Product Training, Onboarding, Help Documentation & Microlearning

The Forgotten Users

In the previous episode, it had been decided to buy my father an Asus NEXUS 7 for his birthday. Over the past few weeks I have been keeping tabs on my father’s progress in exploring his new toy. It turns out he’s been having issues with several functionalities on the device:


Google Play – because the music arranged in the MS folder system he’s used to

Editing documents – because he is an MS Word power user and Google docs simply don’t cut it

Downloading PDFs – because he has a hard time figuring out where the files are downloaded to and —wait for it—

Navigating the UI –  because he isn’t familiar with the icons. Which, I think we can agree, is the most fundamental requirement in interacting with any kind of user interface.



Now, the thing to keep in mind is that my father is no technophobe. He is very apt when it comes to Windows and Office, is a Photoshop autodidact and manages most of his financials and paperwork online. He just isn’t all that familiar with Google products and Android in particular. This brings to mind John Palvus’ boycott on “Intuitive” interfaces:


No technology is intuitive. It’s all just familiar or unfamiliar at first (…)

I think what we all want from technology are interfaces and interactions that feel familiar, legible, and evident. They should teach us in ways we would like to learn, and speak to us in a way we can understand. This doesn’t mean that technology ought never to surprise or challenge us. But desperately seeking “intuitive” feels, to me, like a kind of techno-animism. Interfaces aren’t magic, and we don’t really want them to be. To borrow from Timo Arnall: interfaces are culture. And like any pieces of culture, what they ought to do is simple: they ought to connect.

There is something inherently wrong with the idea that baby boomers, who until recently were humanity’s hope for a better tomorrow, are left in the dust of the Black Mirror technology. The speed with which technology advances is rapidly increasing and the people spearheading it sometimes forget that only the ones born into it can keep up with it. And in a digital culture where every new feature is based on familiarity with earlier versions of it – that is one critical survival skill.


Of course, these are also the voices unheard, because they don’t wield the power of hashtags, are not part of the vibrant online discourse and are rarely test users for apps that don’t target them in any case. And so the cycle continues and as these things go, missing out on one rung makes it all the harder to catch up with the next innovation.


Technological progress shouldn’t stop for anyone, but maybe the UI and UX folks should consider looking around every so often and taking a more inclusive designing approach.

Google, Aristotle and Pro-active Customer Support

A while ago I realized I was imitating Google when presenting a new idea. Since imitation is the best compliment, I tried to figure out what they do that is worth copying. Here it is: when presenting new features, Google usually: 

  1. Tell you there is a new feature happening.
  2. (and this is the most important part) Explain what the operative meaning of it is for you, the user. This part is usually mediated by the combination “this means that —” and includes a remarkably simplified explanation of the feature’s functionality, purpose and benefits over not having it. 
  3. Details of the feature and technical aspects.

The beauty of this technique is that it introduces a first time user experience without making the user feel like an idiot for not understanding it. The simplification is in itself an acknowledgement of how difficult it is to grasp the technology and keep up with the change (yes, this means Google are addressing none-Millennials. Imagine the shock).

It is, in point of fact, an implementation of the age old rhetoric method: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, Tell them, Tell them what you told them. And most cunningly, this technique embeds the FAQ into the actual text, providing the help experience during the intro, instead of being a passive support provider and waiting for the users to wander to the knowledgebase. Brilliant, no?

These excerpts from a Google docs blog post on the new drive functionality give a pretty good example of how it all works:




The Ladyhawke and Wolf of Customer Service

If you are in any way a fantasy/Sci-Fi buff, you will no doubt remember the iconic 1985 movie Ladyhawke, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer. In Ladyhawke, two lovers are separated by a curse from a nasty bishop: during the day, he is a man and she is a hawk and during the night, she returns to human form and he becomes a wolf.


They are destined never to meet again in human form… until a (very) young Matthew Broderick comes along, and, well – you should watch the movie to find out what else happens.


I was reminded of this tragic tale when trying to come up with an allegory for the relationship between user experience and technical communication, in the process of product development and designing customer service.


the ladyhawke and wolf of saas and customer experience

Ladyhawke and Friends

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Embedding Customer Service into UX

It’s my father’s birthday this week and the sibling clan decided to go ahead and buy him a tablet. We ended up agreeing on Asus NEXUS 7, and moved on to debate the purchasing location. It would have to be a chain, so that he can easily return it, if he so chooses.


We found ourselves comparing customer service experiences and reading reviews on different chains. So that if our father decides to return his new toy, the experience will be as smooth and as agreeable as possible.


It gradually became clear that we needed to embed the potential future customer service/ support in the gift considerations. The gift was no longer comprised of merely the tablet specs – accessibility, service awareness and technical support were part of the user experience consideration.



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What Would Socrates Do?

“Feeling smart is not so much about having knowledge, as it is about feeling like you are in command of a subject.”

             Mark Baker,The Web Leaves You Smarter But Feeling Dumber

Mark Baker from the technical communications blog Every Page is Page One brings some interesting insights on the insecurities that come with being faced by the overwhelming vastness of information out there, on the web. He rightly refers to the Socratic Paradox, the father of all acknowledgements of limitation of the human mind.

Today’s user (as opposed to the Ancient Greek user who had to endure much journeying and trials for some Oracle luvin’) is much more humble in regard to what we know we don’t know. The  experience of learning new stuff has become a standard part of our everyday routine. So much so, that at least in theory, we should be able to let our cognitive guards down more easily in order to let new information in. In practice – I have to wonder if that is really the case and whether the human mind-muscles really are that flexible.

10 mistakes startups make when talking to users

10 mistakes startups make when talking to users

Leave Clicking Alone!!!

Rian van der Merwe makes a compelling case for not optimizing for the fewest number of clicks. In the process, he aggregated some in-depth articles on design and UX. Very much worth the read. 

I have to say, though, I am not sure this applies to first time user experiences. There is a certain, shall we say, concern or even apprehension that FTUX entails – how will it be? What does it do? Will I like it? Does it load fast enough? Will I get the hang of it quickly or will I despise it for making me feel like an idiot and immediately look for alternatives? —- all of these are clear and present dangers concerns and as such, should be addressed as early on as possible in the user-engagement process.

In regard to the clicking dilemma – it may very well be that in order to speed up the engagement and get the user safely to the point where they are settled within the application, the clicking should be reduced to the necessary minimum. But this is not done as some attempt to get the user to work less, rather we should get those clicks out of his way as part of his homing process, first and foremost letting him acquaint himself with his surroundings and relax into a new environment. 

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