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Designing and Developing Usable Online Help Systems Prashant Natarajan Lead Technical Writer Siemens Information Systems Ltd. 4 th Annual Conference of.

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Presentation on theme: "Designing and Developing Usable Online Help Systems Prashant Natarajan Lead Technical Writer Siemens Information Systems Ltd. 4 th Annual Conference of."— Presentation transcript:

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2 Designing and Developing Usable Online Help Systems Prashant Natarajan Lead Technical Writer Siemens Information Systems Ltd. 4 th Annual Conference of the India chapter of STC

3 2 Do users actually use online help?  Most critical document for end-users of s/w applications  Unplanned efforts - reader frustration and poor usability  Why is online help not used? Users fail to find the info they need OH designed poorly in terms of content and structure Are users expecting one kind of information and getting something different? Is it because users are smarter these days and need less online help?

4 3 A planned approach  Fewer writing iterations, effective organization of content, and readable information  Added benefits - appearance, treatment of information components, and effort estimation  Can be tailored to suit specific work environments, products, constraints, and risks  Ensures that the process is predictable and straightforward

5 4 Here We Go!!!  Audience and task analysis  Development environments Speak to colleagues from other teams Discussions will help in defining user expectations, development environment, end-user’s environment/platform, and product constraints  Authoring environments OH format and authoring tool Build a set of objectives and requirements Communicate to other stakeholders exactly what you are going to deliver as the online help system

6 5 Planning and Organization C Outline CTopic element - most basic unit of OH, destination of readers C Divided into 3 categories - functional, navigational, and orientation B Functional elements: conceptual, procedural, reference, notes, and tips/shortcuts BNavigational elements: ToC, index, hyperlinks/jumps, See links, and See Also links BOrientation elements: non-scrolling banner regions (in a topic) and styles

7 6 Planning and Organization (cont’d)  Identify information components or screen elements and match them to corresponding topic elements  Clustering Has a central topic element from which all other topic elements are accessed Advance organizes topic elements and creates structured topics Easier maintenance Cluster must contain info on topic title, concept, procedure, jumps, See and See Also links. Optional elements: screen captures, notes, tips/shortcuts, and pop-ups. Cluster Example

8 7 Creating Effective Navigation Elements  Quo Vadis?  ToC provides access to the hierarchy of the help system’s most general top-level categories and topics Designated as the top-level of the help system  Index provides access to all topics in the online help system via an alphabetized keyword index Use indexing guidelines and maintain consistency  Hyperlinks are “space-savers”. Provide useful information at a single click  See (“must-read) and See Also (“can-read”) links

9 8 Other Online Help Elements  Pop-up windows (non-movable and non-sizable windows) Typically contain definitions of terms or other parenthetical information Using too many pop-up windows can disorient the user Avoid putting pop-ups or jumps within pop-up windows  Screen captures Use screen captures of buttons and icons within running text Don’t assume that the reader will necessarily know their meaning. Use explanatory text if your graphics are application-specific Do not use screen captures of windows, screens, and dialog boxes

10 9 General Guidelines for Usability  Use fonts and font sizes consistently. Left-justify text and avoid the use of all uppercase statements or sentences  Be conservative in the use of colors. List the colors in OH  Use consistent terminology EVERYWHERE (running text, hyperlinks, cross-references, ToC, and index keywords)  Don’t use italics or underline text for emphasis  Use a non-scrolling banner area and provide navigation buttons  Use lead-in sentences

11 10 General Guidelines for Usability (cont’d)  Use active voice  Provide multiple access points and navigation aids  Use adequate white space  Write for different user types – novice, intermediate, and advanced users  Create context-sensitive help, at the earliest  Include feedback forms and links

12 11 OH Usability Exercises Method How it works Notes Read and Locate Test General sense of ease of navigation and organization of information Requires time for representative questions Summary TestReader’s grasp key concepts Users read a section of documentation and reflect on it Usability Edit Detailed edit of instructions Useful for procedural help Diaries of Documentation Usage Users keep a diary of their experience with the documentation (and the product) Requires dedicated users

13 12 OH Usability Exercises (cont’d) Method How it works Notes Critical Incident Questionnaire Ask users about critical incidents (critical incidents can be successes or failures) Allow the gathering of criticality and frequency data Documentation Survey (Mail Questionnaire) Focus on key questions A good questionnaire requires design and testing; focus on key questions Field VisitsField visits can be used to gather a lot of information, including documentation use Must focus on the whole product. Trips to get info on “just documentation” are not all that successful!!!

14 13 Cluster Representation (1) Back Back

15 14 A Sample Cluster Back Back

16 References  Planning and Designing Multi-Authored Help Systems, © Kelly Dodge and Lauren Ward, 1999  Usability Methods, © Chauncey E. Wilson, WilDesign Consulting, 2002  Online Help Style Guide, © Siemens Information Systems Ltd., 2000

17 Thank You

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