Tables get a bad rap—especially in the Web world where, once upon a time, Web developers misused them for HTML layout. But tables are still very useful for the purpose for which they were originally intended—a way to show relationships among discrete data points. From a user assistance perspective, we deal with tables in two contexts:
user assistance—Tables can present information or instructions in our documentation.
user interfaces—Tables can display information within a user interface itself.
In this column, I’ll review some of the basic principles of good table design from an information developer’s perspective, then discuss their visual design and interactivity. These principles and my examples provide the bare essentials of table design. When designing tables, a key information design objective is keeping them simple, so if you start needing more than this column provides, you might be making things unnecessarily complicated for your users. Read More
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
The profession of technical writing is on the verge of obsolescence! If you are a technical writer, you need to open your eyes to this reality. The current industry trend shows that hiring managers are looking for people who can fill more than one critical role. With many programmers, quality-assurance testers, analysts, and consultants taking on technical writing, it will eventually become impossible to sustain a career solely as a technical writer without any hands-on technical or analytical experience.
To survive in the ever-changing IT industry, it is essential that technical writers keep honing their skills to avoid becoming dispensable. As the saying goes, it is never too late to learn something new. In this article, we’ll describe some of the proficiencies you should consider acquiring in addition to your technical writing skills. Read More