Friday, October 23, 2009

Working Out With On-Line Help

For my birthday last month my family decided to buy me the Beatles Rock Band video game, an appropriate gift given my long standing interest with in the Fab Four. But I'm not really a game player and didn't have a game system, so we also decided to purchase a Nintendo Wii and the Wii Fit package to go along with the present.

While I really enjoy the Beatles Rock band, I have become somewhat addicted to the Wii Fit (with positive results on my overall health and posture), and feel like I'm missing something if I don't spend at least a few minutes each day doing at least a few of the exercises.

While working out one morning last week, I had a revelation of the Technical Documentation kind - I suddenly realized that I was in fact working out using what amounted to the Wii Fit's on-line help system.

There is nothing that we would label as traditional on-line help, no Help menu item, no F1 button to press and no self contained documentation - but it has Help all the same.

When you start a new exercise the virtual trainer immediately gives you a demo of the exercise. But just that once, after that it' an option available at the start if you want to refresh your memory.

And note how the Wii Fit uses a simple star system to give you feedback on how well you have done that task in the past - a simple, effective and intuitive feedback loop.

Once you start working on an exercise or task the trainer shows you the moves but also adds step by step instructions with using visual (movement and graphics), audio (voice) and text (on screen instructions).

I have also noticed that as you get better at a task and move up the levels, it makes assumptions on skill level and delivers less basic information. i.e it tracks your usage of the system.

What I am getting is the correct information to complete a task at the point I need it.

I do not have to go find Help on how to do something - the Help finds me as I do a specific task.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, watching my teenage daughter do her homework made me think about the way we need to redesign content structure, so my introduction to video games has made me rethink the way we should be delivering on-line assistance.

Why are we once again force fitting the book paradigm into software assistance and electronic delivery.?Integrated context sensitive help shouldn't just mean that I get a "topic" or "Chapter" when I hit the F1 key - it should mean that the software delivers the information I need at the point I need it based on what I'm doing and how many times I've done it before.

(Apologies for the quality of the photos - took them this morning with my iPhone after I thought about doing this blog post.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Missing one small (but vital) step

As anyone who has heard me speak recently will be aware, I'm a big fan of providing minimalist documentation that helps answer the basic question - "HOW?"

How do I make this work?
How do I connect this?
How do I complete this task?

But when I say minimalist, I don't mean badly designed or written - in fact I would argue that the sort of documentation I advocate needs to be better written and designed than the traditional 'owners manual' approach.

In a recent tweet, well known industry consultant, Scott Abel posted

Most people don't want a user manual; they want usable, managable instructions for the task they are doing.

I totally agree.

I often cite a slim 16 page booklet that I received as part of a network router package as one of the best designed pieces of documentation I have ever used as it combines, good use of language with color, simplified clear illustrations and even the physical design of the booklet to quickly and simply answer the question of 'How do I connect this thing up and get my wireless network running?'

Then last night I ended up installing a different wireless router from another manufacturer, which on the surface appeared to be taking a similar, minimal documentation route, but with not quite the same results.

This new router was shipped with no printed documentation, just a CD in a paper sleeve with the words "Start Here" emblazoned on the sleeve.

Once installed a couple of clicks opened up the installation guide - a short, well illustrated, 5 page document.

Looking good so far - but then I scanned down to read the instructions, and saw this.


mmmm - see the problem?

You only provide instructions as a PDF on a CD and the first thing you ask me to do is to turn off the device I use to read those instructions. - Not so clever.

The inclusion of another small, but vital, instruction step saying


could solve that usability issue.

So think about this - if you are going to produce a minimal documentation set - then at least think about how, and where it is going to be used.

Getting Started type guides will probably always be best as a printed document, which could be anything from a single sheet checklist to a small booklet. But remember you need to apply more thought about design, graphics, language, and usability.