Which usability principles are especially
important in the design of help systems, and why?
answer available for tutors only
Availability - the user needs
to be able to access help at any time during his interaction
with the system, and should not have to quit the application
he is working on to open the help application. In
windowed systems, the help application can run concurrently
with any other application.
Accuracy and completeness - as well as providing
an accurate reflection of the current state of the
system, help should cover the whole system. The designer
cannot predict which parts of the system the user
is going to require assistance with and must therefore
assume that all parts must be supported.
Consistency - help systems may incorporate
a number of parts, and the help provided by each must
be consistent with the others and within itself. On-line
help should also be consistent with paper documentation
in content, terminology and style of presentation.
Consistency itself can be thought of as a means of
supporting the user since it reinforces learning of
Robustness - help systems are often used by
people who are in difficulty, perhaps because the
system is behaving unexpectedly or has failed altogether,
so the help system itself should be robust, with correct
error handling and predictable behaviour.
Flexibility - many help systems are rigid,
producing the same help message regardless of the
user's expertise or context of work. A flexible help
system will allow each user to interact with it in
a way appropriate to his needs.
Unobtrusiveness - the help system should not
prevent the user from continuing with normal work,
nor interfere with the user's application.
For more tutorial-style help the designer
may need to consult with educational experts so as
to adopt an appropriate learning paradigm for the