Help People Understand How to Use Your Software
In a recent post I unveiled some subtle reasons as to why people might not understand how to use software products, despite the genuine efforts on the part of the UX teams to come up with an intuitive UI. Today I will write more on who those “not-understanding” people are, and how to help them understand. I recommend that you settle down quietly with a drink of your choice and give this article some 8–10 minutes of your time, since I’m writing it not as a quick fix tip but rather as an essential consideration that might well be taken into account by product owners and UX designers if they seriously intend to create a comfortable and easy-to-use software app/product that sells itself well.
- Do I need this software?
- Does it help me do what I want to do?
- How it saves my time, if at all?
With slight variations, these are mostly the questions that people want to get answers to, and fast, as they start looking at a software app. They want to understand how to use it, figuring out at the same time if this app, or tool, or product will help solve their problems and/or address their needs, and if they can do what they want to do intuitively and fast enough. This question-asking is not a sequential process but rather a non-linear one. Obviously, each and every software maker wants people to get committed to their product faster, so let’s take a closer look at those prospective users.
People Are People: Explorers, the Confiding, and Give-Me-Someone-Live’s
I’m a proponent of the human-centric approach to anything. Never will I get tired repeating that each and every screen and interaction model in any software is supposed to be made for humans. People should be the starting point even for the decisions that might seem purely technical. With software, any technicality, however slight, will ultimately be tested by the verification lens of human psyche and physique.
And, after many years of work with people who use software (as well as with people who create it), I can single out the three main categories of software product seekers: Explorers, the Confiding, and Give-Me-Someone-Live’s.
Explorers are like restless kids. They want to click through and to probe everything, to do what they need to do hands-on, with no outside help. They usually ignore the product walkthroughs. They explore software products intuitively.
The Confiding are good boys and girls. They want to follow the process of learning the product diligently. They confide in software product makers to help them make their decision. So, first thing, they look at the getting started flows, user guides, tutorials, cheat sheets, the help documentation.
Give-Me-Someone-Live’s are very different. They think that any time spent on exploring, or following the getting started flows is a wasted time. So, they want someone “live”, e.g. a live online chat or a live demo from a product specialist or a support engineer, to help figure them out if the product is what they need.
This is a very rough outline; of course, these 3 types intermix quite often, but in general anyone who is looking for a software product has more or less from one of those categories in them. That’s why I’m not presenting this information in the finite visual form of, say, a table with the categories and lists. It’s non-finite, and very individual, and it depends in each and every case. This relative categorization gives an outline of the idea only.
One flow fits all? Hardly so!
Now, what is it that software makers can do, keeping in mind those 3 types of prospects? They now have more knowledge to create an optimal product on-boarding/learning space for people from each category, depending on their preferences.
Explorers need an intuitive UI more than the other 2 types. They’re more likely to go away if the UI is not intuitive, and they won’t spend their time figuring out if a setting that has to be changed to let them do what they want to do intuitively is hidden somewhere far inside the software (just an example). That’s why Explorers also need the clear tooltips, the “What’s that?” messages, and all kinds of smart contextual help tips. But the intuitive UI comes above all. That’s the first thing such people need. And the error messages. If the software throws back an error, they need a good error message that will tell them how to do what they need to do quickly. Or, at least, if the context is ambiguous, the error message which says that what they tried to do can not be done. It all depends on the context very much.
Here’s how the exploration paths can look. The broken paths are marked with the red crosses, and a few success paths with the green ticks:
For the Confiding, thoughtful Getting Started flows, all kinds of guided tours, well-written user guides, and tutorials are the major prerequisite. The Confiding like to be guided. They will work to follow the lines that software makers should have in place for them to make their decision. From my observations, the Confiding type are quite often the elderly people who stick to their beliefs from a non-software world, according to which a producer of some commodity is supposed to give them good guidance on how to use their product. Just a side note.
You might wonder why I haven’t mentioned the product videos and the pre-recorded product demos here. It might seem that videos are a great option both for the Explorers and for the Confiding. I wouldn’t be that sure. Watching a product demo video is a passive activity, just like watching TV is. What people see as they watch a product video is the joyful Hollywood finale of how someone else is using the software for something that the watcher might not have yet grasped; and the videos are not much different from cartoons or animated films in that: entertaining, but not necessarily teaching. Besides, it takes long to get back to a video if — as someone new to the product — all you want is a quick tip on how something should be used.
Here’s the one thing that people can take out from the videos: this product is really capable of doing something well, and fast. A smart video will provide them some encouragement, the feeling that this product is exactly what they need. Still, videos are more about passive learning, and I think that the Confiding are more into watching videos, than the Explorers.
Finally, what do the Give-Me-Someone-Live’s need? Obviously, they need some live flesh 🙂 *joke* They want to chat with someone online, or to talk on the phone, or they want a product specialist to come to their office with a demo. For them, you need to put up signs wherever possible showing how to get in contact with the live support, or with a product specialist, to set up a live demo of your product. This category of prospects can be costly, unless you’re a well-established company with the smooth-running support and product specialist teams. For small, or bootstrapped, software start-ups the Give-me-Someone-Live prospects might not be the easiest option. If you’re small, you can’t afford keeping the troops out in the field (read, the full-fledged support team and the product specialists team). You’ve got to be smarter instead, and invest more of your time and consideration into holding the comfortable on-boarding/learning space for the Explorers and the Confiding right in your product. Think and see through the paths along which people get to know your product and try to provide the connections between those paths wherever possible (compare with the image above):
Let me emphasize, that the above 3 types have been singled out for easier reference only. It’s very rare that some user is purely one of those. The categorization is supposed to help you see what in the UI needs to be done like this or like that, again, to ensure that casual leads find out if your product is what they need as fast as they can, and eventually become your clients.
This story is based on an earlier article.