Monday, March 14, 2011

A Pattern Library for User Assistance

Rob Houser will focus primarily on embedded user assistance and other assistance that's around a product.

Theoretical definition: collection of solutions to common problems in a specific context. Practically, look at trends, use what you observe to find common themes. Patterns is a good way to get ideas, an idea library. Can look around and be inspired.

Why do you need a library? Less being published about user assistance. Few outlets, such as this conference (and a couple of others). Also helps to get interaction designers think about user assistance as part of the design process. We're not building a common body of knowledge that we can share. It's also useful to speed up adoption of best practices.

User interface pattern libraries define common controls or interactions.

Core categories for user assistance (UA) patterns include getting started, making decisions, and solving problems. Other possible categories can be performing tasks, working more productively, and developing expertise. Some of the categories have overlap.

Questions users ask when they are getting started include why and when would I do the task, what can I do here, what do I need to know, what do I do next, what's new. The idea of helping users to get started is to encourage them to explore.

For making decisions, users might ask questions such as what do I need to know to make a decision, what are the rules, what happens if I do this. For example, a bit of content next to a field can describe what to put in there. Examples imply what do do.

For solving problems, users might ask what the problem is, what do I do to fix the problem, what are other people doing to fix the problem.

One question is whether UA libraries should be standalone or integrated into other libraries, such as UI libraries.

Check out and, future home of UA pattern libraries.

Patterns are a good place to start, but the right combination still depends on your users and application. Patterns shouldn't limit innovation.

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