sensitive help is that the user is
staring directly at a dialog box or window when F1 goes down. We need to
give the user a bridge. Users think in windows and boxes and little
clickable things. We have to give the user some sort of transition from
"lit-up screen pretty stuff" to the tasks. Otherwise, the user may not
understand that we're making that mental leap from app to help file. The
one-sentence description helps, but in situations where F1 takes off from a
simple dialog box or message box, the user may benefit from seeing the same
thing he's just left, with suitable clickable fields. I'd limit such an
approach to small screen shots, with perhaps three or four fields.

Tim Altom
Vice President
Simply Written, Inc.
317.899.5882 (voice)
317.899.5987 (fax)

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