Here are three online help techniques that are relatively easy to do, but still answer some very real needs fairly effectively.
1. What’s This?
Every “active’ button or link should have a mouseover event popup. Some on-screen labels and fill-in-the-blank fields might deserve an info-popup, as well.
Value: You know that placing your mouse over an item is likely to display some useful information about that item.
Task: Technically easy to implement. Involves no backend coding.
Content: We need to create a repository of short (1-2 line) descriptions for each active item on a page. The descriptions should be concise, informative, appropriate, non-redundant and readable (i.e. non-geeky). Who does this: QA, BA, UXP, Marketing?
2. Where am I?
The “site map” is a great (and popular) way to communicate a lot of useful information about the structure of your service. It’s still a little early for a site-wide sitemap, but we should definitely include that in our planning. In the meantime, the “TopMenu” solution described in the previous section gives us a “mini sitemap” for each Service.
Value: You know what you’re getting into. There are shortcuts to what you want to do. Consistency.
Task: Technically easy to implement. Involves no backend coding other than a hyperlink.
Content: None. It’s all navigation.
3. Pay Attention! (alert)
This help might be viewed as an alert (“Before you do anything, let me remind you…”). There are some business rules that demand clarification. The alert is modal: You need to close it before you proceed.
Value: Necessary info is unavoidable.
Task: Technically easy to implement. The modal popup may be either a Windows modal popup or a <DIV> tagged part of the page.
Content: Critical info needs to be identified and captured.
The Help Interface
Display Help (the [?] button)
The standard [?] button is a global tool (in a consistent position on the global toolbar) that displays the traditional online help system “window”. This assumes that there is a substantial body of help content available.
Value: You can search a large body of help information.
Task: A lot of work when done right. The help information should be cross-referenced and context sensitive.
Content: Implies that there is a substantial body of help information in a traditional “online help” format that offers conventional tools (Table of Contents, Index, Keyword Search, FAQ’s, Glossary). It’s comprehensive and this is a lot of work.
Help me (active/passive toggle)
Click on a [help me] toggle button in order to switch the help system between active and passive states. Once you trigger the “active” flag, any help messages will automatically pop up until you click it off. There are two main approaches for presenting such alert info.
Active state : When you enter a page or start a process, the help info automatically pops up in your face.
Passive state : You must click on a [?] button in order to view the help info.
- The new user is likely to use the active state (which is the default), so that they are always prompted with help info.
- The experienced user doesn’t need to be bothered. They can click the [?] button to open
Value: You can choose to expose help information as per your need.
Task: Technically easy to implement. The active/passive status flag is read every time a page is opened.
Content: Uses existing “help” collateral.
Implement the first 3 suggestions. They solve several issues and are relatively easy to do:
- Mouseover popups for “just in time” hints
- Mini sitemaps for “where am I”
- Alert popups for “need to know” info
Identify “target” areas or issues and address them.
- Capture as the topics as FAQ’s
- Create short “show me” mini-presentations
Compile fully-featured help info.
- User Guide
- Context sensitive help for every page
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