Re: Clickable bitmaps in online help: opinions?

Subject: Re: Clickable bitmaps in online help: opinions?
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- EXPERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 27 Mar 1996 11:07:31 -0800

At 07:56 AM 3/27/96 -0800, Kris Olberg 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.)

>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 ...

I agree. Using a segmented graphic of a screenshot is usually a waste of
time. Not always. But usually. I've found them very helpful for getting
the user started in the program -- giving an overview of the interface,
them menus, etc. on the main window -- but using them for ever dialog
box is a distracting, disk-consuming waste of time. The place an extra
step between the user and the information (locating the field and clicking
it again) and can (often) be mistaken for the *real* interface, which
causes frustration.

Statistically, users access help for 30 seconds to 2 minutes at a time.
That's all the time you have to grab them and give them the information
that they need. Your job is to anticipate what question they're asking
and to answer that question on the *very first* screen they see. Why?
Because users will not access a second screen, or even scroll to the
bottom of the current screen. If they don't see the information
immediately, they assume it's not there. And no, answering multiple
questions in that first topic doesn't work, because if there's too
much text, the user won't read it.

Users do expect different types of information online and on-paper.
What theye expect when they access context-sensitive help is
contextual information. (Yeah, I know, DUH!) What am I supposed
to enter here? What does this checkbox do? What do these options
mean? The *what* of it all is the most important question to
answer online and that's what users should see first when they
bang on that ol' F1 key.

Even tho "what" should be first, that dosn't discount the "how"
and "why" of things, but provide links to those topics, don't
display them as context-sensitive help.

-Sue Gallagher
sgallagher -at- expersoft -dot- com

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