bookmark_borderImprove the experience

Recently, Tom suggested that:
if someone can figure out how to make help whallop the user with wonder and awe, it will be the creative innovation of the century. Once we begin to establish a standard and a precedence, peopleโ€™s beliefs will change from feeling that “all help is useless and unimportant” to “the help at my company is exceptionally good and useful; I will explore it more often.”

And I completely agree.

But.

Whilst he goes on to list ways in which the future of online help may expand – personalized help, feedback options, audiovisual options and such like – I think that is only one side of the coin.

While, without a doubt I could work harder to improve the content offered as online help, I think technical communicators need to expand their view a little, step back and see a bigger picture. I’ve touched on this before, and it is by no means original, but ultimately we are at a point where it is beginning to be realised that the information provided with a product is a most valuable commodity. With that in mind, the time is ripe for what Tom suggests, a new way of presenting information is surely on the cards. However I think it’s wrong to limit it to online help or documentation alone.

I’m lucky that, presently, I’m part of a company that allows the Publications Team (MUST change that name!) to be part of the softare design process. As such I can see, from inception to release, the decisions and design thoughts that go into producing our software, and I influence them as much as I can. Making the on-screen text useful is one thing, the next step is to think “task task task” during any discussions on design. Developers, rightly, take a requirement and start thinking about how THEY can implement it, yet just by repeating the “task task task” mantra I was able to get them to start thinking about how it should end up, rather than the finite possibilities of how it could be implemented.

Just to clarify, I don’t sit at my desk and chant. Instead I tend to start discussions about our software with “OK, I’m [insert user type], what am I trying to do here?”.

I’m not ramming this down anyone’s throat, but my choice of language during discussions has started to rub off, resulting in some design decisions made because they were thinking about the task the user is trying to complete, not the fact that it would need to get info from database A and publish it to form B.

In response to Tom’s post, I said:

Perhaps the radical shift is helping to address issues without presuming that people will “end up in the help”. Instead of being the last resort we should be striving to stop people having to get to that point.

That said, if they do end up in the help then yes, it should have a sufficient “wow” factor without being useless. Ultimately, make sure the information they want is findable by whatever means they choose.

Being the customer respresentative, the interface to the interface, is part of that.

I once told a Technical Support Manager that, ultimately, the aim for my team was to put his out of a job. Obviously that will never happen as the myriad of platforms, hardware, and user issues that surround every software product couldn’t ever be documented (unless development of the software had ceased, in which case I wouldn’t be working for the company).

I guess the aim for a usability team, or anyone interested in improving the user experience, is to put the documentation team out of a job. If the interface is well enough designed that the user doesn’t get stuck, and if it includes enough information in the UI to help the user make decisions, then why would they ever need documentation? Of course, similarly to the Support team scenario, documentation will be required to support the less travelled paths through the UI, to help the user who wants to do things her own way.

And that is where Tom’s suggestions come in. If we can improve the information we provide, making sure the customer experience is maintained (bettered?), then they are more likely to come back.

bookmark_borderAcceptance

I can’t help it.

It’s not my fault.

I try and fight it, honest I do. I do my best but.. well.. I am but a man, there is only so much I can do. Normally I can resist, I mean it’s not like I’ve not had practice at this sort of thing and I’ve tried, god help me, I’ve tried.

Alas, I can fight not more. I have succumbed.

It is Christmas.

The thing is, and I may have mentioned this before, but I live with a Crimbo nutter. Take today for example, we are both have this afternoon off and while I’m not liking the fact I need to go into Glasgow to finish my Christmas shopping, Louise has CHOSEN to go into Glasgow to meet her sister and cousins, do some shopping AND she had her Christmas hat on first thing this morning in preparation. A big red hat with fluffy white trim, and matching jingle bell earrings. Mental.

She’s so bad she gets excited when she hears the sleigh bells at the start of the Coca Cola adverts…

So, faced with the deluge of Christmasyness I encounter in my own home there is little I can do but smile and admit that yeah, I quite like this time of year as well. Yes it’s all a bit trite and silly but sometimes you need those things in your life. Regardless, it’s worth it to see the whopping big grin that comes over the face of my beloved when she spies an especially nice Christmas tree.

Yes, I admit it. I like this time of year, the lead up to Christmas and the festivities that are on the horizon.

Although ask me later this afternoon, whilst I’m wading through idiots and numpties, being thumped in the shins with bags and generally navigating the quickest path to the two shops I need to visitm and you may get a different response.

Admit it, you like this time of year as well. Don’t you.

bookmark_borderNew RSS Feed

It took me a while to ‘get’ RSS feeds but now that I have I find myself quite happily subscribing to them, willy-nilly. I figure I’d rather have a lot of sources than not enough.

This does mean that sometimes I don’t read all the posts, but I’ve made my peace with the “Mark as Read” option in Google Reader.

Since I first posted the feed compilation I’ve added a few different sources and it’s about due an update, and here it is.

Due to the rather cumbersome way this is created I’ve not, yet, got a “what’s changed” list, but I’m working on that, I’ll post it to the feed page once it’s done.

bookmark_borderChocolate

Mr Cadbury and Miss Rowntree met on a Double Decker, it was After Eight.

She was from Quality Street; he was a Fisherman’s Friend.

On the way they stopped at a Yorkie Bar, he had a Rum and Butter, she had a Wine Gum.

He asked her name, “Polo, I’m the one with the hole” she said.

“I’m the one with the nuts,” he thought! Then he touched her Milky Way.

They checked in to a hotel and went straight to the bedroom.

Mr Cadbury turned out the light for a bit of Black Magic.

It wasn’t long before he slipped his hand into her Snickers and felt her Cream Egg.

He fondled her Flap Jacks, then he showed her his Curly Wurly and Tic Tacs.

Miss Rowntree wasn’t keen to have any Jelly Babies, so she let him take a trip down Bourneville Boulevard via her Party Ring. He was pleased as he always fancied a bit of Fudge.

It was a magic moment as she let out a scream of Turkish Delight.

When he pulled out, his fun size Mars Bar felt a bit Crunchie. She wanted more, but he needed Time Out. However, he noticed her Pink Wafers looked very appetizing. He did a Twirl, had a Picnic in her Sherbet Dip and finished off by giving her a Gob Stopper!

Unfortunately, Mr Cadbury then had to go home to his wife, Caramel.

3 days later his Magnum lolly started to drip. It turned out Miss Rowntree had been with Bertie Basset who had Allsorts.

bookmark_borderCold mornings ahead

A thin layer of white renders the land a frosty glitter. Warm breath floats into the black above. One by one the neighbours emerge from their warmth, and the ritual begins. Engines chug, fans blow, and slowly the ices drips away.

I love such mornings, with the crisp air pinching your cheeks, seeking out the gaps in your scarf, wheedling up coat sleeves. The morning commute made all the more glorious as you rise out of the town to the top of the valley, streetlights gone, the night sky sparkling under the moon glow.

Admittedly it can be a little dodgy on the way down the other side but that’s what traction control is for… yes?

And so we race towards Christmas.

I have two shops left to visit. I will need to do that on Friday afternoon/evening as although I’m off, we need four new tyres and they are getting fitted at 1.30pm.

Saturday and Sunday we are starting the “visits”, dropping off presents and so on. I’m off on Monday but will be finishing the wrapping and generally preparing for spending a couple of days at my parents.

Christmas Day we will see my Gran in the morning, maybe nip to my sister-in-laws to catch my brother-in-law there before heading to my parents for the afternoon, then back up to my sister-in-laws at night (in what is becoming tradition since my in-laws moved to Spain).

Boxing Day we’ll spend sometime with my parents and head home in the afternoon or evening.

27th we are going out with Susan and Ian, for a bite to eat, a little ten-pin bowling (presuming my knee can handle it) and a few shandies.

28th I have a night out with some ex-colleagues, and if past nights are anything to go by then we’ll finish up around 4am in a lake of tequila.

29th we are back through to Balloch to see my mates, Keith, Stuart & Alan, Ian, Bill and Fran, exchanging silly presents and seeing who can come up with the silliest cocktail.

30th is largely about getting home at some point and gathering our energies for…

Hogamanay! Back down to Susan and Ian, for they have the largest house (with a nice big pool table, fosball table and whatnot).

1st is usually a complete write-off, something to do with getting to bed at 6am or later (earlier?).

And no doubt on the 2nd day of 2008 we’ll be back through in Dumbarton to first foot our families.

After that I have five days to recover and do all the things I said I’d do over the festive period. And, to be frank, I’ll probably be looking forward to getting back to work for some sanity.

No doubt everyone else is the same, but it does perplex me why this time of year is so very busy. Why we feel the need to cram it all in to the few days holiday we have I’ll never know but, for all my moaning, I guess I do kind of enjoy reeling from one day to the next.

Let the festivities begin!

Ummmm but not until Friday…