Tuesday, January 09, 2007

User Assistance in the Role of Domain Expert

The need for users with domain expertise for developing Help ...

"This article explores the role of user assistance in providing domain-centric online Help—rather than Help that simply explains obvious user interactions with well-designed user interfaces—and provides a pattern for and examples of expert guidance.

It took two aha! moments for me to get the importance of providing domain expertise in Help. The first came at a conference for writers of user assistance when the technical communications manager for a company that makes home accounting software said, “My challenge isn’t teaching people how to use our software; it’s teaching carpenters how to be accountants.”

The second aha! came during usability testing of the online Help I had written for system administrators of a predictive dialer—a device that dials phone numbers automatically, then if someone answers, connects that person with the first available call-center agent. On one of the screens we were testing, users were to set the Busy Callback Time, which I had defined as: “The time the dialer waits before redialing a line that is busy.” I had specified the minimum and maximum allowed values—0 and 999 minutes, respectively—and even mentioned that users could click an up arrow to increase the value; a down arrow to decrease the value. And, of course, I also told users to click Save to save their changes. Well, when I tested the online Help in the usability lab, I learned the following:

• The label Busy Callback Time was self-explanatory—really, everybody got it right away.
• No one wanted to set the value to less than zero.
• No one tried to set a value that was even close to going over the allowed maximum—and if someone had, the system would not have accepted the value.
• Everyone figured out that whole up arrow and down arrow thing without my help.
• They figured out Save on their own, too.

Still, users went to Help with one simple question: “What’s a good number of minutes to delay before calling back?” It seems that was the only thing I had not documented.

I understood then that Help should provide domain expertise, not just tell users how to manipulate user interface elements."    (Continued via UXmatters)    [Usability Resources]


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