Published: February 20, 2007
In a previous Communication Design column, “Refining Data Tables,” I alluded to the importance of Web forms in online commerce, communities, and creation. As arbitrators of checkout, registration, and data entry, forms are often the linchpins of successful Web applications.
But successful Web applications tend to grow—both in terms of capability and complexity. And this increasing complexity is often passed on to and absorbed by a Web application’s forms. In addition to needing more input fields, labels, and Help text, forms with a growing number of options may also require selection-dependent inputs.
Selection-dependent inputs are, in essence, a pretty simple concept: Once a user initially makes a selection from one or more options in a form, the user must provide additional input related to the selected option before submitting the form. Figure 1 illustrates this behavior by showing two steps from the eBay Create a Download Request form. After an eBay seller selects the Sold option in the Listings and records drop-down list, the form presents additional input fields for selecting a date range. Were the user to select a different option in the Listings and records list, completing the form would require a different set of additional options. Read more
Published: February 20, 2007
Our lives are becoming increasingly digitized—from the ways we communicate, to our entertainment media, to our e-commerce transactions, to our online research. As storage becomes cheaper and data pipes become faster, we are doing more and more online—and in the process, saving a record of our digital lives, whether we like it or not.
As a human society, we’re quite possibly looking at the largest surge of recorded information that has ever taken place, and at this point, we have only the most rudimentary tools for managing all this information—in part because we cannot predict what standards will be in place in 10, 50, or 100 years.
In the public sector, the information glut has risen to the point of crisis. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal from December 29, 2005, “Oh, Has Uncle Sam Got Mail,” “the White House is expected to turn over more than 100 million emails to the National Archives” when President Bush leaves office. The article goes on to describe the bottleneck at the National Archives, where they cannot easily convert the information they receive to searchable, retrievable formats. The National Archives has retained Lockheed Martin to solve this data storage fiasco, and Lockheed Martin has recommended using HTML as the standard document format—and using digital adaptors to translate that into a new language when it becomes obsolete.” Read more
Published: February 20, 2007
In a utopian world, a product would be so perfect it would not need any user assistance at all. But in reality, products aren’t perfect, and users need assistance through different stages of their use. User assistance (UA)—in the form of manuals or online Help—guides users in their tasks, suggests better ways of getting their work done, and provides directions for troubleshooting their problems.
Designing effective user assistance is a challenge, especially within the available resources and time constraints. If you make a little extra effort and follow certain best practices, you can make your product’s user assistance a big success.
Here are ten best practices for creating effective user assistance:
- Step into the user’s shoes—in mind and in practice. Gather information about your users in advance, profile them well, explore the way they work, then do your best to think like them.
Of course, a single typical profile probably won’t represent all of your users. More likely you’ll need to model your users by creating a set of distinct personas. These personas might represent roles in a corporate world—such as a type of knowledge worker, supervisor, or manager—or graded levels of skill—novice, intermediate, or expert. Personas might even represent users’ diverse goals in approaching user assistance. For example, users might simply want to learn a procedure. They might need help troubleshooting a problem. Or perhaps they lack domain expertise, as Mike Hughes described in his UXmatters article “User Assistance in the Role of Domain Expert.” Read more
Published: February 5, 2007
This article is Part IV of my series “Color Theory for Digital Displays.” It describes how you can use color in applications and on Web pages to ensure that they are accessible to people who have color-deficient vision.
If you do not consider the needs of people with color-deficient vision when choosing color schemes for applications and Web pages, those you create may be difficult to use or even indecipherable for about one in twelve users.
Normal color vision is trichromatic—that is, capable of perceiving all three primary colors of light: red (#FF0000), green (#00FF00), and blue (#0000FF). However, approximately four percent of people of European descent either have color-deficient vision or are color-blind—specifically, about eight percent of men, but only 0.4 percent of women.
Color-deficient vision results from the malfunction or absence of certain classes of retinal cones—the photoreceptors that provide color vision and are sensitive primarily to either red, green, or blue light. With color-deficient vision, it is more difficult to discriminate all three dimensions of color—hue, value, and chroma. The severity of color-vision deficiencies ranges from a little difficulty in distinguishing similar hues to the inability to perceive any color at all. Color blindness is the complete inability to perceive one or more of the three primary colors of light. There are several different types of color-deficient vision. Read more