Reading Usable Help
@UsableHelp on Twitter
Gordon R. Meyer
Balancing usability with reality
An excellent article, Making Online Information Usable , is a must-read for those designing onscreen help systems. Brace yourself, the suggested approaches and findings call into question nearly every help system in existence today. Unfortunately, in my experience, the findings ring true.
Onscreen overviews aren't very good. Searching is the best way to find information. Help does best when it is written for how it is actually used, not as an electronic book. If getting an answer takes too much effort, few will even try. Ugly truths that many help authors don't want to face.
But, as long as we're being realistic, let us also admit that usability is not the only factor that influences help system design. It may be heresy, but budget, resources, and time-to-market all too often take precedent. Technical writers and instructional designers know quite well how to create excellent printed tutorials and overviews. But for many products, paper-based manuals are simply not an option. Therefore, materials get put onscreen in favor of not delivering them at all. But sometimes I wonder, in the long run, does it serve anyone to deliver a poor experience instead of omitting it entirely?