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ToolTips are modeless online help, and they are incredibly effective. Standard help systems, on the other hand, are implemented in a separate program that covers up most of the program for which it is offering help. If you were to ask a human how to perform a task, he would use his finger to point to objects on the screen to augment his explanation. A separate help program that obscures the main program cannot do this.
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Wizards are an idiom unleashed on the world by Microsoft, and they have rapidly gained popularity among programmers and user-interface designers. A wizard attempts to guarantee success in using a feature by stepping users through a series of dialog boxes. These dialogs parallel a complex procedure that is normally used to manage a feature of the program. For example, a wizard helps a user create a presentation in PowerPoint.
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Part III: Designing Interaction Details
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Programmers like wizards because they get to treat users like peripheral devices. Each of the wizard s dialogs asks users a question or two, and in the end the application performs whatever task was requested. They are a fine example of interrogation tactics on the program s part, and violate the design principle: Provide choices, don t ask questions (see 10). Wizards are written as step-by-step procedures, rather than as informed conversations between user and program. The user is like the conductor of a robot orchestra, swinging the baton to set the tempo but otherwise having no influence on the proceedings. In this way, wizards rapidly devolve into exercises in confirmation messaging. The user learns that he merely clicks the Next button on each screen without critically analyzing why. The worst thing about wizards is that they often still ask obscure questions. A user who doesn t know what an IP address is in a normal dialog will be equally mystified by it in a wizard. A better way to create a wizard is to make a simple, automatic function that asks no questions of users but that just goes off and does the job. If it creates a presentation, for example, it should create it, and then let the user have the option, later, using standard tools, to change the presentation. The interrogation tactics of the typical wizard are not friendly, reassuring, or particularly helpful. The wizard often doesn t explain what is going on. Wizards were purportedly designed to improve user interfaces, but they are, in many cases, having the opposite effect. They are giving programmers license to put raw implementation model interfaces on complex features with the bland assurance that: We ll make it easy with a wizard. This is all too reminiscent of the standard abdication of responsibility to users: We ll be sure to document it in the manual.
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Perhaps not much needs to be said about Clippy and his cousins, since even Microsoft has turned against their creation in its marketing of Windows XP (not that it has actually removed Clippy from XP, mind you). Clippy is a remnant of research Microsoft did in the creation of BOB, an intuitive real-world, metaphorladen interface remarkably similar to General Magic s Magic Cap interface, discussed briefly in 13. BOB was populated with anthropomorphic, animated characters that conversed with users to help them accomplish things. It was one of Microsoft s most spectacular interface failures. Clippy is a descendant of these help agents and is every bit as annoying as they were.
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26: Designing for Different Needs
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A significant issue with intelligent animated agents is that by employing animated anthropomorphism, the software is upping the ante on user expectations of the agent s intelligence. If it can t deliver on these expectations, users will quickly become furious, just as they would with a sales clerk in a department store who claims to be an expert on his products, but who, after a few simple questions, proves to be clueless. These constructs soon become cloying and distracting. Users of Microsoft Office are trying to accomplish something, not be entertained by the antics and pratfalls of the help system. Most applications demand more direct, less distracting, and more trustworthy means of getting assistance.
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