11. user support


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 system usage.
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 material.

Other exercises in this chapter

ex.11.1 (ans), ex.11.2 (ans), ex.11.3 (ans), ex.11.4 (ans), ex.11.5 (tut), ex.11.6 (tut), ex.11.7 (tut), ex.11.8 (tut), ex.11.9 (tut), ex.11.10 (tut)

all exercises for this chapter