Monday, March 14, 2011

Techniques for Embedded User Assistance

User assistance in a UI is the first layer a user sees. So understanding the many ways you can embed UA within the application is going to be very useful.

Tony Self started by defining embedded UA as content that resides within the application window.

IN the past, cue cards were a form of embedded UA. But still gotten to from the Help menu. Not really "embedded," but part of a move toward it. "Show Me" help was another form. But again, not really "embedded." What's This? help offered contextual links. ven with that, although on top of the UI, users hade to click to see it. Tooltips helps user use the applications, and definitely embedded.

Closer we get to embedded user assistance, closer it is to programmers being in charge.

Now, we find embedded UA in many places. For example, in descriptive/overview links. By restructuring menus and grouping things together, the Control Panel in Windows is an example between Classic and Standard views. "Super" tooltips, can contain hyperlinks and richer text. Easiest types is static information in the UI. Embedded wizards and embedded help are common these days.

Why do users like embedded UA? It minimizes interruption. It makes information more accessible and relevant. It reinforces perception of help as being part of the application.

Embedded UA improves usability. User don't have to ask the "right question" because the help is at hand. It's nonintrusive. Interestingly, users don't see embedded UA as "help," but as part of the application. It improves usability because users stay in their workflow, which means embedded UA must be task-specific. And it is optimized for what Alan Cooper calls "perpetual intermediates."

Bartriers to embedded UA include that it's hard(er) to implement (it needs software development time and cooperation), it's more work, updates and localization is more difficult, and there's no standard technology or approach.

An interesting thing, Tony's showing embedded content written in XMetal, in an XML file, using DITA. A table has the field name, the field name text, and the tooltip. All of that can be developed by the user assistance developer. Can make updates without needing to recompile the program. Makes it easy to translate as well, because you just have to translate the content in the XML file.

Secrets of embedded UA include keeping content independent of product, simplify integration, make content changes not impact code (and vice versa), and use mapping files and techniques.

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