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Posts from the ‘HCI’ Category


The Tenth Heuristic

Jakob Nielsen’s usability heuristics are probably the most-used heuristics for user interface design. These are ten well known principles, but I want to concentrate on just one of them.

Help and documentation
Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user’s task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.

It is the last general principle of the “decalogue”. Probably the least important because it’s preferable that a system is so easy to use that no further help is needed to supplement the user interface itself. But this goal cannot always be met. Some users will want to become “experts” rather than casual users, and some intermediate users need reminding to perform their objectives.

It’s important to highlight that:

  • help is not a replacement for a bad design, the presence of help and documentation doesn’t reduce the usability requirements,
  • a help system must be well designed as well.

There are various types of help systems you can provide, but it is always better to use minimal instructions. Nobody read the manual. The help will only be used when the user are in some kind of difficulty, in need of immediate help.

What should not be done (especially in a mobile app)

  • A single very long file that lumps everything together. Users will lose focus by scrolling up and down (especially on a mobile device).
  • Don’t provide too much information. Users who come to help pages are usually already confused, so they aren’t inclined to read long blocks of text.
  • As an embedded web page. It is a common temptation. It takes 5 minutes to place a web view that loads a HTML file. And it also allows to provide a fast text formatting.

I know something about it, here’s how the help section on FreakyAlarm looked like:


The correct way

  • Task-oriented help. A minimal manual focused on real tasks to get started doing real work.
  • Gather the right questions and write clear topics that answer users’ questions.
  • Good scanning aids (such as bolding keywords) to increase readability.
  • Good user experience with native user interfaces, easy to navigate, easy to read.

For example, as in the last update 1.7:


The Perfect User

Since Skynet hasn’t yet become self-aware, since the human race hasn’t yet been exterminated by artificially intelligent machines, since end-users are still largely human beings, the technological progress now stands at a crossroads: reengineering all the software or eugenically engineering the human evolution?

This all stems from the fact that almost all existing software is designed for end-users with these requirements:

  • Memory of an elephant
  • Dexterity of a monkey
  • Visual acuity of an eagle
  • Navigation skills of a bat
  • Stamina of a camel

So at least in the future, as William Hudson says, does not fall prey to the temptation to believe that users

  • are working in a quiet, ordered environment with no interruptions or distractions;
  • will remember everything they have ever done on a device;
  • are motivated to solve any problems that come up without regard to their mental well-being;
  • have no need for breaks, meals or sleep;
  • only make mistakes through spitefulness;
  • understand the internal workings of the system just as its designers do.

The mythological perfect user is only a product of a bad design, so, once in a while let’s take a break and tell ourselves that the user is not stupid, it’s our design that’s wrong!


Simplicity vs. Customization vs. Empathy

The term “customization” is used to mean you are what you say you are
The term “simplicity” is used to mean what you are

Customization gives explicit user control
Simplicity gives explicit features

Customization is based on users preferences
Simplicity is based on users needs

Customization generates complexity
Simplicity always wins over complexity

Customization is a geek
Simplicity is a friend

Customization requires assistance
Simplicity is self-explanatory

Customization affects some demanding users
Simplicity affects all users

Customization is a calculator
Simplicity is a metaphor

Customization is a gear in the black box
Simplicity is an abstraction

Customization is a spaghetti condiment
Simplicity is an elegant suit

Customization can become the bad way to apply Personalization
Simplicity can become the bad way to apply Usability Read moreRead more

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