Designing Help and Program Flow

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Lecture on Apr 14, 2010

Contents

Readings

Mattkc7 - Apr 15, 2010 10:36:18 pm

Alexander Sydell - 4/10/2010 15:14:08

I disagree with some of what Nielsen says about standardizing web sites, at least with the current state of the web in mind. I think that it's wrong to standardize absolutely every element of web sites as he seems to be suggesting. For example, the search box on Google has a different purpose than the search box on Apple's site, and there is no reason to place them in the same spot or make them look or work in exactly the same fashion. There are so many different applications and sites available on the web today that users might be unable to use many of them if coming in with a preconceived notion of how a site should look, how its elements should be positioned, and how they should work. While a certain amount of standardization, or at least convention, is good, I think that Nielsen is trying to push the idea to its extreme.


Daniel Ritchie - 4/11/2010 14:58:26

Designing help is hard, as Kevin Knabe points out in this week's reading, and designing help for mobile applications might be even harder. The screen is small, the typical task completion time is short--help has to be concise and quickly readable without sacrificing usefulness or completeness.

My project group has a few help screens in our app, and reading Knabe's work has confirmed my suspicion that they need serious revision. We're using "pictures of interface elements," which often confuse users (according to Knabe)--we'll see if this holds true for us in our usability studies.

I'm not sure that *all* of Knabe's advice applies to our case, or to mobile applications in general. For instance, I suspect that the "AppleGuide"-style approach of context-specific help might work well for a mobile application that's highly distinct from other applications on the device. In my group's case, a kind of "help mode" (Eek! Modes? Hear me out) that makes interface elements respond to touches by offering information about their use might work well.

Writing this has gotten me thinking: why do I have to figure this out? Why hasn't Apple done the research already? I just looked through the iPhone Human Interface Guidelines, and there's no mention of how to design help for your application. That seems like a pretty major oversight to me.


Jason Wu - 4/13/2010 16:19:40

As we have seen earlier in the semester, confusion about how to use a particular product may arise from the fact that the user's conceptual model may not match up exactly with the designer's conceptual model, so help functionality is essential in most applications. "Designing Apple Help' provides lots of great insights into how to create an effective help feature, including the important idea that designers should define tasks broadly rather than as a sequence of actions. People generally follow the action cycle (goals -> execution -> evaluation) rather than just performing a set number of actions in strict order, so help features should definitely follow the iterative task model that motivated Apple Help in Mac OS 8.5. Another key insight is to automate tasks when possible. Ideally, help should show the user where/how to access a function either through screenshots or coachmarks. However, automating tasks from help allows people in a hurry to get what they want quickly and is especially useful for infrequently used functions that people are likely to forget anyway. Thinking back to the BART app, I definitely could have used some automation from the User Guide to other functions, such as the trip planner, to help users complete their tasks more quickly.

Also, Knabe's advice to take advantage of the internet makes me wonder what help features in a few years will look like. With faster internet speeds, designers can begin to use videos and other multimedia to explain various functions. This will likely be much more effective than current guides that rely solely on text or pictures, since users can follow along with the video/audio as they attempt the task.


Charlie Hsu - 4/13/2010 16:41:20

The web design standards reading made me think about a few things; Nielsen's advocacy for standardization seems similar to web application development frameworks' emphasis on Convention over Configuration. It seems like Nielsen is arguing for standardization for the sake of the user efficiency, while Ruby on Rails and Django utilize standardization for the sake of developer efficiency. The reading also reminded me of the color schemes in the graphic design lecture; sometimes it is easier (and better!) simply to use standard color schemes already tried and tested by other designers.

The help design reading made me think immediately of one of my deepest grudges with Windows. Knabe mentions users needing to switch contexts to view help screens, forcing users to either memorize instructions before returning to their task, or continually switch between contexts. Knabe's solutions to the problem are good for help internal to the application, but what about for support located on webpages? Some Windows programs offer an "Always On Top" feature for their application windows, something that makes managing screen priority much easier, and is immediately relevant to designing help: often times I'll be coding in a command prompt that I'd like to keep "always on top" as I surf help on the Internet in the background. Windows does not natively allow "always on top" support, so right now the only way to give "always on top" to all windows is through 3rd party applications.


Annette Trujillo - 4/13/2010 23:36:17

I think it's very important for websites to follow internet standards. I get really frustrated when I am surfing a website and I need to search for something and I can't find a search box. This particularly happens when I am surfing some web pages on my mobile device. For example, when I view my local news station's website on my iPhone (www.ksbw.com), there is no search box where I can search for particular stuff I am looking for. This is very irritating, and since I know their regular website has a search box, I have tried to go to a full site version on my iPhone, but I can't even do that. So, no search box, and no way to get to the website's PC version. This problem could be fixed if there was a common "standard" so that all websites that provide a mobile version allow easy access to the full site version. That way if there are issues with their mobile version, a user can just switch versions easily.


Aneesh Goel - 4/14/2010 1:28:59

Apple's redesign of their help interface is interesting, but there are lots of details that aren't well explained. For example, Apple's migration from a proprietary format to HTML would only have helped ease porting for developers if Windows supported the same systems, including whatever had to be hacked into HTML to allow arbitrary circling of interface elements on the actual interface rather than showing an image; while HTML help is indeed more common with Windows programs now, .nfo and other 'help' formats are still in use, suggesting the same porting concerns as before, and any HTML help files in Windows are rendered by a browser, meaning the extra features like the aforementioned circling and adding to a central library for help files wouldn't exist in the unported version.

Furthermore, the entire scheme depends on developers following Apple standards and not integrating their help system into their own applications, which is a fairly common alternative to installing separate documentation on Windows at least; nothing about this standard is enforced and attempting to require it only makes it more difficult for developers targeting the more mainstream PC market (especially at the time, before the huge surge of popularity of OS X) to migrate applications to the Mac.

Knowing the principles involved is nice, but without knowing how to use those principles in practice, it's hard to really take a valuable lesson in designing standards from the article.


Bryan Trinh - 4/14/2010 1:41:01

As we uncover various aspects of UI design one pattern seems to come up over and over, design with the user in mind. The initial approaches of the help menu followed a very sequential approach that is arguably the more obvious approach in creating a help. Steps are easy to follow because a large tasks is subdivided into smaller one. However when using this method, very easy and obvious tasks also must be highlighted, which wastes time. Instead a design is created that more directly addresses the issues that the user might have.

By going through the 11 task analysis questions brought up near the beginning of the semester, it seems we would've arrived at the second solution before ever doing any user testing.




Jeffrey Bair - 4/14/2010 2:57:20

It is interesting to see how even simple conventions are difficult to get passed through in the internet. With millions of people making new websites every day simple design conventions can help users navigate the often difficult to wade through internet. Although I believe that there is a counterargument to this part of the reading as with so many websites it's important to differentiate ones websites from another. The user interface is an important aspect of it that can be changed to break the mold. Also, without people trying out different user interface designs we can never truly perfect it. Trying new and bold things is something that the internet affords quite easily and should be used as such.

The simple and usable interface design behind the early Macs shows just how important certain designs can be even if they're a simple change. For instance, the help icon moved from the right side of the top bar to the left side and relabeled as help can greatly improve a users experience with the program as they can now find the help easily and quickly if they are confused with the program. Conducting tests with users can easily expose the problems with a design and oftentimes can even expose what is unnecessary in a user interface such as the example where they have the play button help screen which almost no one needs.

Reading about these issues brings to light that we also need a help screen and to re-examine our own user-interface which can help avoid confusion.


Richard Lan - 4/14/2010 5:11:43

Standardization allows one to import knowledge gained in one environment and apply it in a different setting. After using a different system, a user will form an expectation for how other systems ought to work. Therefore, standardization is an immense aid to usability. The study discussed in the first article notes that the most important aspects of the user experience on the web are the least standardized, and thus the most confusing. User interface design is also particularly important when creating help menus, as evidenced by the information presented in the second article. In original manifestations of Apple help, users had trouble executing the help instructions because they needed to switch between the actual process and the help menu. The switch in context meant that the user often forgot the instructions or executed them incorrectly. To solve this problem, Apple designers integrated the help so that the user would not have to switch task contexts in order to view them. This design choice made the help visible to the user, making it quickly and easily accessible.


David Zeng - 4/14/2010 10:23:15

Having a standardized web design seems to be a difficult goal to achieve because of the web itself. Because there are so many websites and companies that serve the same purpose, companies often seek to differentiate themselves. One of the most prominent ways to do this is to have a different UI design on their site. If all sites behaved the same way, then users would not be as aware of the site they are using. The elements that are referred to in the reading are standard elements in a website, but it is still one way that websites can differentiate themselves. At the same time, there could potentially exist other easier interfaces for uses. Lastly, it might actually be in the interest of designers to make it a bit different, because that raises the inherent "cost" in switching services. If a person spent a long time learning how to do things one way, he is less likely to switch to another method.


Dan Lynch - 4/14/2010 11:34:00

The Need For Web Design Standards

Web designers are missing the big picture---they constantly focus on minor details of components that they work on and fail to develop a site that is on par with the standard. The author stratified these deviations into categories: standard, convention, and confusion. It was astounding to find that 49% of the web is confusing. I would say that is a huge number, however, it seems that given the nature of the web many of those sites are probably not often visited. Most big sites, like Amazon, Apple, Google, etc., all follow the standard. These are the sites that most people visit. However, there is the occasional site with flash or some new css and javascript widget and it either doesn't work, and is confusing. The author relates these types of designers to ants on LSD.

The "standard" category is somewhat defined strictly. The logo must be on the top left of the page. I really don't agree that this is standard. Look at google.com. So obviously there are flaws in these categorizations, however, they are decent enough to stratify most web pages. I do agree that some form of breadcrumbs are essential, as well as absense of splash pages. Nobody likes watching flash animations anymore. Search boxes are also very imperative to have access to information on a site.

"Signing in" was considered confusing. Very unfortunate, but sometimes a mandatory process for many sites. This is a task I have seen at both ends of the spectrum, from painless to painful.

To avoid confusion and help users, it was said to think in the mind of the user, so that you know what they expect. Then you can design accordingly. Jakob's law was very interesting: "users spend most of their time on other websites". This gives the user a well-defined "what to expect" from a website. "The best strategy is to follow everyone else".

Definitely staying on top of the main sites is important. If facebook is using javascript shadowboxes, then so can I. There were times when you feared using certain javaScript on your site. Luckily, css and javaScript have shown up all over the place, thus advocating its use. Even google has excessive use of many web 2.0 features. Slowly but surely, the web is developing itself and allowing the use of more user-centered design through client-side interactions.

Designing By Apple Help

The apple design team found empirical information in regards to the questions that people have when using interfaces. They then constructed a standard set of question prefixes to determine the types of questions most asked.

The topic revelas that the design process for the apple help was iterative, and certain goals were created through these iterations. For example, the help button was an icon in Mac OS 7.0, but in Mac OS 8.0 it became a menu item written out in text. Major concepts were providing a central point of access for all help, using the internet, defining tasks broadly, write minimally, and automate tasks when possible. First off, I would like to point out that I believe apple has deviated from these goals. Whenever I have read up on their iPhone help, they do not write minimally whatsoever. Much information is irrelevant to the task. Thats just a sidenote. But I do think central points of help are good, however, sometimes when searching in a specific context this causes problems. It is in some cases a good idea to limit searches within help dialogs. Also, automatation can be helpful, yet in some contexts be jumping to conclusions about what a user wants causing confusion. Overall, a good article to read.


Long Do - 4/14/2010 11:49:18

The idea that websites must follow conventions because that is what users will expect reminds me of the reading early in the semester that we should plagiarize good designs so that users can expect similar results. This is great and all, but some of the best solutions and innovations to design have been through trial and error and to force a standard on web design can only stifle such creativity. A good example of trial and error is the reading about the Apple Help guide and how they had originally planned for the guide to "spoon-feed" users directions, which turned out to be very dislikable and was scrapped for a faster and more hands -off approach. Sometimes users don't know that the conventions they are currently following are not the best or most efficient and require a designer to try new things to show the users that there may be a better way. While I am not suggesting doing radical changes, small and incremental change may be more helpful in easing users into new design choices, creating hard set rules that all web design (or interfaces, etc.) have to follow seems very counter-intuitive to progress.


Jessica Cen - 4/14/2010 12:18:11

I believe that I am one of those users that are “willing to sacrifice learning in the interest of fast and successful task completion” to a certain extend. I am only willing to let the computer do tasks that involve looking for a command in the menu. For example, I was always confused when I have to go through the Xcode menu bar to look for a command such as adding pictures to the project. I first learned how to do this using Xcode’s help option, which also was able to do it for me automatically. However, I realized that opening Xcode’s help was the same amount of work as looking for the command in the menu bar so after a while I decided to just learn where the command is located and go directly there. Therefore, I believe that I like to complete tasks quickly with the program’s help option, but after a while I learn that it is quicker to do it without an automated approach. And I believe that automated tasks provide a way to show the user how to do the task instead of telling, which improves the user’s learning experience and intuition on using the program.


Boaz Avital - 4/14/2010 12:20:42

The web design reading seems to be advocating that everyone build much of their websites similarly. He says people view the web as an "integrated resource" and many sites don't "fit in." I disagree with this approach completely. Not every desktop application shares a similar interface, why should web design? And more so, good web design is as much art at functionality nowadays. It really seems like he's trying to limit sites to being very much "cookie cutter", and I don't think this would be a benefit for the web.


Linsey Hansen - 4/14/2010 13:37:42

So, I definitely agree with the "The Need for Web Design Standards" reading, mostly since I have experienced tons of confusion in the past with websites of similar categories having completely different layouts. While I do feel that a lot of websites have definitely moved towards conforming with some sort of standard, a lot of websites, especially computer/computer part retail sights are still pretty different, which makes comparing products frustrating at times. There were even some cases where I would buy something on one sight just because that site was easier to navigate, even though the item might have been more expensive. Ironically, I totally have friends who do web design, and most of them don't really conform to any sort of design standard or research similar sites to try and make interaction easy for the user, but instead just try to make certain things flashy (to be honest, I don't really know how some of said friends are able to get paid for their work). So yeah, if someone were to write a big book (or web page) of design templates and trends for certain types of sites, that would be pretty awesome (well I guess that the author guy does have that tutorial thing he is doing).


Divya Banesh - 4/14/2010 14:02:50

I agree with Nielson's view that the better websites conform to the norm, the more success they will have. For example, I can see that the recent changes in the yahoo websites and in yahoo mail mirror that of google websites and gmail more closely. For example, years ago, yahoo messenger was separate of that the yahoo mail page and users had to go back and forth between the two applications. However, after google combined gmail and gchat all in one application, users started using google's applications more. It made sense to have both applications combined in one. In recent years, yahoo has also made this change to combine their chat and email applications into one.


Owen Lin - 4/14/2010 14:10:52

It's interesting to realize how much research is devoted into creating a Help system. I am impressed with how the Help menu works in Snow Leopard right now. It is an integrated search function that allows the user to type keywords that represent the task at hand and it automatically brings up a list of either menu items that correspond to the keyword or a list of help topics. The downfall of this method is that the user must rely on recall, rather than recognition, to come up with keywords. Sometimes I realize that I need help on accomplishing a task in a program, and I draw a blank on what exactly I'd need to type to get help on the certain task because I'm either unfamiliar with or unaware of the terminology used by the program. I feel that Help menus would be greatly benefitted by a list of most common Help topics because that would certainly take care of most of the cases. But all in all, I can see that Help menus have come a long way and I find them to be a reliable resource.


Jungmin Yun - 4/14/2010 14:52:38

The first reading has a really good point, Jakob's Law needs to be taken into account when designing a webpage. Generally, users spend more time looking and checking other webpages. Therefore, when they try to make theirs, they expect to see something that they have seen before. As the author points out, a person only spends on average a minute and 49 seconds, so you have little time to convey the meaning and usability of your webpage. Apple's guide to its design process for its famous OS is very detail and thorough. This article gives a really good example of how people actually do use all these design theories and usability studies when designing a product. It shows us that thins we learn are actually important in the real world. It's important for us to do research early and ask all kinds of questions that can help with the design.


Mikhail Shashkov - 4/14/2010 14:58:13

The article on the design of Apple's Help was particularly interesting; you don't think about how much effort goes into the design of certain things until you really sit down and thing it through.

I think in the future, it may become feasible to replace help with a remote desktop connection with a "help expert" whose job it is to assume control of your machine (user is seeing this in real time) and assist the user as requested.

Also, I wish they applied some of these principles to the design of the Apple Developer Help. It is absolutely not minimalist. When I want a simple example of an FTP transfer protocol, I don't want UI code, I don't want troubleshooting code, I don't want data abstraction, I just want the 4-5 lines that really do what I want.


Kathryn Skorpil - 4/14/2010 14:58:18

As someone who has been creating web pages for many years, I understand the importance of maintaining web standards. However, I also know that many times web standards are broken not because of the web designer but because of the person commissioning them to create web pages. There is a hilarious article on The Oatmeal (http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell) going over how awful some users suggestions can get, and I have definitely been in that situation many times. It is often times difficult to tell the users that their ideas are awful because they are the ones paying you, but you have to make sure you present yourself as the person they hired to do the best job possible.

Many times artists don't want to adhere to standards because they feel that it restricts their creativity, but I would have to disagree. I think working with some kind of standard is extremely useful and forces you to be more creative to work with them. Beautiful web pages can still be created while still following standards.


Daniel Nguyen - 4/14/2010 15:02:20

The article on the standardization of web design was very interesting because it brought up some very good associations between familiarity between the design of web pages and a user's probability of using that web page for a sustained period of time. However, I think that this article does not address the benefits of straying, even slightly, from the standards present today. Web design is not a field immune to the prospect of revolution or radical change, but by dismissing design schemes that stray from current standards, discovery of change is slowed. I think that something to explore within the realm of web design is whether tricking the user into thinking they are encountering a standard design, when in reality they are encountering a "Confusion" design so to speak, is feasible and effective or not. In this way, the aspects of design that are now confusing can someday become standard as users begin to expect these things more and more by being lured into a false sense of security through the immediate sight of a standard design.


Wei Yeh - 4/14/2010 15:06:39

It looks like Apple stayed true to their commitment to "do continued research into how well the new help system is accepted by developers and users in the field." Mac OS X's current help system is without question the best I have seen. The Help menu item in the menu bar helps you quickly figure out how to do whatever you want to do. Suppose I'm typing this response in TextEdit and want to left-align the text, but don't know where to find that menu option. By simply typing "Left" in the Help search menu, I can be shown immediately where that option is in the menu hierarchy. With this, I not only can perform the operation, but also learned where I need to go if I want to do this from now on. How wonderful!


Sally Ahn - 4/14/2010 15:13:57

Jakob Nielson claims that "'Web design' is a misnomer," and that web sites should conform to a the "whole" web. Although I recognize that standardization of web sites would greatly improve the usability of some websites, I disagree that individual "design" of the website should always be sacrificed for standardization. Of course, there are websites whose deviation from standard design causes confusion for the user, but there are other websites whose uniqueness or visual appeal makes it more memorable with little cost to its usability. Nielson states that "Site designers build components of a whole, especially now that users are viewing the entirety of the Web as a single, integrated resource." However, these site designers must also make their website stand out from its competitors; their goal is to NOT blend in with the rest of the web. Moreover, I think that there are more factors that determine the website's usability than its adherence to the standards. For example, even designs that conform to the standards may not be easy to navigate if its color scheme was chosen very poorly.


Vinson Chuong - 4/14/2010 15:14:56

It seems that whenever I use a system's help function, I do so for one of the following reasons: to find out how to execute a specific function familiar to me from a different system, to find and search through technical literature pertaining to a specific goal, and to troubleshoot. Many of the documentation systems I've encountered cater to only one of the above reasons. There are multiple types/levels of information that users can expect to find via a help function. I'm interested in exactly how effective help systems manage these multiple information levels.


Vidya Ramesh - 4/14/2010 15:26:25

The article on The Need for Web Design Standards by Jakob Nielson explains quite succinctly why the web sorely needs standards in terms of design and usability. It also gives a good motivation for taking advantage of the standards users already expect when creating an application. This does not just have to apply to websites, but any type of end-user application. In the Designing Apple Help document, the author points out some very interesting facts about users. The first and probably most relevant fact is the notion that users have that pictures of interface elements actually have functionality attached to them. He explains it is better to circle the object or otherwise mark it in some manner so that the user can click on the actual interface element rather than show the user a picture of the element. Another key take-away in this article is the fact that the user should always be able to access help no matter where they are in the application. He emphasizes the need for a central point of access.


Andrew Finch - 4/14/2010 15:27:08

In the article on designing Apple help, the placement of the main help menu in OS 7 is discussed. The icon was placed to the far right, near the clock, in order to allow the maximum amount of space for program-specific menus on the left side. The problem was that the icon they chose was a small, hard-to-notice yellow question mark. User studies taught Apple that most users were unable to find the help menu in this location, and instead just looked through the menus on the left side. Apple's solution in OS 8 was to move the menu back over to the left side, and give it the title "help", as opposed to the icon. While this is an effective solution, I really liked the idea of having it separated from the program-specific menus on the left. In my opinion, an equally effective solution would've been to leave it where it was, but just switch from the icon to the title "help", which is much more self-explanatory and easy to notice.


Kyle Conroy - 4/14/2010 15:34:03

This week's reading leaves me conflicted. On one hand, I think it is very important to provide a consistent experience to web users by providing them with an interface that is recognizable and straight forward. However, just because some things are standard on the web (logo on the left, shopping cart on the right) doesn't mean that they are the best ways to do things, just the most common. This reading comes down to two different design approaches when dealing with the web, exemplified by the difference between the Apple design process and the Google design process. Apple's design process is top-down, focused on user experience, and breaks standards when necessary. Google, on the other hand, designs by testing. What color is best for the home page button? Set up a test of twenty different colors, and we select the color that performs the best. Such a different design philosophy is why the web is great. We are free to do what we want, whether it is the best choice or not.


Eric Fung - 4/14/2010 15:38:09

If only our group had read "Designing Apple Help" before doing or low-fi prototype, we would have stumbled on this useful little tidbit: "…users are confused by pictures of interface elements. They often click the pictures, mistaking them for functional interface elements. Rather than showing illustrations of objects on screen, Apple Guide points out the actual object by drawing a bright red circle (known as a coachmark) around the object, as in the figure below." As it turns out, the number one source of confusion in our low-fidelity prototype was the mandatory tutorial screen. In our revised app, we kept our help screens away from the user until they needed to be called up, and we also made extensive use of coachmarks to highlight the novel parts of our app. Interesting that it didn't occur to us how confusing pictures might be, and it goes to show that even Help definitely requires extensive research and testing.

Though I understand the benefit of having better web standards, I feel the nonstandard elements of a website still give it its unique feel and make it memorable. Even if those elements do weigh down the navigability of the site. Still, I do appreciate being able to find the search bar in the same place each time--Lifehacker's most prominent text box looks like a search bar, but it's really for sharing tips. However, other design elements like the placement of navigation bars can be more flexible across sites.


Calvin Lin - 4/14/2010 15:56:03

I agree that having design standards is a good thing, but more so from the user’s perspective and not a business perspective. Having a website that provides certain services is a competition between other similar sites. Big companies want you to become so familiar with their system and design that moving to any other design would be awkward and uncomfortable. Having standards and designs be similar across various companies would allow users to more easily jump between services – a great idea for users – but not something in a company’s agenda. Amazon wouldn’t want you to leave and start using other vendors. Furthermore, often what separates a website and makes it succeed is the uniqueness it provides. People use Facebook over Orkut because of design and overall feel. Twitter has become immensely popular largely due to how its design is so different than others – sharing short status updates is nothing new. Standards also constrict innovation and willingness to try new design ideas. One thing I love about the web is how diverse it is. Who is to say that a certain style of menu bar, navigation system, or account login is the best? That’s for designers to try and users to determine which sites they like best.


Saba Khalilnaji - 4/14/2010 15:57:29

Assistance and standardization are two key aspects of user interface design. Standardizations in web design lead to new users with an advantageous preconceived notion of how the website interface works, looks and reactions to the inputs. However there is no "MLA guide" for the web standards, its just what the users see in over half of the websites they visit. Because of this, standards are volatile, if some new powerful web development language or a brilliant new idea changes the way one website looks, other may catch on and create a new standard. Fortunately, if a user runs into problem and enters an interface that does not react as expected or is new, help features should always exist to assist the user. Help needs to be easily discoverable with a central library of all available help with other functionality such as search. Standardization coupled with help (that is standardized as well) are powerful ways to increase the usability of an interface


Jonathan Hirschberg - 4/14/2010 16:03:02

Jakob Nielsen argues that web design elements need to follow the same conventions so that users will not get lost or confused. When that happens, there needs to be additional help in order to clear up the confusion. The help documentation should be designed in a standardized way as well, such as that described in the apple help design specification. One of those rules is that people should write minimally about the aspects of the task that users were unlikely to figure out through exploratory learning. The more confusing and nonstandard the web page is, the more text needs to be written about those nonstandard features, which means that help documentation would get bigger, taking up space on the screen and in the website. But maybe there are situations that call for unusual or nonstandard designs, and in those cases, they should be designed as standard as possible so that minimal help documentation would be needed because there wouldn't be such a great leap in understanding required by the users.


Darren Kwong - 4/14/2010 16:07:15

I agree with Nielsen as far as his argument for the need to establish web design standards. Given these standards, people can avoid problems with bad web design on a very basic level. However, I think the standards should only include basic principles so that designers can employ their own creativity in making their interface unique. Furthermore, there could be subsets of standards for different types of websites. Nielsen appears to focus on websites for big companies/online stores. Principles of user and task analysis can be implemented for more specific features.


Mohsen Rezaei - 4/14/2010 16:28:50

After reading the two articles for today we realize how important it is that a website or even an operating system show itself in front of a user. This is almost like that the website, OS, or whatever system/design it is, selling itself to the user. The design needs to talk for itself, and needs to know the user's intention from entering that system or design. As mentioned in "The Need for Web Design Standards," it takes a user 1 minute and 49 seconds to exit your website. If you are not able to satisfy the user in this period of time then you might not be able to get that specific user back for the rest of website's life. It is important to be creative and design systems that blows people's mind, but some times we got to be careful about what we are thinking about in the process of that design. We all tend to be smart and creative when it comes to designing but the most important thing is that we got to keep in mind the formalities and conventions. For example, if the user of your design doesnt know how to interact with your design and he or she, on the top of that, doesnt know where the help section is, then you are definitely out of luck and will get bad reviews from that user. As "Designing Apple Help" mentioned, we cant burry functionalities and expect users to find them. Interaction with user interface is not a mystery game that the user will have to figure out and win it. User will most definitely be baby-sitted until he or she finishes their journey through your designed system.

Links used: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_design http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_browser http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_content


Tomomasa Terazaki - 4/14/2010 16:29:21

I liked both the articles this week because when I was reading them, they made me say “I know what these articles are talking about.” For example The Need for Web Design Standards is an article on how most websites have a similar web design. For example, a logo in the upper left corner, search box, absence of splash pages, and breadcrumbs listed horizontally. These web designs are good not just because they are easy to use but because the users are used to these structures so when they visit some websites for the first time they have some idea how to use that website. Also, it was interesting to read that intranets are better than public internets because they are formatted so it is easy for that group of people to use that intranet. Reading this article reminded me of how all search engines look like Google and a lot of things have copied famous websites like YouTube, FaceBook, or Twitter to make their websites since these websites are used by young adults. The second article of Designing Apple Help was also useful for my projects. It basically tells me how to make a efficient application or website. One of the main keys is to make a good help menu, which I need to work on my projects because it is just bunch of works on one page but good page should have home help page that connects to sub-help pages. Another thing is to make all the writing short and concise so it is easy for the user to read anything in the application.


Tomomasa Terazaki - 4/14/2010 16:29:48

I liked both the articles this week because when I was reading them, they made me say “I know what these articles are talking about.” For example The Need for Web Design Standards is an article on how most websites have a similar web design. For example, a logo in the upper left corner, search box, absence of splash pages, and breadcrumbs listed horizontally. These web designs are good not just because they are easy to use but because the users are used to these structures so when they visit some websites for the first time they have some idea how to use that website. Also, it was interesting to read that intranets are better than public internets because they are formatted so it is easy for that group of people to use that intranet. Reading this article reminded me of how all search engines look like Google and a lot of things have copied famous websites like YouTube, FaceBook, or Twitter to make their websites since these websites are used by young adults. The second article of Designing Apple Help was also useful for my projects. It basically tells me how to make a efficient application or website. One of the main keys is to make a good help menu, which I need to work on my projects because it is just bunch of works on one page but good page should have home help page that connects to sub-help pages. Another thing is to make all the writing short and concise so it is easy for the user to read anything in the application.


Joe Cadena - 4/14/2010 16:32:48

I agree with Jakob Nielsen's claim that there should be design standards for the internet, but only to a certain extent. I believe designing an interface should be governed by the purpose it intends. For example, if it has commercial intentions like Walmart.com or 1800Flowers.com then I believe a consumer interface should be applied. But, if it has an educational or informational focus such as berkeley.edu or fas.org, then maybe a search interface should be applied. Every website has an intended purpose and a target audience so I believe every website falling within a certain category should apply the corresponding design standard. With these design standards applied, maybe a future standard can meld the various design standards into a more generalized collection.


Hugh Oh - 4/14/2010 16:41:58

Nielsen is trying to dispel the misconception of web design especially for a corporation's intended use. Actually trying to "design" a website, Nielsen argues, will hinder a user's experience because it implies you are trying to make your own web elements. The web has standard elements that users have already trained themselves to recognize and deviating away from these elements will deter users in the sense that they will not understand how to utilize your website. Nielsen believes that being creative with new elements can actually hinder a user's experience.


Chris Wood - 4/14/2010 16:55:44

The World Wide Web Consortium has done a good job ensuring that the design principles are the same for every web page, but what is actually designed is still subject to a lot of variation. As Jakob's Law states, websites have a lot of incentive to conform to standards because a user is likely to navigate away from a page that is confusing, hard to use, and not what the person is used to. However, as of right now I find myself often frustrated to the point of insanity because of all the new procedures I must learn while navigating the internet. The step by step help designed by Apple looks a lot easier to use than help I have used in the past. In my experience, you need help using the "Help" function. This looks seemless.


Michael Cao - 4/14/2010 16:58:58

Design standards definitely help users navigate a website better and make it more user friendly. But if all websites followed the same standards as every other website, then website designs would be pretty dull. A lot of websites would look very similar with no aesthetic appeal. Also, everything standard now, was at one point new and confusing for users. So these Confusion elements help innovate new ways to navigate websites that might become the standard of the future.


Nathaniel Baldwin - 4/14/2010 17:00:21

Both of the readings today were brief and clear. I think the only thing that jumped out at me to comment on was the idea of "minimalist help" in the second article - I wish they'd talked about that a little more, because despite one small example ("nobody needs to be told how a play button works"), I wasn't really clear what the idea was about. If the idea is not over-explaining crazy-simple stuff, fine, but obviously an overall "minimalist" approach to help is a big problem. Obviously I'm not a, statistically speaking, standard user, but when I go to help, it's almost always because of something that is either super unclear or fairly complicated - and minimalist approaches to answering my problems then drive me bonkers.


Conor McLaughlin - 4/14/2010 17:00:48

Short and sweet. Nielsen makes an incredibly strong argument for sticking to industry conventions or only slightly iterating upon preexisting designs. With how fickle users are in their use of the web, if a website does not have a certain degree of polish or presents an easily recognizable navigation system, they are likely to move on without providing significant attention to your website. Despite this, I think Nielsen does not take the time to think about the task itself the website may be attempting to perform. He just talks about generic templates, but if a website is oriented around a concrete real-world task, a unique interface or widget that improves upon conventions may add to the experience. I think of new user experiences like Twitter, which tried to expand in a broad, new direction and was incredibly successful as a result.

As for Apple Help, I appreciate the question and answer system and the now standardized placement of the Help option. They essentially used the design cycle to improve the Help system, but the most interesting part of the process was the change from procedural tasks to real-world tasks for the user. If you are attempting to help the user, it should be done in the language of what they are trying to accomplish, just like how an application should be built around what user-tasks it is trying to accomplish. Both an application and its help are centered around the same goal.


Geoffrey Wing - 4/14/2010 17:03:25

For the reading, "The Need for Web Design Standards," I can definitely see where the author is coming from. The user is ultimately the most important part of the equation, since it is the user who brings the website revenue. However, I'm not sure if making web design standards is the best approach to help users. I feel like standards will reduce creativity and innovation. The author mentions navigation as one of the most confusing - this I can agree with, but I feel like it is up to the website to make an easy to use navigation interface. The navigation system can be one of the most creative parts of the website. Also, if websites want users to visit their websites, that should be the motivation to have good UI design (i.e. clean layout, detailed help section, etc.).

The second reading, "Designing Apple Help," was particularly interesting to me. It's cool to know that did usability testing as we are doing with our projects. It's also cool to see the connections of their work today. In Windows, I see the same placement of "Help" on the menu bar. There is a central point of "Help" on Windows as well. The "Help" section of an application often causes the main window to shrink and the "Help" window will placed next to the application, so the users can follow the directions without changing contexts. Looks like Microsoft did some similar testing (haha).


Richard Heng - 4/14/2010 17:05:09

In Knabe's analysis of Apple's help documentation, he mentions that the inclusion of a search feature enhances the user's experience, but keyword search was inadequate. I have experienced this first hand, often typing a keyword into a help dialog and receiving no search results. In this case, I usually would end up Googling for the answer. This is why I highly endorse the online capable help source. If there were some standard interface to search through and browse all the question pervious users have had for some sort of definitive help forum for an application, I believe users would be able to acheive their goals more quickly. Currently, Apple's support site does a good job of this, but integration with the OS's help system would be nice.


Arpad Kovacs - 4/14/2010 17:05:12

In the 5.5 years since "The Need for Web Design Standards" was written, it seems that web design approaches have continued to converge, especially in the e-commerce sector. For example, it seems that the registration/login process (username/password/email me to retrieve password), product selection (search/browse results/individual product details+reviews) and checkout procedures (add to cart/checkout/shipping info/payment/confirm) have moved out of confusion, and reached the convention, if not standard levels. I suspect that as the dominant incumbents grew in size, and new entrants increased competition, most merchants realized they could no longer afford to lose customers due to a nonstandard user experience, and therefore had to adhere to the prevailing conventions as described in the article, resulting in a snowball effect. In fact, today's search engines actually consider page layout/usability in their page rankings, so if you want your company to stay on the front page of Google/Yahoo/etc (and thus stay in business), then you have no choice other than to stick to the standards.

The Designing Apple Help article highlighted how Mac OS 8.5 achieved high rates of task completion in usability studies using the following design goals: 1) Make help easy to find and accessible in a standardized manner 2) Make it easy for developers to add help documentation to their programs 3) Make all help documentation available in one place and easy to search 4) Link to more comprehensive help content available on the Internet. 5) Use broad, iterative, task models that are aligned with users' goals 6) Keep wordiness to a minimum and avoid unnecessary detail 7) Use automated scripts to enable users to complete tasks quicker with fewer errors

I find it interesting that most users tend not to actually read the help documentation, and only use it as a last resort. Therefore, I think that in addition to the dedicated "Apple Guide / Help Center" described here, it is also useful to for the program to infer the task that the user is trying to complete, and offer dismissable popup hints, like in many video games. Another option with modern technology are video or interactive tutorials, which guide the user through the task (and possibly compensate for mistakes), which reduces the gulf of execution compared to just reading textual descriptions of what to do. Of course, the optimal solution would be a system that is so intuitive that it never requires the user to look at the help... but there is still some way to go before we reach that point.


Arpad Kovacs - 4/14/2010 17:06:41

In the 5.5 years since "The Need for Web Design Standards" was written, it seems that web design approaches have continued to converge, especially in the e-commerce sector. For example, it seems that the registration/login process (username/password/email me to retrieve password), product selection (search/browse results/individual product details+reviews) and checkout procedures (add to cart/checkout/shipping info/payment/confirm) have moved out of confusion, and reached the convention, if not standard levels. I suspect that as the dominant incumbents grew in size, and new entrants increased competition, most merchants realized they could no longer afford to lose customers due to a nonstandard user experience, and therefore had to adhere to the prevailing conventions as described in the article, resulting in a snowball effect. In fact, today's search engines actually consider page layout/usability in their page rankings, so if you want your company to stay on the front page of Google/Yahoo/etc (and thus stay in business), then you have no choice other than to stick to the standards.

The Designing Apple Help article highlighted how Mac OS 8.5 achieved high rates of task completion in usability studies using the following design goals: 1) Make help easy to find and access help in a standardized manner 2) Make it easy for developers to add help documentation to their programs 3) Make all help documentation available in one place and easy to search 4) Link to more comprehensive help content available on the Internet 5) Use broad, iterative task models that are aligned with users' goals 6) Keep wordiness to a minimum and avoid unnecessary detail 7) Use automated scripts to enable users to complete tasks quicker with fewer errors

I find it interesting that most users tend not to actually read the help documentation, and only use it as a last resort. Therefore, I think that in addition to the dedicated "Apple Guide / Help Center" described here, it is also useful to for the program to infer the task that the user is trying to complete, and offer dismissable popup hints, like in many video games. Another option with modern technology are video or interactive tutorials, which guide the user through the task (and possibly compensate for mistakes), which reduces the gulf of execution compared to just reading textual descriptions of what to do. Of course, the optimal solution would be a system that is so intuitive that it never requires the user to look at the help... but there is still some way to go before we reach that point.


Peter So - 4/14/2010 17:10:21

Recognizing and implementing a homogeneous set of web design principles of large, established websites is a win for both the web designer and for the web surfer. Not only does it allow the user to navigate websites more easily by recognizing where to find similar sets of information but it also makes it easier for the web designer to layout the structure and form of a website by following the most frequent design rules. This is especially useful for common web tools such as the location of the shopping cart as all users will need a way to view their online purchases, why not set up a standard to simply and unify the process. The only criticism of standardization is that it greatly stifles creativity as once industry adopts a standard, developers must jump on the ship or be left behind.

Automation is probably one of the most helpful tools in any help guide as it helps the user complete a task most efficiently. The most tedious task is to go through a help file and have to go through mundane tasks one by one. If tasks can be automated, help would be one of the best places to put such automation buttons especially if its a task that requires no real human input.

I also liked how Apple Guide searches through all the help catalogs to help the user complete a task even if he/she doesn't know what would be the best program to use for this task. I often find myself having to decide between several applications to do the same task and would highly value a recommendation on the quickest way to complete my task.



Raymond Lee - 4/14/2010 17:16:56

The standardizaiton categories discussed describe the difficulty of interaction with web elements well. In particular, I liked the description of the "Confusion" category. I feel many news/media sites such as yahoo, msn, cnn, display the same content and generally have similar-looking article views, but the main pages of these sites highly differ in the way they place their navigation bars and tile their content. This causes confusion in users of a novel news site, who are used to a particular news site. At the very least, msn, yahoo, and cnn all share Log Ins at the top right, and search bars near the top middle.


Spencer Fang - 4/14/2010 17:17:31

The Apple help system's ability to let a user search through all of its topics, and its ability to link to results on the Internet are pretty standard features today. I think the fact that such features are so common now is indicative of its success. However, the HTML based system's ability to launch programs and perform actions via special URLs may be a security risk. It is impressive how the help system can do things such as run scripts to automate tasks for a user, or highlight relevant widgets on the screen, but this level of sophistication does have its drawbacks for what is ultimately a document format.


Richard Mar - 4/14/2010 17:18:01

The best line in all of the readings so far: "Unfortunately, much of the Web is like an anthill built by ants on LSD: many sites don't fit into the big picture, and are too difficult to use because they deviate from expected norms."

I've heard that much of the Internet today is built upon a hacky house of cards. Although there are standards, a site doesn't have to conform 100% to those standards, and a browser will probably still render the page. CSS elements can be mixed with JavaScript code and a whole unholy mess of other languages, all within the same tag. What really needs to be done is to lay down the law and remove these "features", but that would probably break a lot of sites in the process.


Brandon Liu - 4/14/2010 17:22:02

I dug into the master's thesis linked from the page on Jakub Nielsen's site. One of the interesting results was the relative lack of the "imperative voice" in designing help interfaces. Rather than labeling help as "Get Help", sites usually used something more general such as "customer service".

Furthermore, "Customer Service" and "Help" are both considered part of "Get Help", when in actual use they can mean very different things. For example "Get Help" could refer to the specific action or page that a user is having trouble on, or "Get Help" in general, while Customer Service is one place independent of where the user currently is. Sort of like a "Customer service" desk at the Airport.

The article on Apple Help describes how the designers approached them problem: they put all the help in one centralized place, no matter where the user currently is. The issue I see with this is that I may be looking for help with one specific aspect of what i'm doing, but may skip over the generic "help" if I assume that the "scope" of that help dialog is larger than what I'm having trouble with.


Wilson Chau - 4/14/2010 17:25:43

The readings covered different topics but I think they are similar as well in that they talk about how to help the user out. The Knabe article focused more on how to design help so that the user can maximize usage out of it while the other article focused more on how designers can better serve users by sticking to standards so that users get confused less.


Long Chen - 4/14/2010 17:32:58

The Need for Web Design Standards has been something I have been thinking for a while. There has been so much clutter already put on the WWW that scientists have been strongly suggesting rebooting the internet and "start it off right" this time around. The whole Web 2.0 movement has created copycat standards that many developers have adapted and used more frequently. The evolution of the internet has spawned default design standards that can be found in all the new and innovative sites.

The problem is that the fringe starting websites do not follow any conventions and just post online whatever they have developed and available. This is an inherent problem with the web designer who just wants to focus on getting the information right rather than the aesthetics. Due to limited time and resources, there is little quality control whenever a smaller company releases a webpage. A solution for this would be designing a simple yet rigid web design interface that most future designers can use to produce new material.

The design run-through of the Apple Help function is well written and all the thought processes are well conveyed, the only problem is that the issue is somewhat outdated. I wish someone on the Google Maps dev team would take the time to type out such a document, because the product simplified and revolutionized online map interfaces and such a document would be a tremendous help for future interface design decision makers. What I particularly liked about the Apple Help doc is the clear structured layout of the objectives and steps needed to accomplish them. Imagine your boss dropped that assignment on your desk and told you to simply tackle it. By modulating such a daunting task, Knabe simplified the problem and streamlined the decisions.


Yu Li - 4/14/2010 17:39:41

Web Design like any other field need a basis for its structure. Users, people who surf the web, expect things to behave in certain ways, but since multiple people and teams are responsible for designing web pages, they may not always follow the same structure and deviate from the expected norms. When this occurs, users can become confused and have problems using the site. For example, in various sites the search bars may work differently, thus confusing the user. This issue of confusion can be addressed and improved by making websites comply with some general design standards.


Alexis He - 4/14/2010 17:41:48

Although I agree that it's important to establish conventions for websites to mitigate confusion, I think it's also important to allow room for creativity. If the design constraints are too rigid, there'd be no improvement. Imagine the websites from the 90's (geocities, neopets) and how much better the look & feel has gotten since then.

But at the same time, there are websites like wikipedia and facebook that flourishes on conformity.

There are definite tradeoffs to be had in both arguments. But I think we should nurture an environment where prototyping is encouraged and only use conventions as suggestions.


Victoria Chiu - 4/14/2010 17:44:03

One of the design keys is to use designs that are already exist. Users tend to get these designs faster when they have seen them before. Designs become confusing when they look similar to other existing designs but do different things. Following wide-use conventions will be easier for users.


Matt Vaznaian - 4/14/2010 17:47:31

I never really noticed that websites have similar design standards. It doesn't make sense though that if so many regular standards exist, why does something like singing in on a site not have its own standard. It seems like all the things the users interact with (sing in process, help, search feature) have no standards and are placed in different places for different websites. At the same time, every site has their logo in the top right corner or something. These "standards" don't make too much sense to me as far as HCI.


Jordan Klink - 4/14/2010 17:51:03

I thought the reading was great, one of the best selections so far. I've always thought of Nielsen highly, and was pleased to learn his take on the need for standardization in the world wide web. Althought I personally don't really plan on doing much web development, many of his arguments can easily be extended to apply for UI, in that people have come to expect certain UI standards when they run an application. Failure to neglect these standards would be detrimental, and I plan on taking great care to adhere to them, for fear of building an app that is like an "anthill built by ants on LSD."


Brian Chin - 4/14/2010 17:51:19

I thought this week's reading on web design standards was a bit outdated. The article was from 2004, before many of the features that are currently seen on websites today, such as video and the use of ajax, were widespread. The technologies that are currently available today give companies numerous ways to make their websites unique to visitors. It helps them to differentiate themselves from their competitors. If web designers were to follow the advice of the author, most websites would be designed in similar ways, with standardized locations for the company's logo, the placement of the search box, etc. This would constrain the creativity and innovation that has made the internet such an important part of our lives. Developments in web technologies would slow down, as all websites would begin looking the same, and society as a whole, would suffer.


Wei Wu - 4/14/2010 18:48:54

One huge drawback of setting "web design standards" is constricting the creativity that comes with web design. While a user may leave a website because it uses unconventional, confusing elements, a user is just as likely to leave a website if it is boring -- and when you set strict standards that dictate the layout of a page and how certain elements should be, websites that follow the standards are likely to look the same and thus be boring for the user. As a web designer myself, the most effective websites are the ones that stand out to me, either through novel ways of navigating through the site structure, interesting use of typography, unique composition, etc. Nielson's plea for web design standards places too much emphasis on the functionality and usability of websites. I think that, given the number of artists that have turned their sights onto web design as a career, web design is as much an outlet of creativity as a source of information. A successful website has to be both visually unique and usable, and setting strict standards inhibits the possibility of both.


Bobbylee - 4/14/2010 19:53:49

I totally agree with what Jakob's Law. From my point of view, I had an experience that I visited a website and I cannot find what I want to look for. As a user, I felt what do they have to such an non-standardized design. I believe that designer can have their freedom to design a website. But at the time, they also have to consider the use of the website.



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