How to design an online help?

26 Aug 2009 - 10:48am
4 years ago
8 replies
446 reads
Diego Fernandez
2009

Hi list! (this is my first post.. sorry if my English is not so good). I've
the following problem:

I'm working as usability expert for an application related to medical
appointments.
The application will be used in clinics by operators that interact with
patients personally or by the phone.

On of the requirements of my client, is to have an online help in the
application (with the intention to reduce calls to internal support).
I was arguing that this requirement is unnecessary, because I think that
users will not read the online help: they will be busy serving customers.
My point is that good communication and feedback in the UI will be more
effective.

Anyway, the client stills wants a help system included in the application,
so my question is:
How to design a good help system? (I mean not the typical manual page, but
something more effective for the context) Any advice or recommended reading?

Regards,
Diego

Comments

26 Aug 2009 - 9:44am
Diego Fernandez
2009

Hi list! (this is my first post.. sorry if my English is not so good). I've
the following problem:

I'm working as usability expert for an application related to medical
appointments.
The application will be used in clinics by operators that interact with
patients personally or by the phone.

On of the requirements of my client, is to have an online help in the
application (with the intention to reduce calls to internal support).
I was arguing that this requirement is unnecessary, because I think that
users will not read the online help: they will be busy serving customers.
My point is that good communication and feedback in the UI will be more
effective.

Anyway, the client stills wants a help system included in the application,
so my question is:
How to design a good help system? (I mean not the typical manual page, but
something more effective for the context) Any advice or recommended reading?

Regards,
Diego

27 Aug 2009 - 3:42am
Ali Naqvi
2008

Hello Diego,
you wrote:

"On of the requirements of my client, is to have an online help in
the application (with the intention to reduce calls to internal
support). I was arguing that this requirement is unnecessary, because
I think that users will not read the online help: they will be busy
serving customers."

How did you come to that conclusion? Have you conducted any
qualitative research, which shows that users won't read the online
help, or is your conclusion based on an assumption?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=45068

27 Aug 2009 - 7:40am
Diego Fernandez
2009

Ali, thanks for the reply.

On Wed, Aug 26, 2009 at 10:42 PM, Ali Naqvi <Ali at amroha.dk> wrote:

> How did you come to that conclusion? Have you conducted any
> qualitative research, which shows that users won't read the online
> help, or is your conclusion based on an assumption?

You are right here: my conclusion is based mainly on an assumption. I've
done some qualitative research: observation, meetings, but I need a more
focused research to get a better conclusion.

Thanks,
Diego

27 Aug 2009 - 7:51am
Diego Fernandez
2009

Thanks!!! your response was very helpful.

On Thu, Aug 27, 2009 at 6:33 AM, Petteri Hiisila <petteri at hiisila.fi> wrote:

> Welcome to the list!
>
> Diego -- you have to spend your time designing the application itself, not
> a help system for it. It sounds like the client doesn't trust you enough
> right now, and you need to sharpen your own tools also. You must find a way
> to dedicate most of your time to make those appointments easy, and god
> forbid, safe.
>
> If I were in your shoes:
>
> Tomorrow, ask the client if he/she could delay the decision until you have
> presented the actual design. Then you can both decide what kind of help &
> training will be necessary as a whole. Don't push such design decision so
> early. Your instinct is right, but your timing isn't. Take a step back and
> build a better base.
>
> (Some online help is often necessary, but only experts tend to read it -
> beginners just hop in or expect personal training, especially in a special
> domain like yours. This might become handy:
> http://blogs.msdn.com/jensenh/archive/2005/11/29/497861.aspx)
>

Ey, thanks for the link, my argument was the same :) (is nice to have
references to back it)
I also found this paper that can be helpful:
How usability testing can aid the development of online documentation
http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=97426.97991

>
> Next, follow a process that helps you research the domain, do the design,
> build rock-solid argumentation around it. Don't take shortcuts of jump into
> conclusions. Every now and then, present the good stuff to the client and
> you'll build trust, step by step.
>

>
> Finally, when you can present full scenarios for your client, you should
> both notice that online help wasn't such an issue to begin with. Scenario
> Walkthroughs will be your best friend when proving that a feature is
> unnecessary.

>
> This book: Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered
> Products and Services by Kim Goodwin
> Permalink: http://amzn.com/0470229101
>

Again, thanks a lot!

As a conclusion from your mail and the one from Ali, I known that more
research is needed mainly to known if online help is needed or not (and
where is needed), and to research better options that help users to reach
their goals.

Diego

27 Aug 2009 - 8:58am
Jennifer Vignone
2008

I have built many of these and an online help is never a waste of time.
Regardless of how much you think it will or will not be used, I have yet to encounter an incident where having it didn't make a good impression on users, as well as to the business who funded the work. They may not know how to use the application or service they paid for, and therefore appreciate the notion that they are empowered by having the help available.

The need to organize an online help also gets the flow in order for presenting to users and to each other, and frequently gaffs in the design, despite how thorough the usability may or may not have been, may be uncovered during its preparation.

Good communication is paramount, however, if your users are scattered far and wide, across the world, across one country, or simply across a building where getting to everyone via a phone help or physical visit isn't always possible depending on availability.
And did I mention how useful the online help is to the support team who will assist users?

My question now is what sort of documentation was created and sued to produce the application? Let's start with that.

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com [mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Diego Fernandez
Sent: Wednesday, August 26, 2009 10:44 AM
To: discuss at lists.interactiondesigners.com
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] How to design an online help?

Hi list! (this is my first post.. sorry if my English is not so good). I've
the following problem:

I'm working as usability expert for an application related to medical
appointments.
The application will be used in clinics by operators that interact with
patients personally or by the phone.

On of the requirements of my client, is to have an online help in the
application (with the intention to reduce calls to internal support).
I was arguing that this requirement is unnecessary, because I think that
users will not read the online help: they will be busy serving customers.
My point is that good communication and feedback in the UI will be more
effective.

Anyway, the client stills wants a help system included in the application,
so my question is:
How to design a good help system? (I mean not the typical manual page, but
something more effective for the context) Any advice or recommended reading?

Regards,
Diego
________________________________________________________________
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27 Aug 2009 - 9:14am
brendon.cornwel...
2009

Contextual help is often useful - having a question mark icon next to
a difficult form input, or page level help.

Tools like RoboHelp are also useful and provide built-in search
functionality or online help.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=45068

27 Aug 2009 - 10:35am
Santiago Bustelo
2010

Hi Diego!

As I understand, a big part of your issue is your relationship with
the client. Petteri's words on the subject are golden.

Your words gave me the impression that your client may think online
help as a way to skip on usability research. Actually, usability
research is needed in order to properly define the help contents, as
Gerry McGovern shows in this example:

"Lots of people were searching for "remove conditional
formatting" on the Microsoft Excel website. So the team created a
page explaining how to remove conditional formatting. The page got
substantial negative ratings from customers. The team revised the
content but the negative ratings remained high nonetheless.

"The Excel team did more research to try and better understand why
the page was getting negative ratings. What they found was that the
most customers' actual task was to format properly in Excel. These
customers had tried to format but had made a mistake. They wanted to
remove the formatting and then reformat. The page that the team had
created only explained how to remove formatting. The Excel team got
rid of this page.

"Now when people searched for "remove conditional formatting"
they were sent to a page that showed you how to format, remove
formatting, etc. Customer satisfaction rose.

P.S: You may like to share your question in the IxDA Buenos Aires
list:
http://groups.google.com/group/ixda-ba

--

Santiago Bustelo, Icograma
%u2028Buenos Aires, Argentina

// IxDA Buenos Aires: http://www.ixda.com.ar

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=45068

27 Aug 2009 - 10:36am
Jennifer Vignone
2008

Some additional thoughts:

Contextual Help can be provided using an icon next to the topic, item, section, etc., that leads to further explanation.
That explanation can appear inline as an opening in the page, the way Google does; as a pop-up, or it can lead to a specific area within a larger Help system.

Sometimes the Help is based on sections and not fields and it makes sense to have visuals that are annotated on a larger scale. This may lend itself to a larger Help, with a screen shot that is easier for the user to see, rather than a snap of a piece of a field or widget. In these cases, a separate Help site/location might be more suitable.

Sometimes a layer is floated over a screen, which become slightly ghosted, with the annotation on top of it. This leads the user through the page/screen, telling them the order to follow and what happens as the fill the fields in.

It is useful to make Help printable, exportable as a PDF, and if you can also have the Help exportable in individual pages as well as a manual, that is really useful. You will find that the Help is useful as a selling tools for the application and can form the basis of a presentation, where sections of it can be harvested for such use.

There is a free product called HelpNDoc (well I think it's still free) that is really useful and produces an chm file, a PDF, and an HTML version automatically if you need to put something together quickly to see how it flies with users and the business. However, it is just PC-based, so a Mac cannot benefit.

Hopefully, some of this is useful to you.
Jennifer

========================================

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com [mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Jennifer R Vignone
Sent: Thursday, August 27, 2009 9:58 AM
To: Diego Fernandez; discuss at lists.interactiondesigners.com
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] How to design an online help?

I have built many of these and an online help is never a waste of time.
Regardless of how much you think it will or will not be used, I have yet to encounter an incident where having it didn't make a good impression on users, as well as to the business who funded the work. They may not know how to use the application or service they paid for, and therefore appreciate the notion that they are empowered by having the help available.

The need to organize an online help also gets the flow in order for presenting to users and to each other, and frequently gaffs in the design, despite how thorough the usability may or may not have been, may be uncovered during its preparation.

Good communication is paramount, however, if your users are scattered far and wide, across the world, across one country, or simply across a building where getting to everyone via a phone help or physical visit isn't always possible depending on availability.
And did I mention how useful the online help is to the support team who will assist users?

My question now is what sort of documentation was created and sued to produce the application? Let's start with that.

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com [mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Diego Fernandez
Sent: Wednesday, August 26, 2009 10:44 AM
To: discuss at lists.interactiondesigners.com
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] How to design an online help?

Hi list! (this is my first post.. sorry if my English is not so good). I've
the following problem:

I'm working as usability expert for an application related to medical
appointments.
The application will be used in clinics by operators that interact with
patients personally or by the phone.

On of the requirements of my client, is to have an online help in the
application (with the intention to reduce calls to internal support).
I was arguing that this requirement is unnecessary, because I think that
users will not read the online help: they will be busy serving customers.
My point is that good communication and feedback in the UI will be more
effective.

Anyway, the client stills wants a help system included in the application,
so my question is:
How to design a good help system? (I mean not the typical manual page, but
something more effective for the context) Any advice or recommended reading?

Regards,
Diego
________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
This email is confidential and subject to important disclaimers and
conditions including on offers for the purchase or sale of
securities, accuracy and completeness of information, viruses,
confidentiality, legal privilege, and legal entity disclaimers,
available at http://www.jpmorgan.com/pages/disclosures/email.
________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
This email is confidential and subject to important disclaimers and
conditions including on offers for the purchase or sale of
securities, accuracy and completeness of information, viruses,
confidentiality, legal privilege, and legal entity disclaimers,
available at http://www.jpmorgan.com/pages/disclosures/email.

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