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Usbility design suggestions?


I've got Quick Tips throughout my program.
They just let the user know about non-obvious features.

I'm trying to improve the buttons at the bottom that let user show the tip again or make it go way and never come back.

Right now I'm thinking about:


Tip text
usually several lines.

Show this tip again?
[YES, always show]    [NO]

I'm thinking that maybe I'd want READ instead of SHOW to be user user-centric.

Read this tip again?
[YES, read later]  [Never read again]

or maybe the simplest:
Show this tip again next time?
[Yes]    [No]

Mr. Analogy {Shrinkwrap ISV owner} Send private email
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Re-read Cooper's "About Face" on Dialog boxes.

He advocates having the same button names on all non-modal dialogs. Not sure if I agree with that.  He makes a good point:

Once you're done with the dialog, it should be obvious how to dispatch it ("Close")

Just occurred to me that the user may not realize that they are closing the tip when they click the button.

So perhaps something better is a button and checkbox.

 [  ] Never show this tip again.
Mr. Analogy {Shrinkwrap ISV owner} Send private email
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Who here ever reads those "tips" in programs?  I find most of the tips so obvious that I immediately click the "never show again" checkbox.  Perhaps after a month of usage, I might come across the real useful tips but then the dialog is already gone.

I do often like the content of tips themselves; if a manual includes a tips section then I'll read it.  Perhaps you should just provide a way to get to a page of tips from the help menu.
Almost Anonymous Send private email
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
"Who here ever reads those "tips" in programs?"

I do, actually (in some programs).

But, the issue really is that we're dealing with low tech users. I just need tips to tell them things that, once they know it, are obvious, but I don't want to muddy the interface up with that stuff.

Burying the feature in the Help menu hides it. No one EVER looks in the help menu. user's have better things to do thatn read the help. I just include a few (5 or 6 ) tips to get them started.

Also, we'd need a tip on how to get to the help <g>
(I know, YOU know it's in the help menu).

Remember... my customer is grandma (literally).
Mr. Analogy {Shrinkwrap ISV owner} Send private email
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
I understand tooltips and their usefulness, you hover over something and some little yellow box appears with text you can barely read which gives a summary about what the control is and then goes away again.

I can't really understand tips in dialogs that you have to pay attention to to have them go away.  I don't know what the process is, but if your grandma user is painstakingly creating a patchwork quilt design (or whatever), is it really going to impress them to have a dialog pop up that says 'By the way if you hold the Control key down and the K key together you can quickly see your whole design!"?

Are they in a mode in which they want to learn more about using your software or are they more interested in doing the thing itself.

Sometimes as interface designers we get so pleased with some nifty little feature that we want to force the user into using it because its so neat and the competitors don't have it.

I have a general aim (sometimes I manage to score a hit), to build the interface so that its discoverable even if not immediately obvious.  There's two main reasons, firstly that if the user discovers it for themselves they're much more likely to remember it if it was useful;secondly by remembering the user's focus is their work not my software hopefully I'll create interfaces which gel with how the user works and I won't need a lot of external anciliary documentation or tutorials.

For instance, it seemed natural to me that Ctrl-Shift-DnArrow selects the remaining column in Excel up until the last row of actual data and I use that a great deal in spreadsheets.  Its not something I ever remember reading or learning about in a tip, it just seemed a natural extension.  I'm as pleased with myself for discovering  that as I am in that the software did something I hoped it might.
Simon Lucy Send private email
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
To answer the original question, I think is this best:

...I'm tip text...

[x] Show this tip again next time

Of course, I also like to have the "[x] Never show this dialog again!" option.  If you have both it might get little cluttered.  I've seen one tips dialog with a drop-down list of things you can do -- a bit intimidating but compact.
Almost Anonymous Send private email
Tuesday, November 30, 2004

I agree with all of your points, in theory <g>.

I work pretty hard to make our software usable as well.

The feature I'm thinking of is "You can run this whole lesson from the space bar". (This is speech therapy software).

There's no real way for them to self-discover how incredibly easy this makes the program to use. 

Their options are to press one of about 5 keys that control "play model sound, record your voice, next exercise, etc.".

Pressing the space bar automatically moves you through each of these.  I haven't found a good way to put that into the UI so they can self discover.

I use these tips like "advertisements" about features.

It is a catch-22 : users will use a program for years without discovering alt-tab or alt-n (for new web page), etc.  There is no way to self-discover those sorts of features.

Like the Control-C (or similar) for copying text from a dialog box.

1. users won't read manuals.
2. Users wont' read help files.
3. These are features that can be incredibly helpful to users.
4. Features should not be "on" by default (they are ways to make the lesson more challenging).
5.  Features should not be "out front" where a patient can accidentally press them or be confused by them.

We have pretty specialized software. Our UI must meed the varied needs of a patient (simple, uncluttered), therapist (lots of power features) and a caregiver (easy to get started with but access to power features).
Mr. Analogy {Shrinkwrap ISV owner} Send private email
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
What about something that appears but doesn't force the user to acknowledge it? Not something as annoying as the talking paper clip...I'm thinking more like the line that appears under the Internet Explorer toolbar in XP, when a popup has been blocked. If you're doing something where the tip would be relevant, have it appear. You can either ignore it or read it, and you can hide it with a click.
Tuesday, November 30, 2004

It's called the Status bar, and it's at the bottom of the form.  That's a great idea.  It's there whenever someone wants to see it (you never have to say "No, I don't want to see this one tip again") and it's unobtrusive.

The thing I hate about dialogs (it's not truly a tooltip by the way, if it has a "never show this again" checkbox and a "close" button - that's a dialog) that ask if you want / don't want to see them again, is that you have to do this for EVERY STINKING ONE of them before you're done.

Put a true tooltip under something when a user hovers, and/or put a tip in the status bar or some other consistent area, and leave it there all the time.  Power users can ignore it and occasional users will learn exactly where they can find explanations for seldom-used features.

Better ... design your software so it's obvious from six feet away exactly what each screen is for, and you won't need either tooltips or explanatory dialogs.

Finally (rant's almost done, folks) - avoid "programmereze."  "The ICD9 code suffragete encoder compositor is used to composite the ICD9 code suffragete."  Why do programmers do that?  You're not impressing ANYONE.  Make sure you use words a regular human being will understand in sentence structure that makes sense to nonprogrammers, and make sure they don't just restate the title of the control.  In other words, make your tips USEFUL.  Oh yeah ... and give it to your aunt Millie to proof for you - she got an A+ in English and she knows that "usability" is spelled with an "a".
Karl Perry Send private email
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
If there's a button which moves them onto the next screen/slide/process whatever, but the space bar is a good shortcut to it, which I can see why it would be, then why not label the button somethine like 'Press Spacebar to Advance'.  The button remains the default, so Enter still works, using the Mouse still works and the Spacebar becomes the most common method.

If there are other features you can't point to directly and which won't be discovered then how about Timed Displays?  Not in a separate window, largely because users often report them as being too obtrusive and they certainly don't want to have to dismiss them, but on the background of the application itself.

You'd have to do some calculation about what background is visible to be able to position it, and if the background is completely obscured this method is pointless.

I sometimes create forms which have a pop down extension on the bottom of the form, for the most part these 'details' are hidden, but pressing a display button (which tends to look like double chevrons), expands the form.  You could apply the same technique to a tips area, whilst the user was learning how to use the application the default could be to display the tip area at the bottom of the form, then if they hide it, the app remembers that and the default becomes hidden unless they close the form in the future with the tips area visible.
Simon Lucy Send private email
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
The main problem about the tipps is that they become annyoing very quick and are mostly in the way, because they are modal. This was already pointed out by other posters.

Jacob suggested quite a good solution to this.

If you have panes in your application, you may also thing about putting tipps into a pane you can dock somewhere to the left or right, just like Visual Studio .NET does it with context sensitive help (I presume that tipps are context sensitive?). You don't have to bother about close buttons and "Don't show me this again" checkboxes. If the user doesn't want tipps, he or she closes the pane and brings it up using View->Show Tipps again when needing it.

You may also think about offering the users a tour around your application instead of Tipps on the first start and additional through the Help menu.
Gerd Riesselmann
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Thanks for the excellent suggestions.

I think the dedicated "details/hints" pane (window) is a great idea. Can't do that here because we don't have the screen realestate.  But in the next program I'll probably consider that.

Also, I'm considering using HTML tooltips. The problem with tooltips is that they are sooo unobrusive that most non-techie users don't even seem to be aware that they exist. 

I think having an opening screen that lets them select:

A.  Give me lots of help.
B.  Don't give me help.

[  ] ask me again next time you startup.

(This is too wordy, but you get the idea).

For now:

I've cut back some of the tips.

They are already non-modal "floating" windows which get the focus and any key press makes them go away.

Some of them are timed so they disapear after a certain period (about 2x the time it takes to read them slowly).
Mr. Analogy {Shrinkwrap ISV owner} Send private email
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Your last comment has the idea I was going to mention--a box that pops up with a reminder but goes away on its own after a predifined period of time.

The problem with just a statusbar message (or even a dedicated "tips" section) is that they are not obvious enough. Some apps I use (Excel and IE, for example) I know that there will be relevant information about what I am doing down there, but most of the time its just not obtrusive enough.

The best example I can think of is the floating semi-transparent "You have new mail" box that pops up in the lower-right corner of the screen in Outlook 2003. The motion attracts your attention, but it doesn't require any intervention on my part.

The only thing that would take a little thought would be to figure out how to let the user disable the pop-ups. MSN Messenger, for example, pops up a "Bob has signed in", and there is no way to disable that without going into the MSN Messenger preferences. It would be nice to have an option to disable the popup from the popup itself.
Thursday, December 02, 2004

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